Google Inc, owner of the most used Internet search engine in the world, said on Friday its China president Kai-Fu Lee will leave the company to start his own business in Beijing.
Boon-Lock Yeo, director of Google's Shanghai engineering office, and John Liu, who heads the sales team in China, will take on Lee's responsibilities, the company said in a statement on Friday.
Lee disclosed that he would form his own venture soon.
Lee's departure will not affect Google's China business too much, said industry insiders. His successors will still face the challenge of competing in a market dominated by Chinese rival Baidu Inc, as well as online censorship.
"Google is more popular than four years ago. It is rising but still lags behind Baidu," said Jiang Qiping, secretary general, center for informatization studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
According to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International, Baidu held 62 percent of China's search market in the second quarter while Google held 29 percent.
In June, Google was criticized by the Chinese government for providing links to pornographic and violent material. Some of the company's services became inaccessible to domestic web users for hours.
Lee joined Google in 2005 after seven years at Microsoft, where he was a computer scientist and corporate vice-president. His move to Google triggered a lawsuit from Microsoft, in which the company sued Lee and Google.
Microsoft claimed that Lee was violating his non-compete agreement by working for Microsoft's direct competitor in an area that overlapped with his role at Microsoft. The dispute lasted for five months and ended up in a private agreement between the two companies.
Lee, 47, led Google during a period of big expansion in China in the past four years, said industry insiders.
"He has made great achievements in the past four years in Google and now it is time for him to realize his own dreams," Zhang Yaqin, corporate vice-president of Microsoft and a friend and former colleague of Kai-Fu Lee told sina.com on Friday.
"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," said Alan Eustace, Google's senior vice-president for engineering, in a statement.
Lee is an icon among many Chinese young students. "He is open and nice to young people. I respect him," said Jin Shifei, a postgraduate of computer sciences in Tsinghua University, who held an internship in Google China last summer.
Jin attended a seminar at Google held by Lee during the internship. He was impressed by the way "Lee taught us basic skills in business presentation".
From 1996 to 1998, Lee was president of Cosmo Software, a subsidiary of Silicon Graphics Inc, responsible for several product lines and the company's web strategy. Before that, Lee spent six years at Apple Inc, leading an interactive media group.
Before his business career, Lee used to be an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon.
Wan Zhihong contributed to the story
(China Daily 09/05/2009 page10)