Lenovo China’s smartphone head Chang Cheng joins rival Xiaomi as race for 5G heats up

Li Tao

Chang Cheng, who announced his departure as head of the smartphone unit of Lenovo China on the last day of 2019, has landed back in the industry as vice-president of bigger rival Xiaomi.

Chang joined Xiaomi on January 1 as company vice-president, responsible for mobile phone product planning, Xiaomi’s founder and chief executive Lei Jun said on his official Sina Weibo on Thursday morning.

“[Chang] has a deep understanding of the industry and rich operating experience in the field of consumer electronics,” Lei said in a company statement on Thursday. “I believe that under his leadership, our mobile phone product planning will be more forward-looking and closer to users’ needs, and provide stronger support for the mobile phone business.”

“On the first day of 2020 [I am] working hard for [my] dreams,” Chang wrote on his official Weibo account, adding that he was “thrilled” to have the new job.

Lenovo did not immediately comment on the appointment.

Xiaomi opens second headquarters in Wuhan as it doubles down on R&D

“Everything you love is very likely to be lost. But in the end, love will return in a different way,” Chang wrote on his Weibo account on December 31, when he announced his departure from Lenovo.

Chinese smartphone brands have been launching 5G-enabled handsets ready for the global 5G market which Gartner forecasts will be worth US$4.2 billion by the end of 2020, driven by vast infrastructure investment from broadband providers.

Lei said in a new year’s letter that in the coming five years Xiaomi would invest at least 50 billion yuan (US$7.2 billion) in the fields of 5G, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT).

“2020 will be a year of breakthroughs for our 5G business,” he said.

Chang, who joined Lenovo in 2000 as R&D director for its notebook business unit, became CEO of ZUK Mobile, a Lenovo smartphone subsidiary, in 2015, and three years later was appointed head of Lenovo China’s smartphone unit.

Chang, like Xiaomi’s Lei and Huawei’s mobile chief Richard Yu Chengdong, has been active on social media promoting his company’s smartphone brand. He has three million followers on microblogging site Sina Weibo.

However, unlike many other top smartphone executives, Chang was more engaged with his followers. He would go online early every day to reply to messages from them.

Despite Chang’s efforts – he had tried to introduce handsets with competitive pricing – Lenovo remained a small player in China’s smartphone market which is dominated by the five top brands. Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, Xiaomi and Apple have an accumulated 87 per cent of the market, according to a Counterpoint report released in November.

Lenovo was lumped in with the remaining brands including Samsung, Meizu and ZTE.

Last month, Liu Chuanzhi, 75, the founder of Lenovo Group, announced his retirement as chairman of Legend Holdings, the parent company of the world’s largest PC vendor.

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