Alibaba founder Jack Ma has announced to employees that he will step down as CEO later this spring to make room for a younger generation of leaders, while retaining his seat as Chairman of the board.

Since establishing the company in 1999, Ma, a former English teacher, built up the company to become an ecommerce powerhouse. The company has 24,000 employees and is estimated to be worth $40 billion.

He told employees that the decision was a difficult one, but that he felt that at age 48, he was no longer “young” for the Internet industry. As such, his move is intended to make room for “the next generation of Alibaba people” to lead the company.

“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,” he wrote.

Ma will step down on May 10, which is notably the 10th anniversary of the company’s Taobao C2C shopping platform. His successor is expected to be announced at that time.

“Don’t worry, we are confident that we will be able to announce a new CEO on May 10,” he wrote.

Ma, who was ranked as the 11th wealthiest person in China by Forbes last year, went on to tell employees that he’s known for years that he wasn’t cut out to be a CEO of a big company. Last year, he admitted that the company had encountered trouble organizing itself as it grew.

By its own measure, Alibaba grew to surpass Amazon and eBay combined in terms of sales volume last year. In the first 11 months of 2012, it recorded $157 billion in transactions on its platforms. $3.1 billion of that came in a single day on the company’s 11/11 Shopping Festival.

Alibaba just recently restructured, dividing into 25 separate businesses in an effort to fend off competition through improved flexibility and speed.

Last year was a crucial one for Alibaba, as it managed to reach a deal to buy back Yahoo’s stake in it. The company completed the first phase of the arrangement in September.

Image credit: STR / AFP / Getty Images