The highest ranking female executive at Baidu has a new appointment. China’s search engine giant Baidu on Friday announced its chief financial officer (CFO) Jennifer Li will be appointed CEO of Baidu’s investment arm Baidu Capital.

“Jennifer’s extraordinary leadership and professionalism have greatly contributed to Baidu’s progress over the past nine years,” said Robin Li, Baidu’s founder. “We appreciate that Jennifer has built a powerful financial system for Baidu’s future growth.”

“It is crucial to bring AI into daily life. I look forward to working with Jennifer to perfect Baidu’s ecological system,” added Li.

Baidu’s CFO since 2008

Li became Baidu’s CFO in March 2008. She holds an MBA degree from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and a bachelor’s degree from Tsinghua University in China.

Before joining Baidu, Li worked at General Motors (GM) for 14 years, with her last post being General Motors China’s CFO.

Jennifer Li spoke at an event as Baidu CFO. Photo from Baidu Images
Jennifer Li spoke at an event as Baidu CFO. Photo from Baidu Images

Building Baidu’s powerful financial system

Ever since assuming office at Baidu, Li was charged with two major responsibilities: to gain investors’ trust as a new CFO, and prove Baidu’s competence in the competition against Google.

Li’s first year at Baidu was hard.

In November 2008, local media reported that Baidu displayed unlicensed medical organisations – which had paid Baidu – to the top of search results when users searched for certain terms such as tumor. Celebrities including tech guru Kai-Fu Lee criticised Baidu.

On the next trading day, Baidu’s stock price plummeted 25 percent. Although Robin Li made apologies and promised to change the situation, the company saw negative year-on-year growth for the first time.

According to media coverage, Li frequently met investors on business trips. And the hardworking CFO’s efforts paid off as Baidu’s share price rose in 2009, with its year-on-year revenue reaching 40 percent.

However, compared with rivals Tencent and Alibaba, Baidu’s investment into startups was too conservative according to industry insiders. Chinese business magazine Caijing reported that from 2008 to 2015, Tencent and Alibaba invested in 126 and 109 startups respectively, while Baidu only made 48 investments.

Baidu aims to change this situation with CFO Li’s new appointment.

Welcoming AI at Baidu

“It’s my honor to have taken part in Badu’s transformation and fast growth over these years as Baidu’s CFO,” said Li, “Baidu has a clear vision and strategy, and it is set to lead in the AI era.”

Baidu founded its investment arm Baidu Capital in October 2016. Managing RMB 20 billion (USD 3 billion) worth of assets, it mainly invests in maturer internet startups. Baidu founder Robin Li is the chairman of Baidu Capital.

Baidu is placing bets on AI for the next one to two decades. For the year 2017, Baidu will promote its AI technology to be applied to more businesses including smart homes and driverless cars.

“As Baidu Capital’s CEO, I hope my industry experience and vision will boost Baidu’s application of advanced technologies and combine it with various sectors,” said Li.

(Top photo from Pixabay.com)

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Heather Wang
Heather is a contributor at ACT. She is passionate about literature, photography and technology. She graduated from Shanghai University of International Business and Economics with a Master's Degree.

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