Baidu CEO tells staff to disrupt, innovate… and be like wolves

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Be more wolf-like. That’s one of the rallying cries of Robin Li, CEO and founder of China’s top search engine, Baidu, in an internal email to all employees that was sent out yesterday. The morale-boosting email was leaked out to Techweb, giving an interesting glimpse into one of China’s top web companies at a time when it’s facing new competition in its core business.

In the email, which was headlined “Change Starts With You and Me,” Robin Li calls on Baidu employees to think like wolves, to increase investment in innovation, and new businesses, and to be “willing to disrupt ourselves.” Outlining the dangers of stagnation faced by any large company, Robin suggests that his employees “must suffer” or else a level of comfort and achievement actually “becomes a disadvantage” – and then, he warns, they all risk becoming “dinosaurs.”

Innovation, innovation, innovation – and efficiency
There are several mentions of innovation in the letter, with Baidu’s CEO even suggesting that innovating should be a higher priority than net profit. To back that up, he says there’ll be more investment in some of its recent products, such as its desktop and mobile web browsers, so as to “guide users towards search” and thereby grow market share.

It’s clearly a call to arms in the face of competition from Qihoo’s new search engine, which has analysts worried and has caused a serious drop in Baidu shares since the new rival came online in mid-August this year. Baidu’s stock has since dropped from a summer peak of $133.98 per share to the current $106 – its second-lowest ebb of the year. In terms of search engine market share, Baidu is currently at 72.97 percent of search page-views, while Qihoo has blasted into second-place with 9.64 percent.

One of the subheaders in his lengthy email is “Reduce management layers and improve efficiency.” In this section, Li calls for “downsizing to improve efficiency” by “reducing the number of simple management” and “junior staff” and focusing more on senior engineers and others who are actively coding and creating products. Despite this suggestion of job cuts, no further details are given in Robin’s email to staffers. At the end of 2011, Baidu had just over 16,000 employees.

“Baidu’s second take-off”
Robin’s missive also outlines a few other details, such as fewer meetings and stricter action towards deadlines. Baidu’s CEO concludes his email by calling for staffers to work towards “Baidu’s second take-off.”

In a recent speech at Stanford University, Robin Li outlined that mobile is an area where Baidu needs to grow, and the company is expecting three-times more revenue from mobile products this year.

This article by Steven Millward originally appeared on Tech in Asia and was published with permission.

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