ByteDance founder to step down as CEO, hand over to college roommate

The logo of Bytedance, the China-based company which owns the short video app TikTok, or Douyin, is seen at its office in Beijing, China

Zhang Yiming will step down as chief executive of TikTok-owner ByteDance, leaving the task of navigating a rising number of Big Tech regulations worldwide to college roommate, long-time colleague and current human resources head Liang Rubo.

In an employee memo on Thursday – first reported by Reuters and later disclosed by the firm – 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 Group Holding Ltd (9988.HK) with a $2.8 billion fine for anti-competitive practices, and last year suspended fintech affiliate Ant Group’s initial public offering.

Anti-trust regulators have also told Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK) they are preparing to fine the gaming giant as much as $1.55 billion, Reuters reported that last month.

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, 38, 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.”

Was it worth reading? Let us know.