The story of China's rise as an Internet technology powerhouse is still in its early stages, but as of this year the emerging scene will have to learn to get along without one of its most interesting and successful standard bearers: Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of ecommerce firm Alibaba Group.
Ma announced his decision to step down from the company's top slot via a company blog post, a move that is likely to surprise many who have viewed him as the face of China's recent Internet boom.
Estimated to be worth something in the range of $3.4 billion (£2 billion), Ma is not only one of the richest people in China, he is also one of the few top-tier businessmen in the country who has managed to put a more international face on China's rapid march toward technological and financial parity with the US.
"As a founder CEO, stepping down as CEO is a difficult decision, for this could be confounding especially for someone of my age who should be at the height of his career," Ma wrote in a memo to employees. But "at 48 I am no longer 'young' for the Internet business."
"The next generation of Alibaba people are better equipped to manage and lead an Internet ecosystem like ours," he continued. "I believe that doing what makes oneself happy, staying within one's own limits and being a good partner to one's more capable colleagues, is the right thing for me to do."
Ma's apparent focus on age and early retirement is relatively unusual in the region, particularly in countries like Japan and South Korea where it's common for executives to work well into their 70s, or later. And, even in hyper-competitive China, the average CEO is more likely to be a 50- or 60-something-year-old veteran, rather than the fresh from university 20-something so common in Silicon Valley.
However, Ma has always approached the Chinese market as an iconoclast, drawing lessons from the West while continuing to espouse traditional Chinese business values. In recent years the charismatic CEO has also spent a good deal of time in the US, attempting to soak up some of the lessons of Silicon Valley startup culture and how they translate into global success stories.
Another part of the decision could be a sense, on the founder's part, that he has finally taken care of unfinished business. Last year, after very long negotiations, Ma finally managed to buy back half of Yahoo's stake in the company for $7.6 billion (£4.7 billion), with the option to buy back the remaining half of Yahoo's stake at the time of the company's eventual IPO. Ma's replacement will be named in May, after which Ma will assume the role of executive chairman.