LinkedIn’s head of China is leaving the company

LinkedIn’s head of China, a key figure in the launch of its business in the country in 2014, is leaving the company, LinkedIn has confirmed.

Derek Shen, LinkedIn President of China who led the company’s controversial entry into China, will leave at the end of this month, according to a spokesperson. There’s no immediate replacement, but head of international engineering, Francis Tang, will cover the role in the interim period.

“[Derek] has transformed the business from a startup into a viable business in a position of strength and creating economic opportunity for millions of professionals and companies,” LinkedIn said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

“Looking ahead, LinkedIn remain excited about its prospects in China and the fulfillment of its mission and vision. In order to build on our initial success, LinkedIn will continue to ensure its China business operates with the autonomy it needs to create great local product experiences, and is also set up to leverage the scale and expertise more effectively in the APAC region and globally,” it added.

LinkedIn was roundly criticized for agreeing to censor its China-based users as part of its local launch, which was made in partnership with Sequoia China.

Content from China-based users that is deemed unsuitable is blocked inside the country and only made available to those on the site that are living overseas. A spike in censoring has occurred around key political dates such as the Tiananmen Square anniversary in early June. The policy applies to accounts that are currently based in China, regardless of whether they were first created in other parts of the world, which also confused some users.

Speaking around the time of the Tiananmen anniversary in 2014, when it first faced a user backlash, LinkedIn said it was “strongly in support of freedom of expression,” but with a major caveat.

“It’s clear to us that in order to create value for our members in China and around the world, we will need to implement the Chinese government’s restrictions on content, when and to the extent required,” the company explained.

For LinkedIn, the move was a weighted effort to go after business opportunities in China — and it has shown promise for that.

As of April this year, state-run China Daily reported that the company’s userbase in China had reached 32 million. Globally, the site claims over 500 million registered users making its China number a relative drop in the ocean, however LinkedIn previously had just four million users in the country prior to its localization.

It estimated back at its 2014 launch that China accounted for one-in-five of the world’s “knowledge workers”, or a target audience of 140 million professionals, so it will see that there is plenty more work to be done.

Also, it is notable that LinkedIn outlasted rival Viadeo. Despite launching in the country as early as 2007, the European company abruptly exited the Chinese market at the end of 2015 in the name of cutting costs.

The Chinese censorship experience has been much different for some of LinkedIn’s peers in the global social network space, however. Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat are among those whose services are blocked in the country. Instead, local alternatives have claimed their mantle meaning that, even if they did reverse their long-term opposition of Chinese censorship, it remains to be seen whether any of the services would gain significant backing from Chinese users. In that respect, LinkedIn is quite unique.