New Delhi: Jack Ma, Alibaba’s co-founder and executive chairman has decided to step down from the Chinese e-commerce giant on Monday to pursue philanthropy in education, a changing of the guard for the $420 billion internet company. The Chinese billionaire will remain on Alibaba’s board of directors and continue to mentor the company’s management. He will turn 54 on Monday, which is also a holiday in China known as Teacher’s Day.

In an exclusive interview to The New York Times, the Chinese billionaire termed his retirement as “the beginning of an era”.  “I love education,” the Chinese billionaire said, adding that he would be spending more of his time and fortune focused on education.

Jack Ma co-founded Alibaba with 17 others out of his apartment in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in 1999. He built it into one of the world’s most consequential e-commerce and digital payments companies, transforming how Chinese people shop and pay for things which fueled his net worth to more than $40 billion, making him China’s richest man.

Ma is revered by many Chinese, some of whom have put his portrait in their homes to worship in the same way that they worship the God of Wealth. The retirement makes Ma one of the first founders among a generation of prominent Chinese internet entrepreneurs to step down from their companies.  Firms including Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com have flourished in recent years, growing to nearly rival American internet behemoths like Amazon and Google in their size, scope and ambition.

Last month, Alibaba reported a 60 per cent increase in quarterly sales, even as profits fell.  The company’s annual revenue totals about 250 billion yuan ($40 billion).

(With inputs from agencies)