Who is Jack Ma?
Born in Hangzhou in eastern China, the 56-year-old came from a poor family and was once an English teacher.
He bought his first computer aged 33, and in the last two decades rose to become a shining star of China’s booming economy through the success of his e-commerce giant Alibaba.
He recently failed to appear in the final episode of Africa’s Business Heroes, a talent show of the Jack Ma Foundation in which 10 emerging African entrepreneurs are given a shared $1.5m (£1.09m) grant for pursuing their ideas.
The Chinese billionaire was replaced as a judge in the final episode of the show by Alibaba’s co-founder Lucy Peng and his picture was also removed from the judging webpage, reported the Financial Times.
The final took place in November, shortly after the Chinese tech billionaire made a candid speech criticising China’s regulators and its state-owned banks. In the wake of the speech, Mr Ma was dressed down by officials in Beijing and the $37bn initial public offering of his company Ant Group was suspended. He has not been seen in public since.
A spokesperson for Alibaba, which was founded by Mr Ma, said: “Due to a schedule conflict Mr Ma could no longer be part of the finale judge panel of Africa’s Business Heroes earlier this year (2020).”
One contestant in the competition said she had been star-struck when she pitched her business to Mr Ma in an earlier round. “You can’t imagine,” she said. But by the time of the final, Mr Ma had been replaced by Lucy Peng, an executive at Alibaba.
Subsequently, a series of actions have been taken against Mr Ma’s companies including an antitrust investigation into Alibaba. The firm’s $10bn (£7.3bn) buyback programme in December failed to excite the market.
During the pandemic, Mr Ma has donated tens of millions of face coverings across the world and 2,000 ventilators to New York.
Since a controversial speech in China in October 2020, where he lamented the country’s financial regulatory system and called for it to be reformed, the billionaire has been facing a series of actions from the Chinese authorities.
He called for reforms in the financial system, speaking to an audience that included many officials of the regulatory organisations he was criticising.
The response was swift. In November, a planned IPO of Ma’s Ant Group was suspended by the Chinese authorities and later, in December, the buyback plan of shares worth billions of pounds also failed to excite the investors. The authorities also opened an investigation against his firms.
He has faced a number of business setbacks since, including a block on his plans for a stellar listing on the stock market, actions which have in turn left the market wary of his firms.