HONG KONG — The Alibaba Group said on Monday that Jack Ma would resign as chairman, unveiling a leadership succession plan for the Chinese e-commerce giant as it faces a more uncertain environment at home.
Mr. Ma, who co-founded Alibaba in his apartment 19 years ago and has led it ever since, will step down as chairman a year from Monday, the company said. He will be succeeded by Daniel Zhang, currently Alibaba’s chief executive.
Alibaba said the move was meant to foster long-term growth and reduce its dependence on any one person. At the same time, it took pains to stress that Mr. Ma would remain involved with the company. It said he will remain on its board until 2020 and would remain in the Alibaba Partnership, a group of senior longtime managers who exercise significant control over the business and its affiliates.
“This transition demonstrates that Alibaba has stepped up to the next level of corporate governance from a company that relies on individuals, to one built on systems of organizational excellence and a culture of talent development,” Mr. Ma said in a company statement.
The prospect of Mr. Ma’s departure unnerved some investors. On Friday, The New York Times reported that Mr. Ma would retire on Monday. The company’s shares fell in after-hours trading in the United States, where its shares are listed, after the news was reported.
In an interview with The Times on Friday, Mr. Ma said his retirement would be “the beginning of an era” and that he would focus on education. “I love education,” he said.
In exchanges with The Times after the article was published, Mr. Ma said his decision had nothing to do with some of the issues it mentioned, such as the Chinese government’s growing role in businesses or the weakening business environment.
Some investors in New York and Hong Kong said over the weekend that they aren’t overly concerned about Alibaba’s business and its leadership transition. But the confidence in China’s economic and political conditions is so low that the departure of an iconic figure like Mr. Ma has made them wonder how they should evaluate their investment portfolios.
Under Mr. Ma, Alibaba became one of the world’s largest and most powerful technology companies. It dominates e-commerce in China, the world’s largest single market of internet users. Hundreds of millions of Chinese use Alibaba’s electronic payment affiliate, Alipay, to buy clothing and gadgets, order out lunch and invest their money. In recent years, as China’s internet use has surged, Alibaba’s market capitalization has risen to levels that rival Facebook’s.
It hasn’t stopped there. Alibaba’s sprawling businesses also include brick-and-mortar stores, online video, movies and other enterprises, and it has sought to expand in promising new markets like Southeast Asia and India.
But investors have begun to worry in recent months that Alibaba’s road is getting tougher, and shares of Alibaba and some of its rivals have fallen significantly in recent months.
The Chinese economy is showing signs of slowing, even among the country’s usually ebullient consumers. It faces rising competition among companies like Pinduoduo, which caters to lower-end consumers. Its main rival, JD.com, reported disappointing financial results last month, though Alibaba’s results were better.
The Chinese government has also taken a tougher line on its thriving technology scene over the past year. It has cracked down on video games and online news in recent months, and in general has taken a greater role in private enterprise.
The announcement also comes amid uncertainty at the top of JD.com. Its top executive — Liu Qiangdong, or Richard Liu in English — was arrested in the United States two weeks ago for alleged sexual misconduct. He has denied the accusation and has not been charged with a crime. He was released a day later and has since returned to China.
Alibaba and Mr. Ma on Monday portrayed the succession plan as a sign that the company isn’t dependent on one person. Mr. Ma’s involvement in the company isn’t likely to end with his resignation, however. He has a stake of more than 6 percent in the company’s shares. Crucially, he will also have considerable sway in the company and its affiliates thanks to its complicated legal structure. Under Chinese law, crucial licenses to do business in certain industries must stay in control of Chinese nationals when a company lists its shares overseas, as Alibaba has done.
Mr. Ma said he was stepping down to focus on education, a favorite subject of his. The announcement was made on Teacher’s Day, an annual event in China that emphasizes education.
“I also want to return to education, which excites me with so much blessing because this is what I love to do,” he said in the company statement. “The world is big, and I am still young, so I want to try new things — because what if new dreams can be realized?!”