Google China Kai-fu Era


On September 4th 2009 Google China sent an internal email to all of its employees, announcing the founding president of Google China Kai-fu Lee (李开复)  has resigned. He will officially leave Google in mid-September to start his independent venture. Many Chinese writers and bloggers have responded to this news, reviewing the solid job Kaifu Lee has done with Google China in the past years and speculating the reason of Lee’s resignation. I am going to translate a blog post by the well-known IT blogger Keso on this news.

Google China, Kai-fu Lee Era

July 19th, 2005, Google announced that Kai-fu Lee as the new vice-president, the founding president of Google China. August 5th 2009, Kai-fu Lee submitted his resignation request. Today, Google China officially announced Kai-fu’s resignation, Google China Kai-fu Lee era has ended.

Almost from the beginning till the end, I have closely witnessed the ups and downs of Google China as well as Kai-fu himself in these 4 years. At the same time knowing that it was exceptionally difficult 4 years.

4 years ago, almost everyone in the industry were pessimistic, Google China may find difficult to survive in China. Li Yanhong (李彦宏) also said, 5 years later, the relationship between Google and Baidu will be Baidu thriving alone, from the point view of market shares, we will probably not going to see Google anymore. There are still more than a year left on the time given by Li, it looks like Google China not only can survive, but should live in a not so bad life.

It is said that Kai-fu Lee has the strong ability to be calm and stable, when other people are running around in circles he can remain calm and knowing when to relax in order to maintain its inherent rhythm. Therefore, people often cannot understand what Kai-fu Lee is really thinking about. In fact, almost all the multinational companies coming to China must have enough patience and wisdom, expecting to use the tactic of “new broom sweeps clean” to solve problems is often unrealistic. The 4 years of Google China did not come up with anything brilliant and worth praising for, but in terms of talent gathering and training, market awareness, government relations, partnership and other aspects, Google China has already largely developed these areas. At least comparing with Yahoo, eBay, AOL and other internet giants, Google’s first step in China is fairly solid. I think we must thank Kai-fu Lee for that.

Another common trouble of a multinational corporation is the communication barrier between the respective headquarters. In the most failure cases, China’s regional headquarters often blame the headquarter being not supporting, not delegating power to the lower levels, rigid and slow. Google CEO Eric Schmidt goes to China almost every year, I think it represents the Google headquarter is behind Kai-fu Lee. In order to gain support and understanding of Google headquarter, Kai-fu Lee constantly shuttling between China and U.S., in addition to persuade Google executives, he also very patiently analyzed and explained Google China’s strategy to the Engineers. This kind of communication gained more understanding, reduced friction, improved efficiency and played the role of “lubricant” on Google China’s daily work. Considering Google is a company with such distinct characteristics and the Sino-US cultural, market and policy environment differences, Kai-fu Lee’s communication was very valuable.

From another point of view, Apple, SGU, Microsoft and Google, these bright and dazzling names, also achieved another name – Kai-fu Lee. Wanting to follow his own heart, it is not possible for Kai-fu Lee to always stay at someone else’s platform. Once in his office, he and I talked for two hours. First I questioned there seems to be a conflict between his personal brand and Google’s commercial brand. Then I think he is best end up to be a principle of a university. He explained that foreign nationals can never be appointed as a university president, this is a dead end.

The past 10 years, he has successfully established the Microsoft China Research Institute, Google China Research Institute. He is the founder of Kai-fu student network, constantly writing to college students, making speeches in universities, teaching technical entrepreneurship on television. He preferred this, but also is enthusiastic about this and having fun in it. He is close to 48 years old and is probably very difficult to sign another 4 years contract as a professional manager, leaving Google was not surprising. He said he will continue to put more energy to guide young people, in technology and entrepreneurship. I believe he has the ability and wish him to succeed in his new career.

If you ask what Kai-fu Lee left Google China in the four years, I think the most important fact is that Google China has become a company which will not be easily defeated.

Related reading:
Netease (in Chinese)
Kaifu Lee to launch Innovation Works (创新工场) incubator UPDATED | cnReviews

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