Sequoia Capital China founding partner Zhang Fan’s decision to leave for an advising post at a philanthropic fund, is the latest development in a wave of departures for venture capitalists working in Asian markets. Citing the desire to work on issues he’s passionate about, Fan also gave a nod to China’s flagging economy as a factor potentially contributing to his move.
The news comes only a day after Ian Goh, China partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, announced his resignation for unspecified personal reasons. Just today, peHUB reported hearing rumors that Silicon Valley-based Venrock partner Tony Sun (who works with Chinese companies) may be leaving after 30 years with the firm. And, in what hasn’t been billed as a departure, Walden International chairman Lip-Bu Tan has signed on as chief executive of semiconductor design firm Cadence. He says his new position won’t change his level of involvement in Walden — but it indicates a shift in focus for one of the major investors in the Chinese market to date.
Given the trend, it’s possible that declining fortunes for VCs focused on the Chinese and Asian markets kicked off a round of brain drain. Then again, it may stop here with Fan — it remains to be seen. Regardless, evidence points to a crunch in venture capital in China, even though the country saw a record $4.2 billion invested last year. Analysts predict waves of layoffs as American and European consumers tamp down demand for imported and manufactured goods — an adjustment that would surely impact VCs across all industries. Already, the global financial crisis has narrowed their investment options.
Still, all of these men have different reasons for diverting their attention. And in the case of Fan, he defected from Draper Fisher Jurvetson only a little over three years ago for reasons unrelated to the economy. Based on his comments, he seems authentically engaged with his new project — a fund that will recruit a portfolio of companies looking to improve China that are in dire need of capital. Fan said special attention will be given to investments that promote the environment (like cleantech startups), underprivileged groups (micro-lending firms) and important social issues in the country.
Remaning founder of Sequoia Capital China, Neil Shen, says that Fan’s absence won’t impact business, but that his team — now numbering 15 — has no plans to replace him. Shen himself ran into trouble recently as the target of a $206 million lawsuit launched by the Asian arm of Carlyle Group, which claimed that Shen had stalled its investment in Chinese biomedical company Green Villa Holdings.
VentureBeat will bring you more information on Tan and Sun as it becomes available.
Update: peHUB has reported that Tony Sun’s departure from Venrock is only one part of a series of changes hitting the firm. Partner Rich Moran will become executive in residence over the course of the next several months, and Eric Copeland is expected to step down from his post as partner. Sun’s decision comes several weeks after David Siminoff jumped to his wife’s company, Shmoop. The firm says these actions are unrelated and coincidental.
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