JD.com, NQ Mobile CEOs resume blogging after long pauses
Three of China's shyest tech CEOs have made rare appearances on their microblogs over the past week, emerging from the shadows after difficult periods for at least two of their firms. Liu Qingdong, CEO of e-commerce giant JD.com, was the first to come out of his shell, ending a 19 month self-imposed silence. He was followed by NQ Mobile's (NYSE: NQ) CEO Lin Yu, whose microblog had gone silent since a scandal last year that saw the security software maker came under a short seller attack. Tencent's (0700.HK) CEO Pony Ma also made a relatively rare posting on his microblog, though in this case his appearance was mostly promotional as he trumpeted another major milestone for his company's popular social networking services.
Let's start with Liu Qiangdong, who was one of China's most talkative CEOs as the company he founded, JD.com, quickly rose to become China's second largest e-commerce firm, behind only industry giant Alibaba. Liu's strong performance and constant chatter helped to fuel his company's meteoric growth and attracted major new investors in JD's early years. But more recently his loose lips were causing problems, often exposing differences between himself and his big investors.
Liu's voice suddenly went silent more than a year ago, when he disappeared from JD to attend a management training course in New York. No reason was ever given for his decision at such a critical period in his company's development, but I suspect the step was at least partly to remove him from the company while more seasoned professionals came in to improve JD's management and put it on a more solid footing for the future.
Liu returned to China late last year, but has been much more low-profile since then. He is rarely quoted in the media, even though his company has filed to make an IPO for up to $1.5 billion (HK$11.6) in New York. His microblog also remained silent after his return. But Liu finally broke that silence last week, though not in a way you might expect. In his brief post, Liu confessed he was in love with Internet personality Zhang Zetian, known as Naicha Meiemei, or "Milk Tea Sister".
Liu's confession was all over the blogosphere, and ended months of speculation over a love interest that Liu himself had denied. The whole thing looks rather foolish and silly to me, but also seems to reflect what we can expect from Liu in the future. In other words, he's unlikely to talk much about JD.com in public, and instead we could see him gradually marginalized as his investors try and transform JD to a more professionally run company.
Meantime, the return by NQ's Lin Yu to the blogosphere comes nearly seven months after his company came under attack by famous short seller Muddy Waters, which put out a report saying much of NQ's mobile security software revenue was "fictitious". Lin spent much of the last half year privately defending his company, whose shares lost two-thirds of their value at one point. The shares regained much of those losses and were approaching their previous levels in March, but then took another nosedive late last week when NQ announced disappointing quarterly results.
Lin has clearly become quite defensive since all the bad news began, and didn't mention any of the controversy in his return to the blogsophere. He made the posting from the Bo'ao forum in Hainan province, and spent most of his energy discussing the challenges that Internet companies like his will face in the next 20 years as the Internet moves from the desktop to mobile realm.
Last but not least there's Pony Ma, who doesn't post very often on his Tencent microblog but did so last week to congratulate his company on a new milestone for its core social networking services (SNS). That milestone saw Tencent's QQ instant messaging service concurrently host 200 million online users at the same time, fueled by a recent large influx of mobile users who remain logged on all the time.
Not surprisingly, Ma's post was largely self promotional, talking about how QQ has risen due to its successful transition to the mobile Internet, and also because of its synergies with Tencent's newer and phenomenally successful WeChat mobile messaging service. Despite the bravado, the 200 million figure is certainly an impressive milestone, and I can probably forgive Ma this one time for congratulating himself and his company.
To read more commentaries from Doug Young, visit youngchinabiz.com