Hugo Barra, vice president of global operations at Xiaomi Corp., at a news conference in Hong Kong on March 21, 2016.
Photograph by Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Scott Cendrowski
January 23, 2017

Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone startup whose sales growth has plummeted and has failed to meet revenue goals two years in a row, is losing a key executive. Hugo Barra, a Brazilian-born MIT grad who once led the Android new products team at Google, said he is soon leaving as head of Xiaomi’s international unit for another job in Silicon Valley.

In a post on Facebook, Barra attributed his departure to personal reasons and, in a basic sense, homesickness:

But what I’ve realized is that the last few years of living in such a singular environment have taken a huge toll on my life and started affecting my health. My friends, what I consider to be my home, and my life are back in Silicon Valley, which is also much closer to my family. Seeing how much I’ve left behind these past few years, it is clear to me that the time has come to return.

Barra was the highest ranking foreign executive at the Chinese startup, and a key conduit between Xiaomi and the world outside China. As part of his work to raise the company’s international profile, Barra opened Xiaomi’s business in India, where the company said sales topped $1 billion in 2016.

Even if Xiaomi’s sales come mostly from its low-priced Redmi series, India is important as the company’s one major market outside China. Barra worked assiduously to cultivate its image there. A year and a half ago, as Xiaomi was gaining traction in India, a researcher used supplier interviews to estimate that Xiaomi was shipping about 700,000 smartphones a quarter. Barra turned around and tweeted about the great quarter, saying Xiaomi had sold 1 million smartphones.

Today, Xiaomi’s struggles are symptomatic of a company trying to grow too big, too fast. Earlier this year, founder Lei Jun admitted on social media that Xiaomi had tried to expand too quickly over the past few years. Sales of ecosystem products—Xiaomi-branded rice cookers, bluetooth speakers, and TVs—face lofty goals, service issues, and much older global competitors, while its smartphones have fallen from the top market share in China to just inside the top five. In the third quarter this year, its Chinese smartphone shipments fell by more than 30%, to 11.4 million.

Last May, Fortune reported Xiaomi’s revenues were flat in 2015, and last week Xiaomi said it won’t release smartphone sales figures for 2016. That announcement comes only a couple years after the company had blasted out smartphone growth figures that garnered headlines, and free publicity, across blogs and news sites.

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