JD.com Inc.’s billionaire founder Richard Liu has stepped down as chief executive officer of the giant online retailer, joining tech tycoons that exited top management roles after Beijing’s sweeping internet-sector crackdown.
Xu Lei, who was recently promoted to president after more than a decade at the company, takes the helm of the ecommerce titan effective immediately. Liu’s lieutenant joins JD’s six-member board while Liu remains chairman, the company said in a filing Thursday. Its shares closed 3.2% lower in Hong Kong. JD.com is No. 4 in the Digital Commerce 360 2021 Top Online Marketplaces Report.
Some of China’s richest entrepreneurs have relinquished the reins of their companies in the past two years, after Xi Jinping’s administration trained its sights on arenas from ecommerce to gaming, seeking to curb the growing influence of internet firms.
ByteDance Ltd. founder Zhang Yiming stepped down as chairman last year, months after resigning as chief executive officer of the TikTok owner. Kuaishou Technology founder Su Hua ceded leadership to fellow co-founder Cheng Yixiao. And Colin Huang, who founded e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo Inc., dropped his CEO role in 2020 ahead of Beijing’s crackdown.
Liu’s move is not a surprise
“The stepping-down of JD.com founder Richard Liu as CEO comes as little surprise, as his intent to shift roles after 18 years has been well-telegraphed,” Catherine Lim, analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, said in a written statement. “Yet, it remains a turning point for one of China’s most iconic internet retailers, and may signal an emerging push for greater investment abroad. The appointment of President Lei Xu as Liu’s successor is a nod to continuity, and a desire for continued stable growth at home. Liu remains JD.com’s chairman, with 76% voting power.”
Liu himself had gradually stepped back from day-to-day operations since he was accused of rape in 2018, a charge the billionaire has denied. The leadership reshuffle marks a further retreat from the online shopping empire he founded in Beijing in 2004.
JD was one of the few Chinese internet titans to avoid a direct hit from the sweeping champaign to rein in Big Tech. In fact, it has benefited from the crackdown by adding new and returning brands like Starbucks and Estee Lauder to its platform, after antitrust watchdogs fined larger rival Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. for antitrust violations and forced it to revamp practices around merchant exclusivity.
But the company has been caught in a broader Chinese tech selloff and economic slowdown. JD’s market valuation has shrunk by nearly 45% from its peak last year to about $92 billion.
Liu will continue devoting his time to guiding the company’s long-term strategies while mentoring younger management, JD said in its statement. He will also contribute to the revitalization of rural China — a priority of Xi’s “common prosperity” agenda.
Launched in 2010, Beijing-based JD.com carries 10 million SKUs from 270,000 sellers, according to research by Digital Commerce 360.
Earlier this year ecommerce platform Shopify entered an agreement with JD.com to facilitate sales in China by U.S. retailers. The deal will also make it easier for retailers who use the Shopify platform to source items from JD.com suppliers.Favorite