An Apple a Day for Baidu

How do you like them apples?

Baidu.com (Nasdaq: BIDU  ) , China's leading search engine, announced this morning that it's tapping Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) country general manager in China as its new chief operating officer. The move comes shortly after Baidu mined General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) to recruit Jennifer Li as its new chief financial officer.

The high-level openings weren't exactly by design. The company's CFO died unexpectedly in an accident while on vacation back in December. However, more intriguing than the new hires is the trend of executives continuing to defect from prominent tech bellwethers.

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) was supposed to be golden, but execs have been bolting for companies such as Facebook and EMI. Yes, even a struggling music label had the mad recruiting skills to hire away Google's chief information officer this week, to see its digital-music strategy through.

This development may come as a shock, since technology companies have historically prided themselves on dishing out stock options over salaries as a way to attract and retain key hires. Then again, stock options don't seem to have much appeal when share prices are tanking.

Both Google and Apple have seen their shares plummet since peaking late last year. Google and Apple are off by nearly 40% and 30%, respectively, from their recent highs.

This doesn't mean executives are swan-diving into go-go situations. Baidu's stock is also trading 35% off its November high. However, few expect the Chinese online advertising market to suffer the same kind of hiccups that domestic stars such as Google and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) are going through right now. Baidu may or may not feel like a safer bet than Apple, but at least China's dot-com rock star has to feel more secure about its near-term prospects than GM does.

I recommended shares of Baidu to Rule Breakers newsletter subscribers in the fall of 2006. It's definitely been one of my better calls; the stock has more than tripled since that time.

I can't blame execs for flocking to Baidu and other Web stars in China, such as Ctrip.com and Sohu.com, since they're growing a lot more quickly than their stateside counterparts.

Will the last tech exec please turn out the light? Don't forget to strap on that golden parachute on the way out.

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