Jack Ma, the founder of the largest e-commerce in Asia, Alibaba.com announced yesterday that he is planning to hang his boots in 2019. He has a succession plan in place and this was not a spur of the moment decision – there was a sense of preparedness for the past 10 years. He is handing over the reins to current CEO Daniel Zhang by September 2019. Ma will not just vanish; he will be around for sure but available for only strategic decision making.
In his letter to his employees, Ma wrote, “No company can rely solely on its founders. Of all the people, I should know that. Because of physical limits on one’s ability and energy, no one can shoulder the responsibilities of chairman and CEO forever. So the responsible thing to do for me and the company to do is to let younger, more talented people take over.”
Wow! How many of our Indian CEOs ever do this? Here, it is taken for granted that the child will become the automatic successor, irrespective of his talent and liking for the job. And even for professional companies, getting a CEO from “outside” has been a nightmare. Infosys and Tata group are recent examples of this.
What is remarkable about Ma is that right from the beginning, he knew that he was not indispensable. He knew he would have to give up his seat one day or the other, be it due to age or death. So for him to prepare for this succession speaks a lot about his perception of mortality, planning capacity and over and above all, realizing that death is always a part of life.