A fourth Chinese billionaire founder-CEO has stepped down as Beijing keeps up the pressure on its tech giants

A fourth Chinese billionaire founder-CEO has stepped down as Beijing keeps up the pressure on its tech giants

  • E-commerce giant JD.com’s founder Richard Liu is the latest Chinese tech CEO to quit his public leadership role.

  • These exits come as Beijing is cracking down on the sector, and as a slower economy crimps margins.

  • China’s class of billionaire founder-CEOs are feeling the heat.

China’s class of billionaire of founder-CEOs are feeling the pressure of government scrutiny.

Ultra-wealthy Liu Qiangdong, also known as Richard Liu, is stepping back from his role as chief executive of JD.com, China’s Amazon-like e-commerce giant.

JD.com said on Thursday that Liu has left his role as CEO, but that he remains chairman of the company’s board.

Liu founded JD.com in 1998 — four years after Jeff Bezos founded Amazon — and has a net worth of $13.3 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index.

He joins a growing procession of founder-CEOs leaving public leadership roles amid a sweeping crackdown by China’s government on its burgeoning technology sector.

In 2020, Zhang Yiming, founder of TikTok-owner ByteDance, stepped down as CEO and subsequently from his chairman role. In 2021, Su Hua, founder of TikTok’s main rival Kuaishou; and Colin Huang, founder of popular e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, all gave up their roles as CEO.

In 2019, Jack Ma stepped down as chairman of JD.com’s main rival Alibaba.

All rank among the richest people on the planet, per Bloomberg, but even their wealth has not staved off scrutiny by Beijing. None of the departing founders have publicly cited government pressure as reasons for leaving or changing roles, but their departures all coincide with increasingly aggressive regulation and threats of breakups.

« These founders may say that they’re leaving for personal reasons, but it’s too much of a coincidence, » said Naubahar Sharif, professor at the Hong Kong University of Technology and Science who researches on China’s technology policies. « The predominant driver is politics, and now these old guards need to make way for their successors. »

The central government has taken aim at labor and consumer rights issues, launched antitrust probes against tech companies, and increased oversight on data security.

The uncertainty has toothed investor confidence and hurt company earnings. Last month, Alibaba and social-media giant Tencent both reported their slowest revenue growth on record. JD.com also posted its first annual loss in three years.

JD.com and others are also firing thousands of workers.

Liu has generally stayed out of the public eye since he was accused by a student of rape in 2018. US prosecutors dropped charges against him, citing insufficient evidence. The student, Liu Jingyao, subsequently filed a civil claim in the US against Richard Liu in 2019, seeking damages.

Alibaba’s Jack Ma has remained quiet since sparring with regulators in late 2020 over a potential public listing of one of Alibaba’s subsidiaries.

Pressure from Beijing means the founders may be making the only calculation available to them, said Sharif. « Maybe their time in the sun is over? Maybe they should let someone else take the role that Beijing can work with? » he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider


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