Chinese e-commerce tycoon Richard Liu to step away from the spotlight

Rural revitalisation and long-term strategy await founder of mega e-tailer JD.com


The founder and CEO of colossal Chinese e-tailer JD.com, Richard Qiangdong Liu, will step down from his leadership positions.

JD.com, aka Jingdong, has annual revenue of over $110 billion and is considered the sole top-tier competitor for Alibaba.com. US retail giant Walmart has a 12 per cent stake in the company.

Liu is feted in China for his business achievements and displays of humility – he was the sort of CEO who would regularly deliver parcels, so he understood the lot of his frontline workers and is often compared to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. Alibaba founder and CEO Jack Ma was also a local hero … until he criticised government policy and suddenly stopped appearing in public.

Liu has also been the subject of a massive and very public display of support in China after he was accused of sexual assault in the USA in 2018. Liu insisted that he and his accuser had consensual sex. The woman felt otherwise, and Chinese netizens subjected her to months of abuse. The case generated months of online and media commentary – nearly all of it firmly supporting Liu and condemning his accuser, with allegations of US interference in Chinese affairs bubbling beneath the controversy.

JD.com's canned statement about Liu's departure quotes him saying the company has experienced replacements ready to step in.

"JD has a sound management structure with a large number of excellent business leaders," Liu is quoted as saying.

Liu won't step away from the company completely and will now "devote more time to formulating the company's long-term strategies, mentoring younger management, and contributing to the revitalization of rural areas."

The last activity might be the most significant as Chinese President Xi Jinping has recently emphasised the need for "common prosperity" and the Communist Party of China has said it thinks the kind of extraordinary incomes earned by people like internet tycoons should not continue. China is also working to revive its rural economy – last week it published blueprints for "digital villages" that put tech to work to improve agricultural output and improving the lives of citizens outside the nation's cities.

Liu's expertise certainly won't hurt the effort to revitalise China's rural areas. And his departure from day-to-day leadership at JD.com is not hard to interpret as his own contribution to China"s common prosperity, or as another prominent figure from China's private sector moving into a position that attracts less attention and admiration. ®

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