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China is still Apple’s biggest potential growth market, so it’s naming its first managing director there

Isabel Ge Mahe has led Apple’s wireless software engineering teams for almost a decade.

Apple’s Isabel Ge Mahe
Apple’s Isabel Ge Mahe

Apple just announced a major new executive post: Engineering leader Isabel Ge Mahe will be moving to Shanghai to take on a new role as the company’s VP and managing director of the Greater China region, reporting to CEO Tim Cook and COO Jeff Williams.

There, she will “provide leadership and coordination across Apple’s China-based team,” according to Apple’s release.

Apple’s China business has boomed over the past half decade, peaking at $61 billion in 2015 — up from $27 billion in 2012 — and driving much of the company’s growth as more of China’s wireless operators embraced the iPhone. In the March quarter of 2015, Greater China generated 29 percent of Apple’s total revenue, up from 9 percent in the December 2011 quarter.

But it has recently stumbled, declining to $46 billion in 2016 and shrinking on a year-over-year basis for the past five reported quarters, as the iPhone has lost share to local Chinese handset vendors. Apple is expected to report its June quarter results on Aug. 1.

Still, with a massive population and growing middle class — plus Apple’s luxury status — China represents Apple’s biggest potential growth market. “We continue to be very enthusiastic about our opportunity in China,” Cook said on Apple’s last earnings call in May. Apple has also invested $1 billion in Didi, China’s leading ride-hailing service.

Isabel Ge Mahe has led Apple’s wireless software engineering teams for nine years, working on key wireless technologies and overseeing the engineering teams building the company’s Apple Pay, HomeKit and CarPlay products.

She has also, according to Apple’s release, worked on new iOS features developed specifically with China in mind, “including recently announced iOS 11 features such as QR Code support, SMS fraud prevention and enabling the use of a phone number as an Apple ID.”

As China’s mobile users do many things differently than Americans or Europeans — WeChat, for example, is the dominant interface for many mobile services there — it makes sense to put more effort into these types of China-driven features, even if they’re rolled out globally.

A Chinese native, Isabel Ge Mahe has bachelor and master’s degrees in engineering from Canada’s Simon Fraser University, and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley.

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