Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma may have stepped down as CEO of the giant Chinese e-commerce company earlier this year, but he hasn’t stepped off the global stage. Alibaba’s 48-year-old executive chairman has been named the Financial Times 2013 Person of the Year.
Calling him the “godfather of China’s scrappy entrepreneurial spirit” and a “true innovator,” the FT’s writers said Ma was selected in part “because he personifies the Chinese Internet – with all its potential and its contradictions.” Previous POTY winners include Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Barack Obama, Lloyd Blankfein, Mario Draghi and Lech Walesa.
The FT added another reason for choosing Ma this year: his decision in May to hand over day-to-day operations of Alibaba so he could tackle some of China’s biggest problems, in particular its looming environmental disaster.
“He remains executive chairman of the company but his decision to focus less on the blind pursuit of riches and more on improving the state of the world reflects a profound shift in Chinese society – one that is being facilitated by the rise of the Internet,” the FT said. “After three decades of double-digit economic growth, the country’s growing and increasingly vocal middle class is no longer content with a myopic focus on GDP growth rates.”
Ma founded Alibaba in 1999 with a group of friends, who grew the company into the world’s largest and, according to the FT, most successful e-commerce empire. Buzz around Alibaba has grown as it preps an initial public offering that could value the company at more than $100 billion.
But as the FT notes, Ma’s “decision to address some of the biggest problems facing China shows that his ambition extends far beyond changing the way people do their shopping,” citing an essay Ma wrote for the Harvard Business Review this year in which the iconic entrepreneur predicted the Internet will revolutionize finance, education, healthcare and ultimately allow Chinese society “to leapfrog in its development of a stronger institutional and social infrastructure.”
The FT’s accolade adds to a long list of notices Ma has received from the international media. Among other honors, he was named one of the “25 Most Powerful Businesspeople in Asia” by Fortune magazine in 2005, “Businessperson of the Year” by BusinessWeek in 2007 and one of the 30 “World’s Best CEOs” by Barron’s in 2008.
In 2009, he was recognized as one of the “TIME 100: The World’s Most Influential People” by TIME magazine, and one of the “Top 10 Most Respected Entrepreneurs in China” by Forbes Chinese edition. In 2010, he was named one of “Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy” by Forbes Asia for his contribution to poverty and disaster relief in China.
In 2011, he was chosen by The Wall Street Journal as one of the “12 Global Executives to Watch in 2012.” Last year he was recognized as one of the “15 Business People Who’ve Changed China” by Fortune’s Chinese edition.