The former chairman of Lululemon went on Bloomberg in 2013 to share his thoughts on why some of his female customers had complained that its proprietary Luon fabric was too sheer. “Some women’s bodies don’t work for the pants,” Chip Wilson said on camera. “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure there is over a period of time.”
His statement provoked uproar with many saying that he was “fat shaming” women. Within two months, Lululemon’s stock price had dropped by nearly a third. The company’s board advised Wilson against making further public statements. He would later resign.
Baidu has just learned the tough lesson that verbal diarrhoea rarely ends well.
Last weekend, Liu Chao, who headed user experience at Baidu, took to the stage at an industry conference. During the 18-minute speech, he managed to offend so many people in the audience that he was booed off the stage.
To illustrate how to understand consumer demand, Liu gave an example: “If a girl says to me ‘the air conditioning in my dorm doesn’t work, and I don’t want to go home,’ what does she mean? I think it means she wants to kiss and have sex.”
Later, Liu showed photos of four female Baidu employees. At this point he made the remarkable observation: “Some would speculate that the women were hired just because they are pretty, that is not true. Before they joined the company they were so ugly. But under our influence, their beauty is much improved.”
Some found his presentation so sexist that at one point, a woman demanded that the Baidu executive should stop. “This is tasteless! Get off the stage,” she shouted. A live broadcast of the event was also temporarily cut following the incident.
Needless to say, news about Liu’s hugely inappropriate presentation only added fuel to the growing backlash against the search firm (for more on this topic, see WiC324).
“Baidu is the company I most hope will go out of business,” one netizen wrote on weibo. “After listening to Liu Chao’s speech and finding out how much someone as incompetent as him makes (Rmb1.5 million not including stock options), I tell myself, I need to jump ship to go work for Baidu right away,” another mocked.
Even though the executive has since been relieved from his position, industry observers say the damage has been done.
“A company’s credibility and image is not something that can easily be restored just from dismissing the employee in question. Baidu should do some soul searching to understand how it got itself into this situation. How did an incompetent staffer become a senior executive at a high-tech internet firm?” lambasted the Economic Information Daily.
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