US web giant Google formally announced on July 20 that it will set up a China research and development center this quarter and had appointed Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, a former Microsoft corporate vice president, to head it.
Microsoft is suing both Google and Lee over his appointment. Microsoft said Lee's acceptance of the position violated a non-competition clause and that "Google is fully aware of Lee's promises to Microsoft, but has chosen to ignore them, and has encouraged Lee to violate them." Google responded with a statement saying Microsoft's claims were "meritless" and vowed to defend Lee vigorously.
On July 25, Lee, the man at the center of the Microsoft-Google saga, granted China Youth Daily a special interview on his return to Beijing from the United States. Lee spoke candidly about his reasons for leaving Microsoft to join Google.
"I have been working for Google for three and half days now. And I am reminded everyday that this is the right choice," Lee, the new Google China president, said.
According to Lee, the company culture at Google is more suited to his personal values. He said that many of his friends -- senior researchers and scientists -- seemed revitalized after joining the company. The tiredness and haggardness apparent on their faces before seemed to have disappeared. They actually seemed to be enjoying their work.
Seeing his friends looking so positive about things made him recall a letter that he had addressed to Chinese students in general. It was entitled "Success is Becoming The Best That You Can Be".
"In order to be the best you can be, you need the space to display your talents, and pursue things you are most interested and most passionate in," Lee wrote.
"When you are interested in a certain area, you don't work for success only but also for enjoyment," Lee continued.
This was when he started exploring opportunities with Google. His timing was right, too. Google had plans to set up in China.
Lee said he "fell in love" with Google because of the company culture: casually dressed young people with a great passion for innovation and new technology; their persistent pursuit of credibility; the transparent, free and equal relationships between employees.
In addition, Google gave Lee a chance to return to China. Lee said that two things stand out in his career plan: one is to innovate, the other is to contribute to education development. Google has given him the opportunity to do both.
Helping Chinese youth occupies much of Lee's spare time. He has a website that acts as a forum for young people. Lee even takes the time to answer each question personally. He frequently flies between China and the US meeting with organizations on educational matters, although he would prefer to spend more time in China.
Lee intends to devote more of his time to lecturing in universities and fine-tuning his website.
Lee joined Microsoft in 1998 and started Microsoft Research Asia in China. The center became one of Microsoft's best research organizations and Lee was promoted to vice president in charge of natural interaction services, the highest-ranking Chinese in the firm.
Lee is well connected and well known in China's IT arena.
The lawsuit against him hasn't left him bitter either. In fact, Lee is grateful to Microsoft for having given him the opportunities it did.
When Lee started Microsoft Research Asia in China seven years ago, he earned himself the nickname "the biggest headhunter of Microsoft" from the media. In a space of 18 months, he had found over 60 young and outstanding scientists and formed seven world's first-class research groups.
There have been speculations in the media that his departure from Microsoft will result in an exodus of talent. Lee has responded that he is not taking anyone with him to Google.
According to Lee, the new engineering institute of China he plans to set up will give 95 percent of its positions to fresh Chinese graduates. Reason being Google is a very young company. Li said the secrets to Google's rapid success are: youth, freedom, innovation, collective interests and credibility. He wants more Chinese youth to contribute to the miracle of Google.
He also wants to transport the Google company culture to China. He intends to canvass for some senior experts from Google headquarters and Silicon Valley to join him in China.
(China Youth Daily, translated by Wang Qian for china.org.cn, July 28, 2005)