The head of Google’s China operations, a former Microsoft executive recruited to kick start Google’s business in the most populous country in the world, will leave in mid-September to start a new venture in Beijing, Google said Friday.
Kai-Fu Lee, president of Google’s Greater China operations, which include Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as China, will be replaced by two people, Google said in a statement. Boon-Lock Yeo, director of Google’s Shanghai engineering office, will take over the lead engineering role in Greater China, while John Liu, head of sales in Greater China, will take over Lee’s business and operational responsibilities as vice president of sales and operations.
Lee’s departure comes at a time Google continues to struggle for market share gains against Baidu.com, China’s Internet search leader. Baidu.com commands a massive lead over Google in China, with 75.7 percent of online searches in China in the second quarter, up 1.6 percentage points from the first quarter, according to iResearch, a Chinese Internet consultancy. Google attracted 19.8 percent of the searches, down 1.1 percentage points.
Still, the 19.8 percent marks a solid increase for Google in China compared to when Lee started. At the time, Google had an investment in Baidu.com and didn’t compete in Chinese search the country. Lee oversaw the launch of Google.cn, Google’s China domain, as well as Google’s first research and development center in China in April of 2006, establishing the presence Google needed to compete against Baidu.com.
Controversy surrounded Lee at his start in the company. Microsoft, Lee’s former employer, filed a lawsuit seeking to bar him from working at Google, a ploy that ultimately failed.
“Kai-Fu has made an enormous contribution to Google over the last four years — helping dramatically to improve the quality and range of services that we offer in China and ensuring that we continue to innovate on the web for the benefit of users and advertisers,” Google said in the statement.
The statement offered no further details of the new venture Lee plans to establish in Beijing.