Billionaire Jack Ma, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's co-founder and executive chairman, announced he will leave from the Chinese e-commerce giant on September 10 to devote his time to philanthropy focused on education.
Ma, a former tour guide, English teacher and self-styled "China's Forrest Gump," would remain on the company's board of directors and continue to mentor the company's management, the New York Times said.
Ma told the newspaper that his retirement "is not the end of an era but "the beginning of an era." He added that he would be spending more of his time and fortune focussed on education.
The way he chose to make the announcement was unusual. The New York Times is blocked in China by Communist Party censors and there was no official statement from Alibaba on Saturday.
But in an interview with Bloomberg TV released on Friday, he hinted at his retirement plans, saying he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the world's most prolific philanthropists.
"There's a lot of things I can learn from Bill Gates. I can never be as rich, but one thing I can do better is to retire earlier," he said.
"I think some day, and soon, I'll go back to teaching," he said, adding he had been preparing philanthropy plans at his eponymous foundation "for 10 years".
Ma's rags-to-riches story is particularly remarkable. Born into a poor family in Hangzhou, eastern Zhejiang province, Ma became a university teacher but gave the job up after discovering the internet. Seeing an opportunity for small businesses to buy and sell their goods online, he started Alibaba in 1999, initially running the company out of his apartment in the eastern city of Hangzhou.
"The first time I used the internet, I touched on the keyboard and I find 'well, this is something I believe, it is something that is going to change the world and change China,'" Ma once told CNN.
Ma is part of a generation of billionaire entrepreneurs who made their fortunes as China embraced the digital age, creating some of the country's largest and most successful companies in the space of little more than a decade.
Huge conglomerates like Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com are to China what Facebook and Google are to the United States.
Ma is the first of his generation of uber-wealthy tech bosses to retire, a rare move in a country where business figures often run their empires well into their 80s -- Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing only retired in May at the age of 89.
Ma built the company into a multibillion-dollar internet colossus. His own worth has soared along with that of the company, which was valued at $420.8 billion based on its share price at the close of trading on Friday.
After being knocked back by US venture capitalists in 1999, cash-strapped Chinese entrepreneur Ma persuaded friends to give him $60,000 to start an e-commerce firm called Alibaba.
As he prepares to leave the company, Ma is among China's super-rich. His net worth was estimated at $36.6 billion by Forbes.
Ma will turn 54 years old on Monday, the day he is retiring.
Ma has inspired strong devotion among his employees and users, drawing comparisons with late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs -- although he practiced a more open management style. A devotee of tai chi, he has made references to Chinese martial arts in both business strategy and corporate culture.
Porter Erisman, a former Alibaba employee who made a documentary about the firm, "Crocodile in the Yangtze," said: "What Silicon Valley is known for, he embodies a lot of that with Chinese characteristics -- that spirit of openness, risk-taking, innovation."
Ma graduated from the Hangzhou Teachers College with a major in English-language education, and went on to teach at another university in the city, where Alibaba is still headquartered.
Chinese state media have burnished his rags-to-riches story, saying his parents were poorly educated and his father depended on a monthly retirement allowance of just $40 to support the family.
Ma's success was evident after Alibaba's Taobao bested eBay in China, forcing the US auction site to largely withdraw from the country in 2006.
(With inputs from agencies)