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Search-engine expert completes his job search at Baidu

By Chang Jun | | Updated: 2017-01-24 09:02

When I met Lu Qi in 2011, he was the Microsoft Corp executive in charge of Office, Bing and related products in Seattle. I didn't expect that he would make headlines last week by joining Beijing-based search engine Baidu Inc as its group president and chief operations officer. Well, at least not that soon.

A widely respected engineer and technology leader, Lu is among a rare few Chinese talents who once held vital positions in an American tech company. He played a key role in pushing Microsoft into new areas, including artificial intelligence (AI).

"I have a problem with the name of our slogan," Lu said during our business meeting six years ago, teasing that the name "Bing" in Chinese implies "sickness or insanity". "Our Chinese clients might not feel comfortable with (the slogan) ‘Have you Bing?'"

In September, Lu left Microsoft "to focus all his time on recovering from health conditions caused by a prior injury", according to an email from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in response to public inquiries about a bicycle accident Lu had.

Now, Lu needn't worry about the localization of Bing, the launch of Microsoft products or even office politics. He is embarking on a new journey at Baidu, where he will oversee products, technology, sales, marketing and operations.

In a statement released last week, Baidu's Chairman and Group CEO Robin Li called Lu "the best global talent". Lu possesses a wealth of leadership and management experience and is a leading authority in the area of artificial intelligence, said Li, adding, "I am confident that Dr. Lu will make major contributions to the overall strength of our management and technology."

According to Li, artificial intelligence is Baidu's key strategic focus for the next decade, and he is confident that with Li on board, "our strategy will be executed smoothly, and Baidu will become a world-class technology company and global leader in AI".

Rajesh Jha succeeded Lu as leader of the Office group, and the company simultaneously created a new 5,000-person AI and Research Group, led by Harry Shum.

The year of 2016 probably was Robin Li's most trying time in business, as the company he founded 16 years ago had undergone a severe credibility crisis.

In May, government regulators ordered Baidu to strictly limit advertising per page and clean up its medical-related paid-search business. The action followed public outrage over the death of a 21-year-old computer science student, Wei Zexi, who used Baidu to search for a cancer treatment that turned out to be a hoax.

As a result, Baidu in June lowered its second-quarter earnings guidance by 10 to 12 percent after more than half of its medical customers temporarily cut or delayed spending on its platform. A significant portion of Baidu's revenue was sacrificed under the adjustment.

In an internal memo, Li rallied Baidu staff to help change the company's culture and do the right thing.

"The management and employees' obsession with KPI (key performance index) has twisted our values ... and distanced ourselves from users," Li said. "If we lose the support of users, we lose hold of our values, and Baidu will truly go bankrupt in just 30 days."

Li assured that Baidu has taken steps "to further bolster a healthy, safe and trustworthy online and offline ecosystem. The challenges Baidu faced in the second quarter served as a healthy reminder to stay focused on the key drivers of growth, sustainability and leadership: delivering the best user experience and staying at the forefront of technology."

Lu's appointment also suggested that Chinese technology giants are becoming increasingly lucrative destinations for top-notch talents who have international backgrounds and know well both the Eastern and Western business cultures.

Chinese Americans now are in a golden era of going east, said Tom Zhang, a Silicon Valley-based human resources specialist who also is the founder of an AI-related startup.

"In China, opportunities are much more plentiful than those in the US. I would suggest talents of Chinese background return to China to find your fortune," he said through his social media platform.

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