ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming to step down as CEO

Former US President Donald Trump's administration sought to force ByteDance to divest control of the app

Reuters May 20, 2021
Zhang Yiming, the founder of tech company Bytedance, which owns TikTok, has denied that the group is a ‘national security threat.’ Photo: AFP

Zhang Yiming, the founder of TikTok owner ByteDance, told employees of the Chinese technology giant in a memo that he will step down as a chief executive and be succeeded by human resource chief Liang Rubo, the company disclosed on Thursday.

The move, first reported by Reuters, represents the biggest corporate shake-up at ByteDance since its launch in 2012.

The company grew to become a dominant social media force in China and turned TikTok, a short-video app popular with teenagers, into a global sensation.

Zhang will move to a "key strategy" position at the end of this year, ByteDance said in a statement.

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Zhang wrote in the memo that Liang, whose most recent role at ByteDance was head of human resources, has been "an invaluable partner", advancing the company's technology and hiring and managing people.

He added that he would work with Liang over the next six months to ensure a smooth transition.

Zhang wrote in the memo that he concluded after several months of deliberation that he would have a greater impact on ByteDance's longer-term initiatives if he transitioned out of the CEO role.

"The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager. I'm more interested in analyzing organizational and market principles, and leveraging these theories to further reduce management work, rather than actually managing people," Zhang wrote.

"Similarly, I'm not very social, preferring solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and contemplating what may be possible," he added.

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Zhang's decision to step down comes less than a month after ByteDance named its chief financial officer Shouzi Chew as CEO of TikTok.

TikTok has sought to distance itself from Beijing after the United States raised national security concerns over the safety of the personal data it handles.

Former US President Donald Trump's administration sought to force ByteDance to divest control of the app. A US plan to sell TikTok's American operations to a consortium that included Oracle Corp and Walmart languished, however, after ByteDance launched successful legal challenges.

ByteDance, which currently employs more than 100,000 people globally, had been making preparations for its much-anticipated initial publish offering (IPO) earlier this year but then halted the IPO plans in April.

The nine-year-old company's previous big organizational shakeup occurred last year when Zhang appointed Chairman Zhang Lidong and Chief Executive Kelly Zhang at ByteDance's China business.

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