Hugo Barra, the person tasked with expanding Xiaomi’s reach beyond its native China, has today announced his departure from the post. He will conclude his Xiaomi tenure after the Chinese New Year next month, and will return to Silicon Valley — where he served as Google’s vice president of Android product management until 2013 — to "embark on a new adventure." Barra says that his decision has been strongly motivated by a feeling of detachment from his family and the life he had built up in Silicon Valley:
"What I've realized is that the last few years of living in such a singular environment have taken a huge toll on my life and started affecting my health. My friends, what I consider to be my home, and my life are back in Silicon Valley, which is also much closer to my family. Seeing how much I've left behind these past few years, it is clear to me that the time has come to return."
In his time at Xiaomi, Barra did a lot to raise the company’s global profile and respectability. When he first arrived, Xiaomi was widely derided as a cynical Apple copycat, but in the three and a half years that have followed, the Chinese company has asserted its own design credentials, and last year it introduced one of the most impressively futuristic new devices in its Mi Mix smartphone. Barra will be succeeded by Xiang Wang, who’s already a senior vice president at Xiaomi, in the role of stewarding the company’s international expansion efforts.
While Xiaomi’s international presence has been improving, its performance at home in China has been steadily declining. Having once been the darling of the Chinese smartphone market, Xiaomi dropped out of the top five smartphone vendors in 2016, and it didn’t even register a mention in IDC’s latest market share numbers. So while Barra puts the cause of his resignation down to a sense of homesickness, it’s also inarguable that Xiaomi has struggled to live up to its ambitious goals.
The arrival of Hugo Barra in Beijing back in 2013 was a major story because of how senior he was within Google’s Android team and the relatively unproven company he was leaving that position for. It was a sign of faith in the growing importance of China and its local phone makers to the future of the mobile industry, and it gave Xiaomi an easily recognizable ambassador in the West. But Barra was no doubt also frustrated in his efforts, having launched the Xiaomi Mi 5 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last year and a new Xiaomi TV at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year without any plans to distribute those products in Western markets.