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The power of culture: Insights into Baidu's AI revolution | Updated: 2021-06-16 14:54
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Children interact with a Baidu robot during an expo in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. [Photo by Zhai Huiyong/For China Daily]

Baidu is again back in the spotlight due to its strong growth driven by AI transitions as net profits hit 22 billion yuan in 2020 on revenues of 107.1 billion yuan. What are the reasons for its comeback in an unprecedented year? How to get rid of the habitual thinking that we are already good and light a fire of ambition to push the boundaries? Tech writer Pan Luan, founder of the popular WeChat public account "Luanbooks", talked with executives at the Internet giant to discover the internal reasons for the transformation, including a commitment to core value and improving organizational capacity.

This inside look follows his previous two acclaimed business studies: Baidu has No Culture and Baidu is Undergoing Renovation. As a veteran observer of Baidu's development, Pan gives a brief summary of the management changes in 2019, focusing on the pivotal role of corporate culture, transition from KPI to OKR (objectives & key results), a younger management team and no-nonsense, straightforward meetings. In his latest article, Pan identifies four dimensions to illustrate how management changes are established and forming a new routine in the tech giant's organization – Changing the idea or job, Making Simple and Reliable the bedrock principle, Manifesting corporate culture fully in all endeavors, and Cheering for high achievers.

The story has to start from the return of Cui Shanshan, who left Baidu in July 2010 to look after her children and then rejoined the company in December 2017, serving in the Organizational Culture Committee. During the seven-year gap, Cui managed to finish a long novel of 470,000 words on Huo Qubing, a distinguished military general in the Western Han dynasty, giving high recognition to the general's attribute of being mission-driven, a trait that she goes great lengths to expand at Baidu.

Cui went through the company's early development stages and helped shape the engineers' culture. Cui said she was really answering the call of her heart to work for Baidu again, just like the military general's determination to defeat the Xiongnu nomadic tribe confederation. Most importantly, she truly shared the company's core value: Simple and Reliable. In her capacity, Cui has overseen employee culture and organizational effectiveness, launched a series of measures to bring to life what it means to be "Simple and Reliable" as well as how to ensure a high-standard work ethic and keep the enterprising spirit alive. These efforts, for her, were not changing Baidu in any new way, but going back to the original aspiration at the giant's birth. Cui has gone all out to scrutinize Baidu's growth from the organizational perspective and ensure it's on the right track with the least possible deviation.

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