Caixin
Jan 23, 2017 06:42 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Imported Xiaomi Superstar Hugo Barra Resigns to Return to U.S.

(Beijing) — Hugo Barra, a former top executive at Google who made headlines in 2013 with his surprise defection to smartphone startup Xiaomi Inc., has said he will be leaving his Chinese employer next month and returning to the U.S. for personal reasons.

Barra announced his decision on his Facebook page on Monday, giving a lengthy explanation for the move. Xiaomi confirmed the news, citing personal reasons for the departure.

The Xiaomi that Barra is leaving is a far different place from the one he joined in 2013. Back then, the company was one of China’s hottest high-tech names, going on to cultivate a “cool” and trendy image that helped briefly make it the nation’s top brand less than four years after the launch of its first smartphones.

But Xiaomi’s fortunes in China stagnated in 2015 due to stiff competition and product problems. It tried exporting to keep growth alive, a drive that was led by Barra as vice president of the company’s international division. That effort achieved notable success in India, where Xiaomi is now the third-largest player, but has otherwise been lackluster.

Barra shocked the high-tech world when he left a comfortable post as a top executive in Google’s Android division to join the then-fast-rising Xiaomi in Beijing more than three years ago. In his resignation post on Facebook, he admitted he was initially attracted by “the opportunity to help turn a young rock star startup into a global player.”

“But what I've realized is that the last few years of living in such a singular environment have taken a huge toll on my life and started affecting my health,” Barra wrote. “My friends, what I consider to be my home and my life are back in Silicon Valley, which is also much closer to my family. Seeing how much I’ve left behind these past few years, it is clear to me that the time has come to return.”

Barra pointed out that Xiaomi’s global presence is now far more advanced than when he joined the company, including sales in about two dozen mostly developing markets, including India, Russia and Mexico. But Xiaomi also experienced a setback in Brazil, where it downsized operations last year, and has yet to make a big move into more-lucrative major Western markets.

Barra said he will be transitioning from Xiaomi next month, and taking time off before embarking on an unspecified “new adventure back in Silicon Valley.”

Xiaomi co-founder Lin Bin said in his own Facebook post response to the resignation that Barra will remain an adviser to Xiaomi. He added that Xiaomi Senior Vice President Wang Xiang will lead the company’s global efforts after Barra leaves.

“As much as we would love to have Hugo stay with us in Beijing for a much longer time, we understand his personal challenges and wish him all the best in his future endeavors,” Lin wrote. “We have ambitious expansion plans for 2017 and are confident in Xiang’s leadership to take our global business to even greater heights!”

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

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