In and out: a look at HTC's two-year executive exodus

If you get offered a high-level position with HTC, run. At least, that's the reputation the Taiwan-based manufacturer has unfortunately built over the last two years. Since 2012, no fewer than 22 members of its senior management have left the company. Some took off for personal reasons; others faced criminal charges; and still others moved on to different companies. Many of these exits have been attributed to HTC's state of health, as the smartphone (and soon to be smartwatch) maker has made costly mistakes and experienced a string of decreasing profits stretching back to the end of 2011. Let's take a look at each major departure from the beginning until the present day.

April 2012

Just eight months after signing a $300 million deal with Beats Electronics, making it possible for HTC to use the headphone company's sound profiles in its handsets, CFO Winston Yung -- the executive in charge of penning the transaction -- was booted from his role and transferred into corporate development. CEO Peter Chou denied rumors that his ouster was related to the deal, despite the fact that HTC sold a huge chunk of its stake just three months later (and the remainder a year after that). Unfortunately, Beats wasn't the only possible reason why Yung may have been shown the door; HTC's finances were in a significant downward spiral, something that continues to adversely affect the company today.

As for Yung's role in corporate development, his contributions (if any) have remained largely private; even his LinkedIn page mentions April 2012 was the end of his HTC career. Yung is now a partner for McKinsey & Company in Hong Kong.

November 2012

Mobile World Congress 2011

HTC announced that CMO John Wang (the brains behind the "quietly brilliant" campaign) would be leaving the company in December, although the process to replace him began the previous March. It didn't reveal details on what happened. It's clear, however, that Chou wanted to move his company's marketing efforts in another direction, since Wang was replaced by Benjamin Ho, a former CMO for Motorola. When Ho began in January, his first assignment was nicknamed "Marketing 2.0," which focused on mass-market brand outreach and "holistic marketing."

March 2013

March was a hard month for the UK branch. Just a week prior to the launch of the original HTC One, UK Director Phil Roberson left the company, citing the pressures of work and wanting to spend more time with his wife. (He now works for Vodafone.) Roberson was with HTC for less than two years before being replaced by Philip Blair, VP of product and operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The very next week, UK head of sales Michael Coombes and head of marketing James Atkins followed Roberson's lead. No reason for departure was given at the time, but it wasn't long before the pair announced that they founded a phone company of their own called Kazam; its website currently offers two Android smartphones and a featurephone.

April and May 2013

Facebook Announces Android-Related Product

The snowball grew and picked up speed shortly after HTC launched the One and the First, its unsuccessful AT&T-exclusive "Facebook Phone." During this tumultuous time, seven high-profile company representatives parted ways with the company: Chief Product Officer Kouji Kodera, South Asia CEO Lennard Hoornik, Global Retail Marketing Director Rebecca Rowland, Director of Digital Marketing John Starkweather, Global Digital Service head Elizabeth Griffin, VP of Global Communications Jason Gordon and Product Strategy Manager Eric Lin.

After being with the company for three years, Kodera left "to pursue other interests," according to an official HTC statement; soon afterward he founded a wearable startup called Zero360. Hoornik, who had already been on leave for two months for unknown reasons, joined Dyson the following month. Rowland moved to Microsoft and then Amazon; Starkweather headed to AT&T; Griffin left to work for Nintendo; Gordon is now with an unannounced startup and Lin now works on Microsoft's Skype team.

The departure of so many big names within the company sparked a number of rumors about unhappy conditions within HTC's walls. These flames were further fanned by a tweet from Lin, encouraging his former colleagues to follow his lead in leaving the company. Around the same time, a source close to The Verge that said the company was in "utter free fall."

June 2013

In case those seven departures weren't enough to arouse suspicion, the company's COO Matthew Costello stepped down from his position. According to an internal email, Costello stayed on as an executive advisor in Europe, although later that year he came on as COO of Beats; it likely is no coincidence that he was on the company's board of directors. Curiously, some analysts actually felt that his exit was a good sign for HTC: Bamboo Lin, an analyst from SinoPac Securities, told Bloomberg Businessweek that the company had too many executives, and a moderate streamlining would be beneficial.

August and September 2013

This may have been the biggest sting of the year for HTC, as three of the company's top designers were arrested (and later indicted) for leaking trade secrets, falsifying expenses and receiving kickbacks from suppliers. VP of Product Design Thomas Chien, R&D Director Bill Wu and Senior Manager of Design and Innovation Justin Huang had been planning to leave the company and start a smartphone maker of their own. The trio leaked plans of the unannounced Sense 6.0 design to an outside partner who they intended to do business with. The men faced millions of dollars in fines and at least 10 years in prison per charge.

Additionally, HTC China President Ray Yam was demoted to a position overseeing the development of emerging business. He's since moved on to become managing director for Electrolux.

October 2013

After being with HTC for just four months, Global VP of PR and Communications Lorain Wong left the company for personal reasons. Although she agreed to stay on as a consultant for a few months, she has since accepted a role as the CMO of Global Cloud Xchange, which owns a large, private, undersea fiber-optic cable system.

April 2014

The next person to leave the company was Senior VP of Design and User Experience Scott Croyle, who took over for Kodera nearly a year earlier and was responsible for the One M8's design and hardware development. No official reasons were given. This was a significant blow to the company; given HTC's attention to design, losing two chief designers in less than a full year didn't look good, to say the least. HTC claims that this is part of a long-term transition and that Croyle will stick around in a consultancy role and will be focused on "special projects." According to his LinkedIn page, however, his time with HTC officially came to a close in April.

July 2014

Hold this cat. The latest hits to the company's senior management took place yesterday, as Ho and President of Engineering and Operations Fred Liu announced their resignation and retirement, respectively. During Ho's short tenure, he was responsible for HTC's $1 billion "Here's to Change" campaign featuring Robert Downey Jr., which our sources tell us led to the exec's departure. Ho will reportedly remain with the company until the end of the year, though it'll likely be in a limited capacity.

As for Liu, he's wrapping up a lengthy 16-year stint with HTC, but he's not leaving entirely -- not yet, at least. Bloomberg reports that he's simply dropping day-to-day operations and transitioning into a "strategic advisory role."

Although Liu's departure could easily be nothing more than retirement, given his tenure, there still seems to be a pattern of saving face by transitioning to smaller roles, a path taken by many other executives who've left HTC in the last two years. In fact, one source told The Verge that at least one of the two were "fired in a nice way."



Aside from the trio of indictments late last year, the list of departing executives can be split into two camps. Several of them, primarily in design and product management, appear to have left of their own accord, suggesting that they were unhappy with the company's direction or were wrapped up in other chaotic elements of the business. This doesn't come as a surprise, since plenty of reports have corroborated this theory in the past year. Several others, mostly in marketing and operations, seem to have been compelled to resign, often shortly after the company's costliest mistakes: The Beats partnership, the HTC First and the Robert Downey Jr. marketing campaign, to name a few.

On a positive note, this indicates that a cleansing is taking place within HTC's headquarters; the folks responsible for the company's biggest blunders in the last two years are no longer there, and bringing in fresh blood is arguably a good thing for most companies -- especially those that are experiencing internal strife and financial downturn. On the other hand, can it find enough new talent eager to take on the challenge of jumping on board, given the company's current struggles? As long as the answer is yes, there's little reason to suspect that HTC can't undo its negative reputation and reverse its misfortunes. If the answer is no, however, the company's in for another couple rough years.

[Image credits: Getty Images]