Alibaba founder Jack Ma is left off Chinese state newspaper’s leading entrepreneurs list after ‘falling out of favour with Beijing’

  • Ma was omitted from an article praising entrepreneurs for their contributions
  • The snub underscored widely spread belief that he has fallen afoul of Beijing
  • The tycoon vanished in November after criticising state banks and regulators 
  • Beijing then spiked an IPO of his group and launched an anti-monopoly probe 
  • He re-emerged after more than two months in a video speech on state media

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been left off a list of leading Chinese entrepreneurs published by a state-controlled newspaper – the snub underscoring how just far he has fallen out of favour with Beijing. 

Mr Ma had disappeared from the public eye for more than two months since early November when he was hauled in front of regulators for an October speech critical of China’s outdated financial system. 

Shortly afterwards, the record-breaking £27billion ($37billion) IPO of his financial group Ant was spiked at the last minute by Chinese regulators in a shock move which some saw as retaliation for Mr Ma’s outspokenness. 

Jack Ma was not mentioned in an article praising top Chinese businessmen on Tuesday. The picture shows Mr Ma attending a conference to commemorate the 40th anniversary of China’s Reform and Opening Up policy at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 18, 2018

The record-breaking $37billion IPO of Mr Ma’s financial group Ant was spiked at the last minute by Chinese regulators late last year in a shock move which some saw as retaliation for Ma’s outspokenness. The file photo shows Ant Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China

Late last month, the 56-year-old made his first public appearance in over two months in an online video to hail China’s poverty alleviation efforts, ending weeks of speculation about his whereabouts. 

Mr Ma — one of China’s richest people with a fortune estimated at around £45billion ($62billion) — was not mentioned in a front-page article today by Shanghai Securities News, a financial outlet supervised by state news agency Xinhua. 

The commentary praised seven high-profile entrepreneurs for helping China achieve ‘high-quality’ economic growth, but did not bring up the nation’s best-known businessman, Mr Ma.

Among the applauded were Huawei’s CEO Ren Zhengfei, Xiaomi’s co-founder Lei Jun and Tencent’s chairman Ma Huateng. 

Air-conditioning giant Gree’s chairman Dong Mingzhu, electric vehicle maker BYD’s founder Wang Chuanfu and Fuyao Glass’s founder Cao Dewang were also named for their contributions. 

A screenshot of a video released by state-affiliated Tianmu News on January 20 showed Mr Ma praising China’s poverty alleviation efforts and vowing to help rural teachers as he re-emerged

The article was published on Tuesday when Alibaba will also report its latest quarterly earnings.

The catalyst for Mr Ma’s current woes was an October 24 speech in which he blasted China’s regulatory system, leading to the suspension of his Ant Group’s $37billion IPO just days before the fintech giant’s listing.

Regulators have since launched an anti-trust probe into the tech sector with Alibaba taking much of the heat, while tighter regulations for Ant Group are also being considered.

Mr Ma, who is not known for shying away from the limelight, subsequently disappeared from the public eye for about three months, triggering frenzied speculation about his whereabouts. He re-emerged last month with a 50-second video appearance.

The Shanghai Securities News said that while some of the entrepreneurs it praised had once behaved like ‘reckless heroes’ in their efforts to break away from an old, rigid economic system, they now led ‘a group of companies that respected the rules of development and abided by market rules’.

Mr Ma retired as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019 but has attracted attention for his outspokenness

Mr Ma, a charismatic former-teacher-turned-internet-entrepreneur, retired as chairman of Alibaba in 2019 but has long attracted attention for his outspokenness and flamboyant antics, performing as a rockstar at company conferences.

The continued squeeze on one of China’s most influential companies is the latest sign that the leadership is ready to deflate the ambitions of big tech firms in a runaway internet sector.

Beijing has a history of disappearing, investigating and imprisoning financial tycoons who do not toe the party line.

Last year, outspoken real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang was jailed for 18 years on alleged corruption charges, months after penning an essay critical of the Communist Party. 

Who is Jack Ma?

Founder and Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma is seen at the ‘Ma Yun Rural Teachers and Headmasters Prize’ on January 13th, 2019 in Sanya, China

Jack Ma was a cash-strapped Chinese entrepreneur and former English teacher when he convinced friends to give him £45,000 ($60,000) to start a Chinese e-commerce firm called Alibaba in 1999.

Two decades later, Alibaba is an internet juggernaut, and Ma is among the world’s richest men.

Alibaba Group includes Tmall.com for business-to-consumer transactions and Taobao, China’s most popular online consumer marketplace with hundreds of millions of products and services listed.

The company has now become a player in online payments and films. It has also been pouring investment into various ventures, including bricks-and-mortar retail, cloud computing, meal delivery and advertising.

It owns a stake in China’s hugely popular Twitter-like Weibo platform, and in 2015 it bought the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Ma, whose Chinese name is Ma Yun (马云), has often described himself as something on an accidental entrepreneur, giving up his university teaching for the hustle of trade after discovering the internet.

Seeing an opportunity for small businesses to buy and sell their goods online, he started Alibaba, initially running the company out of his apartment in the eastern city of Hangzhou, where the company’s headquarters remains.

He has inspired strong devotion among his employees and users, drawing comparisons with late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs – although he practices a more open management style.

He is one of the most colourful of China’s growing cop of billionaires, performing a Michael Jackson-inspired dance routine at the company’s 18th anniversary celebration in 2017, and starring in his own kung fu short film.

The tycoon officially retired as Alibaba’s chairman in September 2019 aged 55 to devote his time to philanthropy focused on education.  

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