Ever since the announcement that Lu Qi would no longer be running the operations at Baidu, rumours abound in China on what is the real reason behind it.

None of you would believe the official “due to personal reasons” statement right?

Here are some of the theories:

  1. Lu Qi fell out with Melissa Ma, wife of founder Robin Li;
  2. Robin Li has been having an affair, and Lu Qi is smart enough to quit before the affair blows up and impact the company performance;
  3. Lu Qi lost out in a power battle with Xiang Hailong, the person leading Baidu’s search monetisation – the cash cow of the company – for years;
  4. It was agreed in the beginning that Lu Qi would step down within a year – he was brought in to help Robin and Melissa eliminate their internal foes, and this objective has been achieved.

False reasons

While many of these are far-fetched gossips, it indeed seems such power struggles are the only reason for Lu Qi’s departure.

The reason can’t be performance, as Baidu under him has been performing very well, with share prices rising by more than 60%.

The rally before Qi’s departure

In fact, when the new of Lu Qi leaving came out, Baidu’s share price plummeted:

And the slump after

The reason can’t be low EQ as well. Lu Qi not only pleased investors, but also made employees happy. Numerous social media sites are full of praises from Baidu’s ranks. It seems that people are actually quite happy with him at the helm:

The love messages for Qi from Baidu employees

Why such an effective and high-EQ executive had to leave within a year? What made him or Robin (or both) unhappy?

History has a lesson?

One theory, which we finds interesting, points to the history of China.

In imperial China (almost regardless of dynasties), generals and ministers were often purged because they … eh … became too successful (and loved):

  • Han Xin, one of the most successful generals helping found Han (not the same Han as the general’s surname) dynasty, was executed;
  • The founding emperor of Song Dynasty purged his key generals over a drink. This was more of an amicable group sacking, as those generals were given large land holdings and generous pension – nobody lost their lives;
  • Zhu Yuanzhang, who founded Ming Dynasty, executed almost all his key ministers who had helped him reach the helm. He also set up informer networks to keep the remaining perpetually scared of their own lives;
  • Chairman Mao did something very, very similar towards his most successful, and loved, lieutenants.

Comparing Lu Qi to General Yue Fei

The theorists compared Lu Qi with Yue Fei, a revered national hero whose temple now stands in Hangzhou, not far from Alibaba headquarters.

Yue Fei statue in his temple, with the banner “Returning our land!”

Yue Fei was a Southern Song Dynasty General who led successful military campaigns against the Manchus, and recovered significant territories in the North (The Dynasty was called Southern Song because it had previously lost almost the entire north of China to Manchus). At the age of 42, he was imprisoned and subsequently executed for dubious charges of treason.

Over the history, many believed he was focusing too much on military success, and his low EQ offended many, causing his downfall. However, close examination of historical records revealed that he was actually a very loveable figure (or in modern lingo: possessing extraordinarily interpersonal and communications skills).

His downfall was, probably, because he was too successful that the Emperor became worried. “What would happen if Yue Fei decides to supplant me?” the Emperor probably thought.

In contrast, another general, contemporary of Yue Fei, immediately became addicted to gambling and prostitution after his military campaign. Many ministers have reported his sins to the Emperor, who did nothing to punish him.

The Emperor knew that a person with such a bad reputation would not be able to rally the forces to supplant him.

For the Emperor, as well as for all the emperors mentioned in the cases above, keeping their personal positions safe probably mattered more than running an effective empire or recovering lands lost to invaders from the North.

Same for Robin Li, the theory goes.

Lu Qi’s only problem, if the theory is to be believed, was he is too successful and liked at the same time.

The throne is still, and will always be, mine


Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].