Ma’s latest gambit backfired after he called regulators too conservative in an Oct. 24 speech and urged them to be more innovative. They halted the impending stock market debut of Ant Group, an online finance platform that grew out of Alipay. Alibaba’s share price sank, possibly costing Ma his status as China’s richest tycoon.
Since then, the normally voluble Ma has stayed out of the public eye, canceled a TV appearance and avoided social media. That has prompted a flurry of speculation about what might happen to Ma, China’s biggest global business celebrity and a symbol of its tech boom.
“The Jack Ma Era is ended,” wrote a blogger under the name Yueyue Talks Technology. “It’s too late to say goodbye.”
Spokespeople for Alibaba and Ant didn’t respond to questions about why Ma hasn’t appeared in public.
Some see Ma’s travails as a warning from the ruling Communist Party that even a wildly successful entrepreneur can’t publicly defy regulators. But finance experts said President Xi Jinping’s government already was uneasy about Alibaba’s dominance in retailing. As for Ant, regulators worried it might add to financial risks seen by the ruling party as one of the biggest threats to China’s economic growth.
Shaun Rein, a business consultant in Shanghai who said he meets Alibaba managers and people who know Ma, said none of them reports the billionaire is in legal trouble.
“They spanked him. He’s learned his lesson, and that’s why he’s been quiet for the past two months,” said Rein, founder of China Market Research Group. “Some of his friends told me they can’t believe how stupid he was.”
Ma, 56, stepped down as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019 but is part of the Alibaba Partnership, a 36-member group with the right to nominate a majority of its board of directors. He is one of the biggest shareholders.
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