CHINA – The Chinese eCommerce giant, Alibaba Group is set to embrace a new chapter in the company’s management following the departure of its high profile founder, Jack Ma.

Jack Ma, who is leaving the company today, will be succeeded by his heir Danieel Zhang. Ma has been central to the growth of the company and leaves at a time when Alibaba clocks 20 years.

The renowned Chinese entrepreneur will continue serving on Alibaba’s board until its annual general shareholders’ meeting next year.

Ma will also remain a lifetime partner of Alibaba Partnership, a corporate governing group of 38 individuals that is separate from the board of directors.

Ma said in last year’s announcement that he plans for his departure from Alibaba Group to be very gradual. The resignation plan was however perceived as unusual as it is rare for a founder of such a big and transformative tech firm to retire this early.

After his resignation, Ma, China’s richest man with a net worth of US$38.4 billion, according to Forbes, is set to spend more time on philanthropy and education.

Since the former English teacher co-founded the the company in 1999, Alibaba has grown from being a traditional e-commerce company to a conglomerate that has businesses from logistics to food delivery and cloud computing. It is now a company valued over US$460 billion.

Over the years, Alibaba has grown from an online marketplace into an e-commerce giant with interests ranging from financial services to artificial intelligence.

While it remains to be seen how Alibaba will be steered by Zhang, analyst say that one of Zhang’s major challenges will be finding new areas of growth as China’s e-commerce sector matures.

According to the national statistics office, China’s online retail sales grew just 17.8% in the first half of 2019, almost halving from the 32.4% growth of the prior year. The sectors performance has been declining after a decade of explosive growth.

In addition to the slowing domestic sales Zhang is expected to steer the company through the compounding US-China trade war.

However, Ma has expresssed confidence in Zhang’s leadership saying that “he has the logic and critical thinking skills of a super computer, a commitment to his vision, the courage to wholeheartedly dare to take on innovative business models and industries of the future.”