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According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Mr Ma has a net worth of about $40bn (£30.96bn). He would take the company to astronomical heights and make it China's major e-commerce website in the years to come.

The company has now become a player in online payments and films, and it has been pouring investment into an array of ventures, including brick-and-mortar retail, cloud computing, meal delivery and advertising.

It owns a stake in China's hugely popular Twitter-like Weibo platform and in 2015 it bought the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Alibaba has been referred to as the Amazon of China. He said he would be spending more of his time and fortune focused on education. "It doesn't matter how big or small your contribution is, and it doesn't mean you have to do something big or be someone important to do philanthropy", Ma Said recently at Alibaba's conference on philanthropy, in Hangzhou.

Ma, the executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding and public face of the technology juggernaut, will unveil the plan on September 10 on his 54th birthday.

The pair met while Morley was on a trip to China in 1980. When asked if his retirement could happen as soon as this year, Ma smiled and said, "You'll know very soon".

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"There are a lot of things I can learn from Bill Gates". "Personal philanthropy is not about giving cash, but giving your heart, your time and most importantly, your action".

Ma has inspired strong devotion among his employees and users, drawing comparisons with late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs - although he practised a more open management style.

Ma is a man "who deftly maneuvered through the discontinuities and barriers in China to create one of the greatest companies in the world", as Tim Draper, founder of Draper Associates, DFJ, and Draper University said.

Ma's departure is sure to leave an impression, perhaps one that is larger than the one he made during the years he led Alibaba. The Chinese e-commerce giant, since then is being managed by its current CEO Daniel Zhang, who is likely to succeed Ma after his retirement. He cited Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates as an example.

In an exclusive New York Times interview, the Chinese billionaire said on Friday that his retirement was not the end of an era but "the beginning of an era".