Richard Liu, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com, steps down as chief executive amidst ongoing regulatory crackdown on China’s tech sector
Several high-profile tech entrepreneurs have similarly moved into a background role in recent months as the government has moved to rein in what it says is the sector’s excessive sway over society.
ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming, Colin Huang, founder of e-commerce company Pinduoduo and Kuaishou’s Su Hua have all recently stepped down from top roles.
Liu, 48, opened a retail shop in 1998 but closed it six years later and moved the business online.
The company’s investors include Walmart. It went public on the Nasdaq in 2014, with a secondary listing in Hong Kong.
JD said president Xu Lei would take over as chief executive. The 47-year-old has been with the company for more than a decade, leading its main retail division for years and taking over the daily running of the company in September.
He will also join the company’s board, JD said.
Liu is to stay on as board chair and remains JD’s controlling shareholder, with a separate class of shares that give him about 77 percent of the company’s total voting power.
“JD has built a strong footing in the industry,” Liu stated. “I’ll devote more of my time to JD’s long-term strategies and future drivers.”
JD said Liu would focus on “guiding the company’s long-term strategies, mentoring younger management and contributing to the revitalisation of rural areas”.
The company’s stock has dropped 27 percent over the past year, and like many Chinese tech companies it has seen its finances suffer of late.
The firm reported a net loss of 5.2 billion yuan (£630m) for the fourth quarter of 2021, compared to net income of 24.3bn yuan the previous year, even as revenues grew 23 percent.
Companies such as JD and Alibaba have been hit by slowing consumption, as well as competition from rivals including short-video companies such as Kuaishou that have begun incorporating e-commerce functions into their platforms.
Liu was arrested in 2018 in Minnesota after a Chinese university student accused him of sexual assault. Prosecutors found there was not enough evidence to press charges. The student later filed a civil lawsuit against Liu that remains ongoing.