Read Alibaba chairman Jack Ma's letter to employees and customers

Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma gestures as he attends the 11th World Trade Organization's ministerial conference in Buenos Aires Argentina

Mr. Ma, who grew from an English teacher to China's top billionaires making Alibaba into $420 billion company, always took care to not ruffle feathers of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).

The company's operations span ecommerce, artificial intelligence, electronic payment services, search engines and cloud computing.

Alibaba is one of the world's most valuable companies - its shares almost doubled in value previous year.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Ma now has a net worth of around $40 billion.

Alibaba said Ma will remain a member of the group that has a right to nominate a majority of the company's board of directors. "I'm very proud that Alibaba now has the structure, corporate culture, governance and system for grooming talent that allows me to step away without causing disruption".

"I want to return to education, which excites me with so much blessing because this is what I love to do. Starting the process of passing the Alibaba torch to Daniel and his team is the right decision at the right time", Ma said in a letter released by the company. As internet use spread, the company expanded into consumer-focused retailing and services.

He owns almost 9% of Alibaba, which is now worth $420bn. At an annual Alibaba employee festival in Hanzhou, he has sung pop songs in costumes that have included blonde wigs and leather jackets. Its share price has more than doubled since its record 2014 initial public offering.

Zhang, Ma's planned successor, is a former accountant who joined Alibaba in 2007 after working at Shanda Entertainment, an online games company.

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Alibaba is also increasing its footprint in the government sector.

China's richest man has become synonymous with turning the company that started in his Hangzhou apartment into a global e-commerce giant with burgeoning cloud computing and package delivery businesses.

Alibaba, which reported almost $40 billion in revenue a year ago, says it has an annual active customer base of 524 million.

The total value of goods sold on all of its platforms rose 28 percent over 2016 to 4.8 trillion yuan ($768 billion), according to the company.

Alibaba didn't immediately return request for comment. The dispute was later resolved by Alibaba, Yahoo and Softbank.

With no background in computing, Mr Ma co-founded Alibaba in his apartment almost two decades ago, having convinced a group of friends to invest in his online marketplace.

Ma defended the arrangement as necessary to ensure Alibaba focuses on long-term development instead of responding to pressure from financial markets.

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