China’s Xiaomi poaches top Google Android exec

Hugo Barra
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Hugo Barra

Google has lost a top executive from its Android management team to fast-rising Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, less than six months after the head of the U.S. company's mobile platform stepped down.

Hugo Barra, vice-president for Android product management, resigned after five years with Google. He led the Android product team, overseeing development of the operating system and the Google apps that run on it.

Mr Barra will join Xiaomi, a darling of the Chinese consumer electronics industry that was recently valued at $10bn, to help it expand outside greater China. Xiaomi, a lower-cost rival to Samsung Electronics and Apple, makes smartphones that run a customised version of the Android operating system.

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At recent Google events, Mr Barra has unveiled improvements to the world's largest mobile platform and its latest Nexus 7 tablet.

His exit follows March's reshuffle of the company's Android management team that saw Sundar Pichai, also head of Google's Chrome browser and netbook platform, replace Andy Rubin, the long-serving head of Android. Mr Rubin took another unspecified role at Google.

Xiaomi, whose latest handsets are priced as low as $130, is one of the more ambitious smartphone makers in China, where the market for lower-end devices has been booming. Often compared to Apple for its ability to build hype around its brand, it has ambitions to expand further into digital services, such as games. Its investors include Singapore's sovereign wealth fund Temasek.

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In a post on Google's social network, Mr Barra said he would work with Xiaomi to help expand its "product portfolio and business globally."

Founder Lei Jun said on his microblog that Mr Barra would join Xiaomi in October to work on international business development.

Currently, Xiaomi phones are sold only in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The company also has been working on an internet television set-top box.

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A Google spokesperson confirmed the move, which was first reported by AllThingsD: "We wish Hugo Barra the best. We'll miss him at Google and we're excited that he is staying within the Android ecosystem."

News of Mr Barra's departure broke as it emerged that Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, had separated from his wife. Mr Brin is said now to be in a relationship with another Google employee, who works in marketing for Google Glass and who had previously been Mr Barra's girlfriend.

One person at Google familiar with the situation said Mr Barra's departure was unrelated to any of these relationships. Mr Barra did not respond to a request for comment.

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Although Mr Brin leads Google X, the advanced-research unit that developed the futuristic Glass eyeware, marketing employees report through a different business function within the company, ultimately to Larry Page, chief executive.

Google's code of conduct does not prohibit relationships between employees as long as there is no management reporting line between the two people.