Business founder Richard Liu resigns following the departure of the youngest Chinese tech chief founder Richard Liu has stepped down as chief executive of the Chinese e-commerce group he founded more than two decades ago, marking the latest exit for one of the country’s top entrepreneurs.

Beijing’s month-long campaign too Rein in Big Tech has prompted several Chinese entrepreneurs to leave senior positions and instead work behind the scenes as private companies in the country are subject to increased oversight by regulators.

ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming discard their formal titles last year, while the CEO of its main Chinese rival, Kuaishou, also moved to lower his profile.

At Pinduoduo, JD’s e-commerce rival, founder Colin Huang resigned from all his senior positions at the company and the head of Jack Ma’s fintech upstart Ant Group resigned.

JD promoted President Xu Lei as the new chief executive. The 47-year-old has long been touted as JD’s next man after years of running the main retail division and taking on day-to-day responsibility for running the company last September. He will also join the company’s board of directors, JD said Thursday.

Liu plans to retain the chairmanship and is the controlling shareholder of JD, which holds a separate class of shares that gives him about 77 percent of the company’s total voting power.

“JD has built a strong position in the industry,” Liu said in a statement. “I will devote more time to JD’s long-term strategies and future drivers.”

Liu’s tenure at JD was marred by his 2018 arrest in Minnesota on allegations of sexual assault, which he denied. US prosecutors have not filed any charges against him.

JD said Liu will focus on strategy, mentor emerging leaders and continue to “contribute to revitalizing rural areas,” alluding to Beijing’s demand that its tycoons do more for the country. Liu donated $2 billion worth of JD stock to charity earlier this year.

JD has generally performed well under Liu’s watch, with earnings up more than 10-fold since the Nasdaq IPO in 2014 and the share price up 211 percent. The company’s Hong Kong shares fell as much as 3.6 percent in early trading Thursday, more than the 1.8 percent drop in the Hang Seng Tech Index.

Liu’s formal departure as boss comes amid a Chinese regulatory crackdown on the technology depressed stock prices of the country’s largest internet companies and has increasingly led to layoffs as growth has slowed.

JD has so far evaded the brunt of Chinese regulators and its business has held up better than rivals like Alibaba, with sales of Rmb 952 billion (US$149 billion) last year, up 27.6 percent year-on-year corresponds to the previous year. But the company also resorted to layoffs this spring to get a handle on costs after years of aggressive hiring.

Li Chengdong, head of e-commerce think tank Haitun, said Liu’s exit likely stemmed from a shared desire among Chinese executives to “get out of the public eye and focus on an overarching corporate strategy,” though he expected Liu to have more hands would -off than the other entrepreneurs who recently dropped out.

“Xu Lei has done a good job growing JD Retail over the past four years. . . So he’s the right person to take on the role of CEO,” Li said.

Xu has been with JD for more than a decade, serving as chief marketing officer and head of JD Wireless before taking over the retail unit.

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Adam Bradshaw

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