Professor Jack Ma of Alibaba to begin classes at Tokyo College

The Chinese billionaire will be teaching students about sustainable agriculture and food production.
Ameya Paleja
File photo of Jack Ma from 2008
File photo of Jack Ma from 2008

World Economic Forum/ Wikimedia Commons 

Jack Ma, the co-founder of the multinational technology company, Alibaba, marks his return to teaching as he begins a public role as visiting professor at the Tokyo College in Japan today, Business Insider reported. This is Ma's first public role after disappearing from the spotlight in 2020.

Once the richest man in China, Ma had humble beginnings and worked as an English lecturer for several years before he co-founded Alibaba. The Chinese company began operations as a business-to-business marketplace but has diversified extensively and now offers services in electronic payments, as a shopping search engine as well as cloud computing.

Recently, the company CEO announced the launch of a ChatGPT-rival, "Tongyi Qianwen," a generative artificial chatbot that works in English as well as Chinese. Even as Alibaba grows from strength to strength, the most popular face among its co-founders, Ma, has been missing in action.

Why Jack Ma went off the radar

Back in May 2019, Ma decided to step down from his management responsibilities at Alibaba Group and even announced his intent to return to teaching. In September 2019, Ma was replaced by Daniel Zhang as the CEO, and the co-founder decided to focus on philanthropy and education.

More than a year later, in October 2020, Ma made a speech where he criticized the financial regulatory system in China. His comment that Chinese banks were operating with a "pawnshop" mentality angered Chinese authorities, and the initial public offering (IPO) of his fintech company, AntGroup, was scrapped days later.

Alibaba's share price tumbled by over 70 percent from its peak in 2020, and Ma's wealth shrunk by half. Ma, who made multiple public appearances even after his retirement from Alibaba, suddenly went off the radar raising questions about his whereabouts.

Professor Jack Ma of Alibaba to begin classes at Tokyo College

In November last year, Ma visited Japan but was seen in private circles. Earlier in January, he was spotted in Thailand and then in Hong Kong. In March, he visited the school he founded in his hometown of Hangzhou in east China and was later appointed as an honorary professor by the University of Hong Kong, Business Insider said in its report.

The 58-year-old billionaire is now expected to begin a new phase of his life as a visiting professor at Tokyo College, which is run by the University of Tokyo. In an announcement, the college said that Ma would conduct research on sustainable agriculture and food production and "share his rich experience and pioneering knowledge on entrepreneurship, corporate management and innovation" during seminars in college.

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