ONE of the billionaire brainboxes behind TikTok is stepping down as CEO of ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns the hit video app.
Zhang Yiming, 38, said Thursday he will leave the role because he lacks managerial skills and preferred “reading and daydreaming” to running the tech giant.
Zhang Yiming, 38, is stepping down as CEO of ByteDance, the company behind hit video app TikTokCredit: Reuters
He bows out with a net worth of $44.5billion, according to Bloomberg, placing him 31st on a list of the world’s richest people.
It follows a crackdown on China’s booming tech sector by Beijing, which has levied heavy fines — including on Bytedance last month — for allegedly flouting monopoly rules.
Political leaders have also issued warnings to companies’ billionaire digital bosses about their responsibilities to society.
Zhang leaves the task of navigating tightening regulations on Big Tech worldwide to college roommate, long-time colleague and current human resources head Liang Rubo.
TikTok is one of the world’s most popular appsCredit: Alamy
In an employee memo on Thursday, Zhang said the change would “enable me to have greater impact on longer-term initiatives”.
He will move to a “key strategy” position at the end of the year, ByteDance said in a statement.
Zhang, who did not address his role as chairman, in the memo called Liang “an invaluable partner” with “strengths in management, organization, and social engagement”.
ByteDance’s biggest management shake-up since its launch in 2012 comes less than a month after its chief financial officer, Shouzi Chew, became CEO of flagship short-video app TikTok.
It also comes as Chinese regulators increase scrutiny of the country’s biggest technology firms.
In April, they slapped e-commerce giant Alibaba with a $2.8billion fine for anti-competitive practices, and last year suspended fintech affiliate Ant Group’s initial public offering.
TikTok: Brief guide to the world’s most downloaded app
- TikTok lets users create and share short videos with music and camera effects
- The hit app is best known for short dance videos, lip-syncing clips, comedy sketches, and talent footage
- It is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, founded by the entrepreneur Zhang Yiming
- The $200billion conglomerate acquired the Musical.ly app in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, bringing millions of new users
- By February 2019, TikTok and Douyin had been downloaded more than a billion times
- It was the most-downloaded app on the App Store in 2018 and 2019
- Cyber experts have expressed concern over ByteDance’s alleged links to the Chinese government
- The Department of Defense has urged its employees to avoid using the app over national security concerns
- TikTok says it does not and would not share user data with the Chinese government
Anti-trust regulators have also told Tencent they are preparing to fine the gaming giant as much as $1.55billion.
Zhang, who turned ByteDance into a social media force, in the memo said he was not a social person and lacked the skills of an ideal manager.
He also blamed the day-to-day challenges of a CEO as being a hurdle to research and innovation.
“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 in the memo.
“Similarly, I’m not very social, preferring solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and contemplating what may be possible.”
Zhang owns 20 per cent to 30 per cent of ByteDance and holds over 50 per cent of voting rights.
Zhang cofounded ByteDance in 2012Credit: Alamy
It’s thought that ByteDance could be worth as much as $250billion,
ByteDance did not comment on Zhang’s stake.
Zhang in the memo said he will work with Liang over the next six months to ensure a smooth transition.
ByteDance is waiting to find out whether the Biden administration will revive former President Donald Trumps efforts to force the sale of TikTok’s U.S. arm.
Trump said the service was a security threat because it gathered too much personal information about millions of American users.
Regulators also are stepping up anti-monopoly enforcement against Chinese e-commerce giants and other internet companies, though there is no indication ByteDance has been targeted.
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Zhang founded ByteDance in 2012.
Its first short-video platform, Douyin, was launched in 2016.
TikTok was launched outside China the following year. The company said last year that TikTok had 700 million users globally.
ByteDance, headquartered in Beijing, says it operates in 150 markets and has more than 60,000 employees.
The Trump administration’s plan called for ByteDance to be required to sell TikToks U.S. arm to the software maker Oracle and retailer Walmart.
The Biden administration, which took office in January, suspended that while it reviewed potential security threats posed by Chinese tech companies.
In other news, TikTok is plotting to launch a group chat feature that could rival WhatsApp, according to inside sources.
Instagram will soon start using artificial intelligence to stop adults messaging teenagers that don’t follow them.
Google is under fire for harvesting internet data of users browsing in Incognito Mode.
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