Baidu unveiled its executive retirement plan on Friday with the aim to invigorate its management team amid slowing ad revenue growth and a shrinking user base.

In an internal letter to employees, Baidu founder Robin Li announced that the company president, Zhang Yaqin, would be the first executive to retire after five years with the corporation.

Retiring executives will be compensated for their willingness to comply with the plan, said Li, who also said that more incentive schemes would be created to “ensure employees work hard with no concerns.”

Zhang joined Baidu as a president in September 2014, mainly responsible for the corporate business side of emerging technologies, including cloud computing, artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, and quantum computing. He was also appointed head of Baidu’s US research affiliate in March 2017. An Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Fellow and Microsoft veteran, Zhang was a corporate vice president at Microsoft’s Asia Pacific technology research operation for a decade before joining Baidu.

Baidu is reshuffling to boost organizational vitality and augment its existing revenue streams. It announced restructuring plans in December to upgrade cloud computing and artificial intelligence services for enterprise clients. This was followed by a round of responsibility re-assignments among corporate executives in late February, Chinese media reported, citing human resources head, Lee Liu.

The search engine giant has lagged peers in the competition for user time spent, particularly younger, digitally native users. Rivals such as Bytedance have posed formidable challenges along multiple user segments. According to internet research firm Trustdata, Bytedance’s short video app Douyin had more than 300 million monthly active users (MAU) in February, nearly four-fold the 79 million users on Haokan, Baidu’s short video service which launched in November 2017.

Correction and clarification: This article has been corrected to reflect accurately Baidu founder Robin Li’s statement concerning the company’s employees. He said that more incentive schemes would be created to “ensure employees work hard with no concerns.” An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Li had said that employees should not be concerned about layoffs. This story has also been updated to reflect that Zhang Yaqin had joined the company as a president and not the president of Baidu.  

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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