When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos separated from his wife MacKenzie last year they tried to keep the divorce civil, despite the huge sums at stake. There was still a hint of scandal around the case in allegations that National Enquirer owner David Pecker was blackmailing Bezos with intimate photos that the e-commerce tycoon had sent to his lover. But in the end, the parting seemed to be pretty professionally managed: Bezos kept 75% of the couple’s Amazon stock; she took the remainder.
Li Guoqing and Peggy Yu, the husband-and-wife co-founders of Dangdang, an e-commerce site once compared to Amazon, are going through a separation of their own. But their divorce has been anything but cordial.
The latest clash came on April 26 when Li stormed into Dangdang’s headquarters in Beijing and removed the company seals.
Two days earlier he had called a shareholder meeting at which Yu was removed as Dangdang’s chairman and Li was elected in her place.
Li’s renewed interest in Dangdang is a surprise to many: after all, he announced his departure from the company in February last year.
Back then he had much more positive words about his wife too. “I believe that after I leave Dangdang and end the husband-and-wife business structure, Yu Yu will lead the company to future success and continue to provide high-quality service to our 300 million customers,” he wrote in an open letter.
Li and Yu met at a dinner party in New York in 1996 and founded Dangdang three years later. It grew quickly from its roots as an online book vendor into a platform selling a wide range of goods, but it struggled to keep pace with larger e-commerce rivals like Taobao and JD.com
By 2018 the tensions between Li and Yu were becoming more apparent, with open disagreement on whether to sell Dangdang to the Hainan-based conglomerate HNA Group. She wanted to do the deal, he did not.
In a WeChat post that year Li even said that he wanted to kill his wife. “There are days when I just want to shoot her dead,” he wrote, rather astonishingly.
In 2019 Yu asked Li to leave Dangdang. Asked about his ejection from the company on a chat show soon afterwards, he lost his temper, smashing a glass of water on the studio floor.
Yu went on to accuse Li of stealing Rmb130 million ($18.33 million) from their joint bank account, of being physically abusive and having extramarital affairs with men.
The couple began divorce proceedings and Li launched a new app called True Reads. But negotiations failed, partly because the coronavirus led to a new valuation for Dangdang, with Li making an attempt to grab back control.
He doesn’t deny taking the corporate seals (administrative control of Chinese companies rests heavily with the person holding the company ‘chops’) but says he was forced to act because his wife was mismanaging Dangdang.
Dangdang then put out a statement saying that Yu was still in control and warning Li to stay away.
It also decided to poke fun at Li’s erratic behaviour by promoting a list of books about relationships and corporate law.
To make clear this was aimed at Li, Dangdang titled its reading list as covering topics “from throwing a glass to stealing corporate chops”.
“I guess it’s clear who really controls Dangdang these days,” joked a weibo user.
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