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Homesick Hugo Barra leaves: Xiaomi loses its most visible global face

Xiaomi looses its most international face as Hugo Barra quits. The change comes when Xiaomi’s co-founder Lei Jun has announced a restructuring within the company “after it has grown too fast”.

business Updated: Jan 24, 2017 14:19 IST
Sunny Sen
Sunny Sen
Hindustan Times
Xiaomi,Lei Jun,Lin Bin
Hugo Barra, Vice President of Xiaomi Global, unveiling Redmi Note 4 phones in New Delhi, India on January 19(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

Hugo Barra sums its all in four words: “Its time to return.”

Barra is head of Chinese handset maker Xiaomi’s international operations, and its most visible international face. In a blog on his Facebook page, he announced its departure, and intention to go back to Silicon Valley, to his family and friends.

The change comes when Xiaomi’s co-founder Lei Jun has announced a restructuring within the company “after it has grown too fast”. Jun calls it a transition, which will include reorganising process, infrastructure, supply chain, and even people change.

Barra gave one of his last interviews before announcing his departure to HT, on Friday. “We grew, too, fast, and found ourselves managing the same supply chain to ship over 50 million phones, that was used when we were shipping 10 million... We will revamp every piece of infrastructure, both processes and system, but also people that we have internally, so that we continue to scale,” he said after launching Redmi Note 4 in India.

The larger question is if Barra’s departure, too, is part of the transition?

While there was no comments from the company or its founders, Barra’s own post chronicled his journey at Xiaomi, mentioning how he played an important role in taking the company to such great heights. Rightly so, Barra was the face of Xiaomi’s international business.

Under Barra, Xiaomi expanded into 24 countries, outside of China. India was one of them, which the largest international market with $1 billion in annual sales for the Chinese firm.

The founders, Jun and Bin Lin approached Barra nearly four years ago. Barra quit Google, where he was the head of product management of the Android business. What followed, Barra writes, is the “most challenging adventure of my life.”

He made Beijing his home, 6,500 kms away from Silicon Valley. However, in his exit note, he paints a grim picture of his stint at Xiaomi.

Barra writes that his “living in a singular environment” has taken a toll on his “life and health”. He also pointed at his loneliness at Xiaomi.

“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,” he writes. As he took a small Chinese company to global scale, he said, “(seeing) I have left behind these past few years, it is clear to me that the time has come to return.”

To be clear, Barra is a native to the internet world, but, Xiaomi is hitting a ceiling.

“The smartphone market in China has reached limited saturation... It is not growing. The transition we are going through in China... is entering the offline channels,” said Barra.

India might follow the same in the coming years. “Probably yes, the online smartphone market in India is 30%... We are setting ourselves up to enter the offline market in scalable substantial way,” Barra said.

He might not be willing to go through that change. In the interview with HT, he said, (when he joined) he was joining a “like minded company... Xiaomi is another internet services company.”

To be sure, Xiaomi has lost its most international face -- a Brazilian, who was groomed in an American company, and made a Chinese one great.

First Published: Jan 23, 2017 14:45 IST