Jack Ma was just seen dining in Thailand hours before reports that he was giving up his company.
The billionaire clashed with Chinese regulators in 2020, who then cracked down on his companies Alibaba and Ant Group.
Ma has largely disappeared from the public eye, and was last seen in Japan in Nov. 2022.
Ma was last seen in Japan in November 2022, where he was reported to have been living for six months after disappearing from public view following a Chinese crackdown on his businesses.
Ma became the richest man in China through his highly successful companies, and established himself as a well-known face across China and the global business world.
But China started to crack down on his empire in 2020 when he criticized its regulators, launching an investigation into his e-commerce giant, Alibaba, and halting the IPO of Ant Group, his fintech company.
Ma has rarely been seen in public since then, leading to rumors that he was missing before making a few appearances.
Here's a timeline of Ma's rise and fall.
Ma, whose given name is Ma Yun, was born on September 10, 1964, in Hangzhou, southeastern China.
Ma was turned down for more than a dozen jobs before starting to work as an English teacher, and said in 2016 that he had been rejected from Harvard 10 times.
Source: Business Insider
He founded Alibaba in 1999. It grew to become the world's largest B2B e-commerce marketplace in the world, and created the world's largest shopping event — Singles' Day.
Alibaba's 2014 IPO was at the time the largest in history.
The IPO also established Ma as the richest person in China, with a net worth of around $25 billion at the time.
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Ma's wealth has grown since, but he has dropped to the fourth-richest man in China, as other people eclipsed his net worth of some $50 billion.
Source: Bloomberg Billionaires Index
Ma founded Ant Group, formerly called Ant Financial, in 2014. The company is an affiliate of Alibaba, and owns digital payment platform Alipay.
On October 24 2020, when Ant Group was gearing up for an IPO, Ma criticized China's financial regulatory system, saying China was following global rules that are part of "an old people's club."
As Business Insider's Katie Canales previously reported, Ma said that the rules that govern global banking aren't well-suited for Chinese tech innovation.
He said: "We can't use yesterday's methods to regulate the future."
Ma appeared on a livestream for the launch of a shopping event a few days later, which appeared to be his last public event for months.
Source: The Guardian
On Nov. 2, 2020, China introduced new regulations that halted the Ant Group IPO.
The IPO was expected to raise $37 billion, making it the largest in history.
But, a week after Ma's criticisms of the regulatory system, China introduced new regulations for online lending that disqualified Ant Group from making an IPO.
As The Guardian noted, analysts interpreted China's decision as a warning to Ma.
Bill Bishop, the author of the China-focused newsletter Sinocism, then wrote: "The party has once again reminded all private entrepreneurs that no matter how rich and successful you are it can pull the rug out from under your feet at any time."
The Wall Street Journal reported that Ma offered to give parts of Ant Group to the Chinese government when meeting them on Nov. 2, 2020, but China still went ahead with the rule change.
Sources told the Journal that Ma told regulators: "You can take any of the platforms Ant has, as long as the country needs it."
And later in November, Ma was replaced as a judge on the final episode of a talent show he founded, "Africa's Business Heroes," the Financial Times reported.
The FT noted that Ma's photo was removed from the show's webpage and he wasn't included in the promotional video.
An Alibaba spokesperson blamed scheduling conflicts: "Due to a schedule conflict Mr Ma could no longer be part of the finale judge panel of Africa's Business Heroes earlier this year (2020)."
And an Alibaba spokesperson told Business Insider that they had nothing else to add when asked about Ma's whereabouts: "We do not have anything to add beyond that."
On Dec. 23, 2020, Chinese regulators launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba. Ma still owned a 8.9% stake in the company at the time.
Chinese regulators said they were investigating Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd over "suspected monopolistic practices".
And on Dec. 28, China told Ant Group to limit its ambitions and focus on payment services instead of insurance or wealth management.
Ant Group said in a statement that it would establish a "rectification working group" to do as the regulator asked.
CNBC reported in January 2021 that sources said Ma was deliberately lying low, and was not missing.
A person familiar with the matter told CNBC's David Faber that Ma was deliberately staying out of the spotlight.
Ma visited Ant Group's headquarters in May 2021 in a rare public appearance.
Reuters reported that Ma visited the headquarters in Hangzhou, China, for the annual company holiday that celebrates staff.
He made a few other public appearances in the following months.
Reports in October 2021 said Ma had travelled to Spain in his first overseas trip for over a year.
Chinese state media reported in May that a person with the surname Ma was being investigated, leading to rumors that it was Jack Ma and billions being wiped from Alibaba's market value. It turned out to not be Jack Ma, and the price rebounded.
The fallout showed how investors still were spooked about how China's government can crack down.
His companies suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Ma has remained a billionaire.
China's strict COVID-19 policies hammered his company's values, causing his net worth to plunge, but still maintaining his status as a billionaire.
According to Bloomberg's Billionaires Index, as of Jan. 6, 2023 Ma has a net worth of more than $31.4 billion.
A report from the Financial Times in November 2022 said Ma had been living in Tokyo, Japan for six months.
The Financial Times reported, citing people with direct knowledge of his whereabouts.
Ma was not spotted again until Jan. 6, 2023, when he appeared to resurface in Thailand after being spotted at a restaurant in Bangkok.
Ma visited the eatery with Soopakij Chearavanont, chair of the Charoen Pokphand Group, according to local outlets and Reuters.
The day prior, Ma was spotted at a Muay Thai fight, posing with boxing champion Sombat "Buakaw" Banchamek.
The sighting occurred hours before Ma officially ceded control of Ant Group, after more than a year of pressure from the Chinese government to give up the business.
Source: Wall Street Journal
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