Jack Ma, China’s well-known business tycoon is “lying low” and is evading the limelight -according to an Alibaba executive.
The co-founder of the Chinese e-commerce giant Joe Tsai told CNBC that he speaks to Mr Jack Ma every day.
“He’s actually doing very, very well. He’s taken up painting as a hobby, it’s actually pretty good,” said Mr Tsai.
Ever since the falling foul of China’s officials in November, Mr Ma has been prominently absent.
He became China’s richest man yet again ensuing the dual stock market debut of his digital payments company Ant Group – an affiliate of Alibaba – in Hong Kong and Shanghai, which was worth about $34.4bn (£26.5bn).
This was meant to be the world’s biggest initial public offering. And it was stopped by Chinese regulators at the eleventh hour, quoting “major issues” over-regulating the company.
It is a possibility that the CEO’s criticism of the Chinese financial sector in October provoked the move.
As said by some analysts it was an attempt by Beijing to humble a company that had become too powerful and a leader who had become too outspoken.
Mr Jack Ma had compared traditional banks to “pawn shops” at a financial technology conference.
He praised the merits of the digital banking system instead and emphasized that future lending decisions should be based on data, not collateral.
Alipay is the main online payment system in China run by the Ant Group. This system has concealed cash, cheques and credit cards.
Alibaba, which owns a third of Ant Group, saw its share price fall on stock markets after the suspension was announced.
Moreover, China announced an antitrust probe into Alibaba – the largest e-commerce platform across China.
This ended with Alibaba being fined $2.8bn by Chinese regulators in April. According to them, it has abused its market for years.
And two days later, Ant Group announced a drastic reconstructing plan with regulators forcing it to act more like a bank than a tech firm.
Mr Tsai – now the executive chairman of Alibaba, said that he disagreed with the idea that Mr Ma had become eccentric.
“The idea that Jack has this enormous amount of power, I think that’s not quite right,” he said. “He is just like you and me, he’s a normal individual.”
He added that after all his efforts, Mr Ma now just wanted to focus on the things he really wanted to spend time on, like philanthropy work and hobbies.
However, Mr Tsai said the firm was moving forward:
“I think you have to separate what’s happening to Jack and what’s happening to our business.
“Our business is under some kind of restructuring on the financial side of things, and also in antitrust regulation.
“We had to pay a big fine. But we’ve gotten that behind us, so we’re looking forward,”