Baidu’s top AI exec is stepping down gettyimages 903447128

Baidu’s stocks took a hit earlier today after the company announced that its Qi Lu is stepping down his job as President/COO after just a year and a half. In a press release tied to the news, the executive cited personal reasons for his decision to “transition” to a lesser role.

“Baidu is a great company with strong talent and deep technologies,” Lu said in the statement. “I am highly optimistic on Baidu’s future and will continue to support Baidu, while spending more time with my family in the U.S. For my next steps, I plan to work in research and investment areas, to help advance our shared mission to make a complex world simpler through technology.”

Regardless of his stated reasons, however, the move is seen as a big blow for the Chinese company’s ambitions to grow beyond its search engine roots. The former Microsoft executive, who will maintain his position on Baidu’s board, was seen as the driving force in the company’s AI ambitions, leading the charge into self-driving cars and other emerging technologies.

Baidu has yet to name a replacement for Lu, who is expected to step down in July. The company’s high tech ranks have experienced a bit of turmoil in the past year and change, as its chief scientist and head of autonomous driving have vacated their roles for other gigs.