Tearful Jack Ma bids Alibaba farewell with rock star show

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Jack Ma sings a song during an event to mark the 20th anniversary of Alibaba in Hangzhou. PHOTO: AFP

HANGZHOU, CHINA (REUTERS) - A tearful Jack Ma formally left Alibaba on Tuesday (Sept 10), donning a guitar and a rock star wig at an event for thousands of employees of the e-commerce giant he founded 20 years ago in a small shared apartment in Hangzhou city in eastern China.

During a four-hour celebration in an 80,000-capacity stadium, Alibaba's billionaire executive chairman delivered on his promise made a year ago to hand over to chief executive officer Daniel Zhang.

Costumed performers, some dancing to dubstep music and dressed in traditional Chinese dress, and singers paid tribute to Mr Ma's reputation for dressing up and performing at big events, entering to a parade of floats representing Alibaba divisions such as shopping site Tmall and payment service Ant Financial.

"After tonight, I will start a new life. I do believe the world is good, there are so many opportunities, and I love excitement so much, which is why I will retire early," Mr Ma told guests and employees.

He was spotted at one point welling up with tears as staff put on skits and sang songs, prompting the topic "Jack Ma has cried" to trend on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Towards the end of the ceremony, Mr Ma, co-founder Lucy Peng, and chief executive of Alibaba's technology committee Wang Juan donned rock star-style leather jackets and wigs to perform Chinese pop songs. They were joined by co-founder Joe Tsai dressed in a Marilyn Monroe style white dress and blonde wig.

Mr Zhang, also clad in rock star garb, then delivered a solo, having earlier said that Alibaba would keep investing in areas such as cloud computing.

Mr Ma's exit comes as Alibaba has grown to become Asia's most valuable listed company, with a market capitalisation of US$460 billion (S$635 billion). It employs over 100,000 people, and has expanded into financial services, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

The company also said on Tuesday that it had adopted six new core values, one of which was a pledge to "respect the work-life balance decisions of every individual", marking a step away from Mr Ma's recent comments urging tech company employees to work nights and weekends, which sparked a nationwide debate.

Mr Ma also told attendees that he hoped to see Alibaba shoulder more responsibility to improve society amid the sweeping changes brought about by technologies like big data and 5G.

"It is not easy to be a strong company, but it is more difficult to be a good company," he said.

"A strong company is determined by its commercial ability, while a good company is responsible and kind."

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