Ma, 58, begins the new position on May 1 and is expected to contribute in several areas, the school said. He will provide advice on research topics and conduct research, especially in sustainable agriculture and food production; he will also give seminars about entrepreneurship and innovation.
One of China’s most recognizable business leaders, Ma largely dropped out of public sight after he criticized Chinese regulators in 2020 and Ant Group Co, an Alibaba affiliate he also co-founded, had to pull its planned initial public offering. The billionaire resurfaced in Hangzhou, China in March, a rare appearance on the mainland.
“It appears that his career as a businessman has come to a close,” said Oshadhi Kumarasiri, an analyst at LightStream Research who publishes on SmartKarma. “Although he achieved success in this field, he previously worked as an English teacher and had expressed a desire to return to teaching once he retired from his business ventures.”
The Tokyo school did not detail what kind of lectures or seminars Ma would conduct. It wasn’t able to immediately respond to requests for further comment.
Beijing’s move to halt Ant’s IPO kicked off a sweeping crackdown on China’s private sector, from real estate and education to gaming and the internet. Regulators sought to curtail the power of tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd., and pushed the focus of investments to strategic priorities such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence.
Ma, once the highest-profile of China’s entrepreneurs, withdrew from the public spotlight. He was spotted in the Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Thailand and Japan.
Chinese authorities made attempts to persuade Ma to return to the mainland and help showcase government support for the business community, Bloomberg News has reported. But Ma chose to stay overseas, saying he has retreated from his companies to focus on researching agriculture technology.
Internally, Ma told Ant and Alibaba executives not to obsess over his return to China, stressing that he is committed to their success even at a distance, people familiar with the matter said.
Then in March, Ma visited a school in Hangzhou to discuss topics — including ChatGPT — and said he hopes to resume his former job as a teacher someday. In April, he accepted a position as an honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong, although there were no plans for public lectures or speeches in that post.
Ma has longstanding ties to Japan. Masayoshi Son, founder of SoftBank Group Corp, backed Alibaba more than two decades ago and the two men sat on each other’s boards for years.