JD.com Inc.’s CEO is departing after only about a year at the post. The decision is a surprise move that coincides with the Chinese internet retailer’s slowest pace of growth on record.
JD.com CEO Xu Lei is departing China’s No. 2 online commerce firm after more than a decade of climbing the ranks. He’s handing the reins to chief financial officer Sandy Xu starting June. While the outgoing CEO only officially took up his role around April 2022, he headed up JD’s core retail division for years. He was once regarded as the heir apparent to billionaire founder and chairman Richard Liu.
The management shuffle was announced after JD on May 11 reported revenue grew 1.4% to of 242.96 billion yuan ($35 billion). That beat projections but was the company’s lowest-ever pace of expansion. It swung from a loss to net income of 6.3 billion yuan in the March quarter, helped by 2.8 billion yuan of investment gains.
Meet the new boss
The incoming CEO is a two-decade auditing veteran who spent time with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. She now takes up the task of reviving one of China’s largest and highest-profile public companies. JD’s results, the first from a major Chinese tech company for the March quarter, suggest the internet sector is making some headway in efforts to eke out top-line growth, but still struggling to regain momentum after years of punishing COVID Zero restrictions.
JD’s performance was a far cry from the double-digit percentage expansions of previous years, before Beijing’s 2021 clampdown on internet spheres from online commerce to ride-hailing chilled a once-booming, free-wheeling tech sector.
JD.com is No. 1 is in the Asia Database. That’s Digital Commerce 360’s rankings of the largest online retailers in Asia by web sales. Rival Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. owns Taobao, No. 1 in the Digital Commerce 360 database of Global Online Marketplaces. It also owns Tmall (No. 2). JD.com is No. 4.
The legacy of the outgoing JD.com CEO
The 48-year-old outgoing CEO Xu, known for devising JD’s signature “6.18” sales bonanza, said in a statement he was quitting to devote more time to family. His successor becomes one of the few women chiefs of a major technology company. She emphasized in the same statement that Xu will remain involved with the company.
Xu leaves behind a legacy that includes introducing the rival to Alibaba’s Nov. 11 Singles’ Day gala, pushing back against internal opposition to roll out the weeks-long equivalent event around the company’s June 18 anniversary. He also stepped up during the company’s low points — including an investigation into Liu over alleged rape in 2018. He trimmed the workforce and cut units that weren’t contributing to growth.
JD’s earnings gave investors a sense of what to expect when Tencent Holdings Ltd., Alibaba and Baidu Inc. report results next week.
The future of JD.com
JD is now spending on incentives to ward off intensifying competition from rival merchants as well as social media platforms such as ByteDance, owner of TikTok. It launched a 10 billion yuan discount campaign to capture new Chinese users in March even as it pulled away from Southeast Asian ecommerce. It closed its Indonesian and Thailand ecommerce sites to try to shave costs elsewhere.
Xu Lei stressed on a call with analysts that he would continue to support the company as chairman of its advisory council. He lauded his successor for working alongside him in 2018 through JD’s “so-called darkest moment.”
On the company’s discount programs, his successor said the strategy sought to offer consumers wider price ranges and product categories, in an adjustment to post-pandemic shopping patterns.
“We are confident in our ability to control the overall costs of this program,” she said. “It has limited impact on our margins.”
JD had avoided the worst of the years-long crackdown that hit Alibaba. In March, Alibaba made the historic decision to split itself into six business units that could seek independent fundraising and listings.
JD.com itself has spun off several units including JD Health International Inc. It is in the process of listing its property and industrials businesses in Hong Kong. It would remain the majority owner of both companies, which haven’t disclosed fundraising plans.
Do you rank in our database?
Submit your data with this quick survey and we’ll see where you fit in our next ranking update.
Stay on top of the latest developments in the ecommerce industry. Sign up for a complimentary subscription to Digital Commerce 360 Retail News.