Jack Ma says he won't ever come back to lead Alibaba after he leaves next year

  • Alibaba's Jack Ma said he would not return to the company he'd co-founded after he leaves next year — even if his successor has difficulties: "I won't come back, because I don't feel like I have left."
  • Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang will succeed Ma as chairman of the board next September, the company announced earlier this month.
  • Speaking at a World Economic Forum conference in Tianjin, China, Ma repeated his prediction of 20 years of U.S.-China trade tensions.
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group in Shanghai China on Dec. 5th, 2017.
Justin Solomon | CNBC
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group in Shanghai China on Dec. 5th, 2017.

TIANJIN, China —Jack Ma, the iconic co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, said Thursday that he will not return to run the company after his planned departure next year.

That'll still hold even if his successor is facing difficulties leading the tech behemoth, Ma said, adding that he expected to remain in frequent communication with the company.

"I won't come back, because I don't feel like I have left," Ma said in Mandarin at a World Economic Forum conference in Tianjin, China.

Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang will succeed Ma as chairman of the board next September, the company announced earlier this month. Until that time, Ma will remain executive chairman. He plans to stay on the board of directors through the 2020 annual shareholders meeting, while focusing more of his time on philanthropy and education.

Ma said Thursday there are many things he wants to do, including teaching others how to become successful, and appreciating wine.

"I don't want to die in an office," he said.

The tech pioneer also repeated a sentiment he'd expressed earlier this week that companies need to plan for 20 years of trade tensions between the U.S. and China. "Whatever the U.S. would do , we will have our own solutions based on our principles," he said.

"Of course you are in a lousy outlook ... but that is the same case for your competitors," he said, according to a translation provided by the World Economic Forum. "You don't need to do a zillion things, but you need to do something right."

Ma made headlines on Wednesday when he told Chinese news agency Xinhua that his company no longer plans to create the 1 million new American jobs he'd previously forecast due to increased tensions between the world's two largest economies.

Ma did not directly respond to a question during the Thursday event about Alibaba's stock performance, which has dropped about 7 percent this month amid the announcement of his departure. He said he speaks with CEO Zhang every day, but they haven't discussed the share price that much.

He likened Alibaba to a child he had nurtured and who had now grown up, gone to college and must face society's tests alone. "The parent is always there, but the child must experience it himself," Ma said.

"I have planned for the next 15 years what other kids I would have, and maybe these kids are younger, they need me more," Ma said, according to the World Economic Forum's simultaneous translation. "In my 80s or 90s, maybe I'm on the beach, I listen to the radio, and the news says that Alibaba does wonderfully, I will be profoundly happy."

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