In the face of government pressure on the tech industry, China’s most prominent entrepreneur, Jack Ma, is reportedly stepping down as the president of an elite business school he founded, implying a further retreat from public life by China’s most prominent entrepreneur.
The Financial Times reported Monday that Ma will step down as president of Hupan, which he founded in 2015 with the goal of turning it into a “300-year enterprise” that would become a global brand for entrepreneurship education.
Hupan’s education program would also be restructured, according to the newspaper. Following a government crackdown on institutions that are not licensed as universities but claim the status, the Hangzhou-based school had already dropped the word “university” from its name.
According to the Financial Times, Ma will not hold “any high level official title” at the organization after it is restructured, citing a source close to the school. Several people told the newspaper that Ma wanted to stay connected to the school and might even give lectures there.
Hupan and Ma’s personal foundation did not respond to CNN Business’ requests for comment.
The report comes after Beijing began reining in the Chinese internet sector a few months ago. Ma has been at the center of these efforts, with regulators canceling a highly anticipated IPO for his Ant Group, Alibaba’s financial affiliate, last year after he criticized the country’s financial regulators and state-controlled banks. Since then, Ant Group has been forced to overhaul its operations, and Alibaba and other tech companies have been investigated for monopolistic behavior and other concerns about consumer rights.
Ma then disappeared from the public eye for several months, canceling appearances at planned events.
He isn’t the only high-ranking tech executive who has recently taken a step back. Zhang Yiming, the 38-year-old founder of ByteDance, announced last week that he would step down as CEO and take on a new role at the company to “focus on long-term strategy.” Colin Huang, the 41-year-old founder of Pinduoduo (PDD) and Huang Zheng, announced in March that he would resign as chairman to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a scientist or researcher.
When Ma co-founded Alibaba in 1999, he took the name Hupan, which means “lakeside,” from the apartment where he lived. In the early days of Alibaba, the first 18 employees worked together at Lakeside Gardens.
Ma has compared the experience to running a small business out of a garage in the West.
At a 2016 ceremony at the school, Ma told students, “Each company has its own ‘garage’ culture.” “That’s why it’s called Hupan University, in honor of all entrepreneurs.”
Each applicant needed more than three years of entrepreneurial experience running a company with a minimum annual revenue of 30 million yuan ($4.7 million) and 30 employees to be admitted to the school. Even the most qualified candidates had to go through a series of tests and interviews. Its admission rate is a lowly 2.2 percent , making it more difficult to get into than Harvard and Stanford.
Many well-known Chinese entrepreneurs have graduated, including Didi Chuxing’s president Jean Liu (or Liu Qing), Li Auto founder Li Xiang, and Uxin Group founder Dai Kun.
However, the political tide has turned against Ma and his endeavors. In April, the Financial Times reported that Hupan had been forced to halt new enrollments due to the scrutiny placed on Alibaba and Ant Group.
Hupan has been compared to the Donglin Academy, which is thought to have cultivated like-minded scholars and officials in the 17th century, eventually leading to the formation of the famous and powerful political faction Donglin. Such thinkers grew in power, resulting in years of intense factional battles for power within the empire, which is thought to have led to the Ming dynasty’s demise.
Authorities were concerned that Ma was forming a network that “could be at odds with the [ruling Chinese] Communist party’s objectives,” according to the Financial Times, citing a source close to the school.