What happened: Speculation is growing as to the location of China’s renowned multibillionaire Jack Ma. Since October, Alibaba Group has been clashing with China’s regulators due to Ma’s outspoken criticism of the government, which resulted in a halt to the public offering of his $35 billion-company, Ant Group. According to an Ant group filing, his 11 percent share in Ant group could have netted him an extra $34 billion had it gone through.
Since then, the Alibaba founder has disappeared from the public eye, even failing to appear on the final episode of his TV talent show Africa’s Business Heroes, which offers African entrepreneurs a chance to compete for up to $1.5 million. Ma’s woes continued when, on December 24, the State Administration for Market Regulation initiated an antitrust probe into the Alibaba Group. Now, reports have revealed that the high-profile businessman hasn’t made a public appearance — or tweeted — since October 2020.
The Jing Take: Unlike their Western counterparts, Chinese CEOs generally keep a low profile and stay out of the media spotlight. As a flamboyant and outspoken business leader, Ma is the opposite of this, easily making him China’s most famous entrepreneur. His rise to fame has been well documented. And even though his fortune ($57.8 billion) is smaller than some of his contemporaries, global recognition has made him more famous than other Chinese executives like Zhong Shanshan ($86.5), Colin Zheng Huang ($60.2), and Ma Huateng ($56.1), making Ma’s withdrawal from public life more notable.
Conjecture has been mounting as to whether his absence has a sinister meaning. The disappearance of billionaires in China is not unheard of, and Ma has clashed with the party before. President Xi has been eager to curb the growth of China’s dynamic companies through investigations and regulations to offer fairer competition for citizens. China’s online sector has developed dramatically, but many feel those measures may hamper dynamic innovation. Xi has often touted deceased industrialist Zhang Jian as a patriotic role-model, and Ma’s contemporary capitalist approach is a world away from this. But can a balance be struck? In October, Ma bluntly struck out at China’s banks by calling them “pawn shops.” A suspended IPO was his punishment.
Ma’s potential disappearance is a huge blow for one of China’s most powerful tech companies, and it questions the stability of the country’s e-commerce market. But at this point, the disappearance is no more than speculation. Given the antitrust investigation, it is not surprising that Ma would choose to lay low. Hopefully, that is what he’s doing right now.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.