China’s richest man and co-founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, has announced he is retiring. This unexpected announcement has caused a lot of speculation and discussion regarding why he is retiring so “young.” 

Retiring at the age from Alibaba at the age of 55, no one would say Ma is a “young man.” Though he is not an old CEO, he is also not a young one. 

The key to understanding Ma’s perspective is in changing the benchmark for what he wants to do: 

Mr. Ma said he could never be as rich as Mr. Gates — but that he could retire earlier than Mr. Gates. Mr. Gates stepped down as Microsoft’s chairman in 2014, at the age of 58.

Indeed, Ma has expressed this sentiment multiple times:

Instead of diving into a new field or subject toward the later years in your career, he said, “when you’re 40 to 50 years old, my suggestion is you should do things you are good at.”

“When you are 50 to 60 years old, spend time training and developing young people, the next generation,” Ma added. “When you are over 60 years old, you better stay with your grandchildren.”

And it is also a common belief in Chinese culture, best summarized by Confucius in Dialects over 2,500 years ago:

Original text: 吾十有五,而志于学。三十而立。四十而不惑。五十而知天命。六十而耳顺。七十而从心所欲,不逾矩。

Moderned Chinese: 孔子说:“我十五岁立志于大学之道;三十岁懂得了礼,言行都很得当;四十岁能成为知者,无所迷惑;五十岁懂得了天道物理的根本规律;六十岁所闻皆通;七十岁能随心所欲而不越出法度。”

My translation: Confucius recounts, “I was 15 when I started my path of learning; at 30 I had principles; 40 I was an informed, 50 I understood the world and my place in it, 60 I let go of conflict, 70 I did right unto both others and myself.

Under the evaluation of making fundamental contributions to society, we see that Ma is not “too young” at all. Starting at 55 and expecting two more decades of quality contribution puts him just at just the right timeline.

What we can draw from this that business and money must be discussed in the context of life. A $100,000 salary is very different for a single bachelorette than a married couple with two young children. Similarly, “early” retirement doesn’t seem very early when you have ambitious goals that require that time. 

It will be very exciting to see how Ma directs his energy as a burgeoning full-time do-gooder.