Google China said on Friday that president Kai-Fu Lee was stepping down later this month, as the company battles rival Baidu and regulators seeking to clamp down on the Internet search engine giant.
Lee’s duties will be taken up by two senior executives, the company announced, but his successor was not immediately named.
John Liu, currently Google’s head of China sales, will be appointed vice president of sales and operations and take over Lee’s business and operational responsibilities, the company said in a statement.
Boon-Lock Yeo, now director of Google’s Shanghai engineering office, will take on Lee’s engineering role at the company, it said.
China has accused Google of illegally spreading pornographic content and its service has been intermittently blocked in recent months.
The campaign is part of a wider crackdown on Internet content that Beijing deems unhealthy, which has included pornography and information critical of authorities -- a censorship system dubbed the “Great Firewall of China.”
Google is also fighting to gain ground against rival Baidu, which is listed on the Nasdaq and often referred to as the homegrown Google.
The US firm accounted for 29.1 percent of Internet searches in the second quarter of 2009 compared with Baidu’s 61.6 percent share, according to iResearch, an Internet research company.
One analyst said he did not believe Lee’s resignation was linked to the government crackdown.
“Lee said he would start a new venture helping young entrepreneurs. I think it matches his long-term interests very well,” Lu Bowang, managing partner of China IntelliConsulting Corp in Beijing, said.
In a statement issued by Google, Lee said: “It has been a true honour and privilege to work with such an amazing company.”
“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,” he added.
Lee said in a blog on sina.com that he planned to create a “technology miracle with young Chinese” and would make an announcement next week to explain his plans.
“I have no regret with Google now, but I have a regret with my life that needs to be made up for,” Lee wrote. “I want to pass on my experiences in technology and business management to the young Chinese.”
Lee left Microsoft in 2005 to set up a China research centre for Google, sparking a legal battle between the two US giants over his move.
Google senior vice president for engineering, Alan Eustace, said Lee had made “an enormous contribution to Google” in the past four years.
In announcing Lee’s resignation, Google said it planned to nearly double the size of its sales force in China.
While Lee had been successful in increasing Google’s presence in China through initiatives such as free music downloads, his departure would not hurt the company’s operations, China IntelliConsulting’s Lu said.
“I don’t think it will cause many key personnel to leave Google,” Lu added.
“Although Google cannot compete with Baidu’s dominant role in China’s search market, the outlook of its development in China is still promising and its market share in China will continue to expand.”