Ma, who stepped down from Alibaba in 2019 but looms large in the corporate psyche and in the eyes of investors, had revelled in pushing boundaries with audacious statements, taking a high profile even as most Chinese peers kept their heads down. The reversal of fortune for the 56-year-old Ma, who has all-but-disappeared from public view since an October speech blasting China’s regulatory system, has been striking for an entrepreneur whose transformation of commerce in China – and his relentless optimism – commanded cult-like reverence.
Friends in high places, as well as pride in Alibaba’s success, had protected Ma, sources have said. Saturday’s settlement, he said, “should draw a line” under the matter for Alibaba.]
“Entrepreneurship has to be disruptive. But being provocative to the government has its limits,” said Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing-based tech consultancy BDA China and author of a book on Alibaba and Ma. “But for Ant and Jack, there’s no line drawn yet,” he said.
Ant, whose rapid growth and freewheeling lending practices drew regulatory concern about financial risk, remains subject to an enforced restructuring that is expected to rein in some of its most profitable businesses and slash its valuation. That was until his Shanghai speech triggered a backlash that led to the scuppering of a blockbuster $37 billion IPO for Alibaba financial technology affiliate Ant Group, as well as a clampdown by authorities on the e-commerce giant itself and the wider “platform economy”, which continues to reverberate.
Story continues Alibaba declined to comment on Ma, and his foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.
“He’s playing a lot of golf and improving his handicap,” said one person who knows him. Ma’s absence from public view became conspicuous until he surfaced for the first time in three months in late January, speaking to a group of teachers by video, which sent Alibaba shares surging. He has continued to keep an extremely low profile. CONSPICUOUS ABSENCE
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