HTC sees more top execs disappear as Facebook fouls First launch

May 22, 2013
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HTC continues to lose high-level staff as its North American team gradually peels away the struggling smartphone company, with industry talk suggesting Facebook's Home launch strategy actually ended up undermining rather than supporting the firm. Chief Product Officer Kouki Kodera, in charge of HTC's product strategy, left the firm last week according to The Verge's sources, along with VP of global communications Jason Gordon. Meanwhile, phones that HTC has pegged its recovery on, such as the One, struggle to compete - in mindshare at least - in the face of Samsung and Apple's marketing budget.

Kodera and Gordon are the latest in a number of staff leaving HTC. Global retail marketing manager Rebecca Rowland left the company in April after more than four and a half years, joining Microsoft as the company's new visual merchandizing manager; similarly, Eric Lin, who had been product manager at HTC, jumped ship to Microsoft and the Skype team. Worldwide director of digital marketing John Starkweather is another recent departure, now responsible for social and digital marketing at AT&T.

A reshuffle in how HTC makes its strategy decisions could be part of the reason behind the shake-up, it's suggested, with the company shifting product planning to the Taipei HQ and potentially leaving the Seattle office out of the loop. CEO Peter Chou - who has bet his job on the success of the One - is also said to be a source of frustration, deeply immersed in strategy and product design, and making over-arching decisions with little consultation with the executive team.

However, for whatever internal issues HTC might have, problems with partners also shoulder some share of the blame. According to The Verge's sources, Facebook had previously intended to release its Home Android launcher at a later date, giving the the HTC-made First smartphone exclusivity in the market. That has led - in part - to reportedly underwhelming sales, with AT&T increasing its subsidy in an apparent attempt to stimulate some demand.

Nonetheless, HTC's future is about more than just a few high-profile staff looking elsewhere for their next challenge. The company has apparently pushed through its HTC One production issues, with output said to double this month alone, and the unaudited sales figures from April indicated that demand for the flagship was certainly there. HTC has been pushing ahead with cost-cutting, too, axing little-used services like HTC Watch in less popular locations.

The overarching problem remains how HTC can compete with its key Android rival, Samsung, which has a vast marketing budget and a range of phones that appears to grow with new variants every week. Samsung's tightly integrated supply chain and brand recognition - not to mention its hardware, software, and services ecosystem, which it can afford to highlight with schemes like the media-sharing App Challenge with its $800,000 bounty - make it the company to beat in Android, and HTC's current strategy of pinpointing key areas with targeted One promotion is yet to demonstrate convincing results.

Update: HTC gave us the following statements, and confirmed that Scott Croyle, VP of Design, will be taking over Kouji Kodera's duties:

“HTC can confirm that Jason Gordon has left the company. We appreciate his contributions in the past several years and wish him well on his future endeavors. HTC continues to invest in talent and recruitment as part of our broader human resources strategy to ensure the continued strength of our company’s organizational structure.”

“Kouji Kodera has left HTC to pursue other interests. We appreciate his contributions and wish him all the best. Scott Croyle will take over his duties.”


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