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Xiaomi rethink continues as Hugo Barra jumps ship

Doh, customer experience, accident, bad, whoops

Xiaomi VP of International Hugo Barra has announced on Facebook he will be leaving the smartphone brand after Chinese New Year celebrations in February.

Barra has not confirmed where he will be working following the move back to California, though the news will come as a blow to the Xiaomi team, which has been having a bit of a tough time in recent weeks. While executives leave companies all the time, the timing couldn’t be worse for Xiaomi which seems to be faltering in the international space and back in the domestic market.

In the last couple of weeks, Xiaomi has admitted the drive for international growth has negatively impacted other operational best practice areas, leaving the business in less-than-ideal shape. Although the growth of the company has been rapid, Xiaomi is now available in more than 20 countries worldwide, it has been facing challenges in certain markets (India is proving problematic), and its dominance in the domestic market has been eroded by Huawei, Oppo and Vivo.

Barra’s appointment back in 2013 was heralded as a major coup for the Chinese firm, as the hire of an influential Google executive added a fair bit of weight to international ambitions. Barra acted as the firms Primary-English speaking spokesperson, and has been credited with a significant role in the global expansion. It’ll be a worrying sign for the firm and possibly indicates a bit of stuttering as Xiaomi looks to cement its place on the world-stage.

Another possible explanation for the exit is the fact that it just didn’t work out. Barra was the former mobile app guru at Google, with many believing his move to Xiaomi was an effort by the Chinese firm to create its own custom apps and mobile experience for its users. Xiaomi’s business model has been to sell phones cheap, but then to monetize customers with added value experiences over the course of the lifecycle. Maybe this hasn’t worked out as well as they hoped.

“When Hugo joined us 3.5 years ago, we started an amazing adventure to turn Xiaomi into a global player,” said Bin Lin, Xiaomi’s President. “We have come a long way since, and I couldn’t thank him enough for contributing so much to Xiaomi’s journey.

“Xiang Wang, Xiaomi Senior Vice President, will lead our entire global efforts moving forward. We have ambitious expansion plans for 2017 and are confident in Xiang’s leadership to take our global business to even greater heights.”

Wang certainly looks to be an adequate replacement though he a completely type of person to Barra. He’s worked for Xiaomi since 2015, where he’s led the Supply Chain and Intellectual Property teams when he joined from Qualcomm, where he was President of Qualcomm Greater China. The appointment could indicate a new approach from the team.

Constantly chasing growth can only work for so long, and once that growth seems to stagger, the holes in a business begin to appear. Recent admissions from the team implies the business is not the smoothest running of machines, but the faults were hidden by rapidly growing international sales.

Wang’s experience certainly puts him in a good position to fix seemingly faltering Xiaomi machine if consolidation and exploitation of the existing customer, as opposed to chasing new ones, is indeed the new strategy.


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