Apple creates a new head of China role and names exec to run it amid falling sales

Isabel Ge Mahe, Apple's new vice president and managing director of China.

Isabel Ge Mahe, Apple's new vice president and managing director of China.

Isabel Ge Mahe, Apple’s new vice president and managing director of China.

Apple has created a major new executive role in China and appointed the head of its wireless technologies unit to run it, reporting into CEO Tim Cook, as the technology giant struggles with falling sales in the world’s second-largest economy.

Isabel Ge Mahe will take up the new role of vice president and managing director of Greater China, Apple said in a statement late on Tuesday. Ge Mahe is moving from her role as vice president of Wireless Technologies to take up the new job which is based in Shanghai.

The executive will report into Cook and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams.

Apple’s move comes at a time when the world’s second-largest smartphone maker by market share grapples with stricter regulation in China and struggling iPhone sales. In the quarter ended April 1, Greater China revenues fell 14 percent year-on-year, though iPhone sales were up 1 percent, pointing towards a slight recovery.

Local Chinese brands like Oppo, Vivo, and Huawei, have posed a big challenge to Apple in China, taking away market share. But Apple is hoping its upcoming device releases, especially the souped up iPhone 8 anniversary edition phone, will win back Chinese consumers.

Cook still sees China as a crucial market.

“We continue to be very enthusiastic about our opportunity in China,” Cook said in Apple’s fiscal second quarter earnings call.

Technology firms in China also have to grapple with ever-changing regulation, something that Apple has felt the effect of. Last year, for example, Apple’s iBooks and iTunes Movies services were shut down.

But Apple has been making moves to appease regulators. Last week, Apple said it is setting up its first data center in China to comply with stricter cybersecurity laws that were introduced in June.

In Ge Mahe’s role heading up the wireless team, she focused on the development of cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, location, and other technologies for many of Apple’s products. She has also overseen the engineering teams developing Apple Pay, HomeKit and CarPlay.

In China, she worked with Apple’s research and development teams to develop features specifically made for that market.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Ge Mahe hinted that her role would include liaising with government, something that Apple increasingly needs to do.

“Everyone at Apple is proud of the contributions we make to the communities where we do business, and I am looking forward to deepening our team’s connections with customers, government and businesses in China to advance innovation and sustainability,” Ge Mahe said.

Apple’s new China MD is fluent in Mandarin as well. Ge Mahe will begin the role later this summer.

“Apple is strongly committed to invest and grow in China, and we are thrilled that Isabel will be bringing her experience and leadership to our China team,” Cook said in a statement on Tuesday.