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HTC hopes of survival wane as more of its inner circle seek greener pastures

HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) has lost two crucial executives according to a report by Bloomberg.  The struggling Taiwanese smartphone maker reportedly is facing the departure of its President of Engineering and Operations, Fred Liu, and its Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Benjamin Ho.  
 
Fred Liu is a veteran who has been with HTC since 1998.  Promoted to VP in 2006, he received another promotion last May to his current role.  HTC's bio for him states:

Fred Liu is President of Engineering & Operations of HTC. He is responsible for steering the company’s continuing product development and operations, including directing hardware and software design, cloud services, procurement, manufacture and customer service. In recent years, he has worked to advance HTC’s customer centricity, corporate social responsibility and excellence in execution, to lead HTC into its next phase of growth and development.

Fred received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Tatung University. In his spare time Fred enjoys reading, traveling, and listening to classical music.

Fred Liu
HTC Engineering President Fred Liu [Image Source: UPI]

He reportedly has retired after putting in 16 years at the firm.
 
While Mr. Liu's departure might be viewed as "natural", given his age and the fact that he appeared to leave on his own volition, Mr. Ho's exit will likely raise more eyebrows.  HTC is now headed towards searching for its fourth CMO in three years, a testament to its marketing woes.  Mr. Liu reportedly was pressured to resign and did so this week, offering his resignation up to the phonemaker's largest shareholder, HTC chairwoman Cher Wang.
 
Mr. Ho himself was only appointed early last year.  In his early days on the job, Mr. Ho tried ardently to reinvent the company's image, scrapping its "quietly brilliant" motto and assuming a more belligerent advertising stance towards rivals.  However, his efforts have been hampered by delays to HTC's flagship HTC One 1080p Android smartphone, delays that originated from a snub from a camera components retailer who had downgraded the Taiwanese OEM from "preferred" status.

Benjamin Ho
Benjamin Ho's short-lived stint as marketing chief at HTC is reportedly at an end.

But when it came to video ads -- one of the most expensive, yet potentially image-setting mediums -- his vision seemed muddled and bizarre.  HTC reportedly paid Robert Downey, Jr. $12M USD to serve as the pitchman, but the ads that came out were rambling and bizarre -- or "high concept" as The Wall Street Journal tastefully puts it.  It was unclear in many of the commercials that HTC was even a smartphone maker.



Most consisted of actor Robert Downey, Jr. and some ragtag group of friends visualizing or proposing various possibilities for what HTC could stand for.  If anything the ads seemed to trend dangerously close to suggesting to customers that most people had no idea who HTC was, not exactly the image you want to send.
 
After the much derided "Here's To Change" campaign with Mr. Downey, Jr., Mr. Ho this year masterminded the launch of a new series of ads with venerable actor Gary Oldman.  The "Ask the Internet" aimed to lure customers in to its flagship product, the HTC One (M8).  These ads were definitely a step in the right direction, but they still failed to really highlight any actual features of HTC's product.



While by no means a complete failure, the campaign faced a rather lukewarm response.  In April, HTC poached a top former marketing executive from Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935), Paul Golden, to serve as a marketing advisor to help Mr. Ho re-gear his efforts.  Many took the move as a bit of a snub to Mr. Ho, albeit a necessary one given his struggles.
 
But whoever is going to replace the short-lived CMO, it likely won't be Paul Golden as he was only on a short contract and opted not to pursue a long-term relationship with HTC after his brief advisory gig.
 
HTC is rumored to have pulled the plug on a refresh of its HTC One (the HTC One M8 Prime).  If true, this would mean it will have little chance of keeping up with Samsung and other rivals hardware-wise in H2 2014.  Hence, while HTC returned to profitability in Q2 2014, analysts are pessimistic about its outlook for H2 2014.  It remains to be seen if Mr. Ho and Mr. Liu's replacements reinvigorate the fallen phonemaker, or hasten its demise.

Source: Bloomberg





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