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Google China Head Kai-Fu Lee Leaves to Start New Venture

Posted by: Rob Hof on September 04, 2009

The head of Google’s China operation is leaving four years after his acrimonious departure from Microsoft, the search giant is announcing Friday. Kai-Fu Lee, president of Google’s Greater China operation, is expected to take part in a new venture, but details were not available. One report says he may work with California tech incubator Idealab to help Chinese entrepreneurs, but that report has not been confirmed and Google only said he will be establishing a new venture in Beijing. UPDATE: Lee’s publicist says his venture will have no connection to Idealab, and that his new venture will be announced Sept. 7. (Full releases from Google and Lee are after the jump.)

Lee will be replaced by two Chinese Google executives. Boon-Lock Yeo, director of Google’s Shanghai engineering office, will handle Lee’s engineering duties, and John Liu, head of Google’s sales team in Greater China, will take care of operations.

The move could prove to be a blow to Google’s attempt to gain ground in China, a key market where native Baidu has a large lead on Google. Google China has clashed with Chinese authorities, which have sometimes blocked its services, while also coming under criticism by human rights groups. However, Google said in the release that it will nearly double the size of its sales force in China as a result of recent progress.

Lee and Google were sued by Microsoft after he joined the search firm. Microsoft contended his job would violate a noncompete agreement. Google filed its own lawsuit, and the companies later reached a settlement.

Here's the press release from Google:


Beijing – Friday, 4 September 2009 - Google China announced today that Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, President of Google Greater China and VP of Engineering, will leave Google in mid-September. Dr. Boon-Lock Yeo, currently Director of Google's Shanghai engineering office, will take over engineering responsibilities for Google China and Dr. John Liu, who heads up Google's sales team in Greater China, will become Vice President of Sales and Operations, assuming Dr Lee's business and operational responsibilities.

Under Dr. Lee's leadership Google China has made dramatic advancements in its search quality, product offerings and partnerships. He was instrumental in launching, Google's China domain, which has substantially increased its user base in the last two years. In addition, Dr. Lee helped to build a number of market leading products in China, including Google Maps, Google Mobile Search and Google Translate. Most recently he launched China's leading ad-supported music site, Google Music Search. Many of these improvements were driven by Dr. Lee's success in establishing Google China as a world-class engineering organization working on products for users in China and globally.

Announcing Dr. Lee's departure, Google's Senior Vice President for Engineering, Alan Eustace, said: "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. He's also recruited some of China's best and brightest engineers to Google, and served as a teacher and mentor to thousands of university students across China". Alan Eustace added that: "We're very sad he is leaving, but part as friends and wish him all the best in his new endeavors. Boon-Lock has already been playing a key role heading up our Shanghai office and I am confident he will have an even greater impact in this new, expanded role."

Nikesh Arora, President, Global Sales Operations and Business Development, said: "In the last couple of years we have seen steady growth in our advertiser and partner base in China. As a result we have decided to nearly double the size of our sales force there. I am confident that this additional investment, combined with our continued innovation in product and engineering, will significantly improve our services for advertisers and help grow our business in China under John's leadership in sales and operations."

"It has been a true honor and privilege to work with such an amazing company," said Dr. Lee. "With a very strong leadership team in place, it seemed a very good moment for me to move to the next chapter in my career. I wish John, Boon-Lock and the entire China team every success in the future."

Dr. Lee will be establishing a new venture in Beijing.

And here's the release from Lee:

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee Leaves Google China to Start New Venture, Announces New Book

Vibrant Entrepreneur and Best-Selling Author Will Unveil New Project Sept. 7th

BEIJING--(BUSINESS WIRE)--CITIC Publisher announced that Dr. Kai-Fu Lee has published a new book, "Making A World of Difference" and confirms that he will be leaving Google as Google Vice President and President of Google Greater China in mid-September.

Dr. Lee is a seasoned business executive with rich experience in the China market. His career includes executive management positions at Apple, Silicon Graphics International (SGI) and Microsoft. He is also one of the most popular figures with young people in China.

During his tenure at Google, Dr. Lee built a 700-person organization with many successes. Under his leadership, Google China’s market share nearly doubled from 16.1% to 31.0% in the past three years (Analyses International). Google AdSense, Google Map, Google Mobile Map, Mobile Search, and Google Translate have all become #1 in the China market this year. His team has developed innovative products like Google Music legal advertising-funded music download, and Google Snowstorm and Earthquake Maps that helped thousands of victims and their loved ones.

Dr. Lee has also devoted himself to fostering the professional growth of Chinese technology students. He has given hundreds of lectures to about 500,000 students, and has written seven public letters and three books for Chinese students. His first book, Be Your Personal Best, sold over one million copies and is still on many best-seller lists. Dr. Lee has built his own website for Chinese students ( and answered thousands of questions from students.

A true entrepreneur, Dr. Lee will announce a new project on September 7th, 2009. This new project will combine Dr. Lee's passion for entrepreneurship, technology, experience in building organizations, and love for mentoring young executives.

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Reader Comments

Talker not doer

September 4, 2009 01:56 AM

Kai-Fu Lee is a talker and opportunist, but he is not a doer, thus Google's failure in CHina. He made his $50 million in a little over 4 years, this is much better than his $2.5m in 5 years from Micorsoft, or even less from his 6 yrs at Apple. Now he is wealthy enough, he is quiting. His venture will fail for sure, he is a big corporate beuracrat, not an innovator he claims he is, he often claims he is an educator, but he is a better lier.

Nikos s

September 4, 2009 08:16 AM

Its good news. There is a great need for true competition in the specific market and Chinese firms should step into the game.

dave cook

September 4, 2009 11:55 AM

interesting article

floating eye

September 6, 2009 06:25 AM

Lee is a coward, running away while more troubles are approaching google due to chinese government control on internet. Maybe he doesn't want google to become Yahoo, which attracted notorious fame for revealing internet user info, but clearly google china is surrendering slowly to the pressure, for example, no chinese leaders can be googled.


October 26, 2009 09:32 AM

Bravo, Lee ! good luck.

Wei Luo

October 28, 2009 12:02 PM

Dr. Lee is on a mission. His new company has attracted many youth in China.

Great Job Kai-Fu, you have at least 1.3 followers in Great China...

Latest interview in Chinese...


October 29, 2009 08:09 PM

There is a HiDef version of this interview available for download, 43 minutes, mp4 format, 260MB, of course in Mandarin.

I uploaded it to a free hosting and only available for download for 14 days, after that it might be deleted. If anyone is interested to have a Hidef copy can click this to download:

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