Li Kaifu, the 47-year-old head of Google in China, has abruptly quit the company.
Google says it is nothing to do with its woes in China, which have included the blocking of YouTube since March and periodic bans on Google.com and Google.cn too.
According to Li’s blog at Sina, Google did want to keep him – offering him a new four-year deal – but he wanted to leave to set up a venture capital fund that will invest in young Chinese entrepreneurs.
There are rumours that he had been in negotiations with American VCs before over the plan, but only now has the deal been able to tempt him away. Sources close to Li suggested that he has unrivalled contacts inside Chinese universities and will be able to tap the best talent.
Still, the timing is odd. Google is still in the middle of a trench war with Baidu, which has seen it slowly eke up its market share, and is about to embark on an enormous marketing campaign to try to win more ground. Google has 33pc of the Chinese search market, compared to Baidu’s 63pc share.
The company has invested resources in its Chinese search engine and is now going to double its sales team to sell its "superior" technology. Li said that mobile searches are now the key battleground, but he is leaving just as 3G begins to get a foothold. It seems odd he didn’t want to stick it out to reap the rewards of his work.
Maybe it was the money that lured him – after all, he also had a fine job at Microsoft which he left to go to Google – but maybe he had simply got tired of being hampered by Chinese restrictions. There’s a telling line in the goodbye letter he has written on his blog. It says he was desperate to do something that he had "total control over". Maybe Google’s frustrations have just burned him out.