ByteDance’s founder Zhang Yiming to step down as CEO, the third Chinese tech billionaire to throw in the towel in their prime
- After founding the company in 2011, founder Zhang Yiming takes a step back from his day-to-day responsibilities
- Liang Rubo, co-founder and current head of human resources, will take over the CEO position by the end of the year
Zhang Yiming, one of China’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, said he is ready to throw in the towel after nearly a decade running the world’s largest unicorn ByteDance Technology, becoming the latest among the country’s technology founders to step down in their prime.
“The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager,” he said. “I’m more interested in analysing organisational and market principles, and leveraging these theories to further reduce management work, rather than actually managing people.”
He also said that the busy job of chief executive restricted him from following his passions, especially the latest technical developments.
“Before 2017, I spent a lot of time keeping track of developments in machine learning, but since then,” he said. “While I do my best to bookmark technical articles online, I haven’t had the time to make much progress digging into the area.”
“Similarly, I’m not very social, preferring solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and daydreaming about what may be possible,” Zhang said.
Taking his place will be ByteDance co-founder Liang Rubo, currently the company’s head of human resources and a close colleague of Zhang for many years.
“Over the next six months we will work side by side to ensure the smoothest possible transition,” said Zhang. “Through the end of the year, I will work closely with Rubo as he transitions into the role of CEO, and I know you will all also support him.”
Liang, Zhang’s dorm mate in university, worked at ByteDance from day one as co-founder to build the company into the world’s most valuable start-up. Liang has taken on numerous roles within the company, including the head of research and development, Lark and Efficiency Engineering, and most recently, Human Resources and Management.
The letter to employees did not address any other position changes for Zhang, who is also currently chairman of the company’s board of directors and holds 25 per cent of the company’s shares, according to The Wall Street Journal report in September 2020.
Zhang’s resignation follows a growing trend of Big Tech CEOs stepping back at the peak of their career.
However, the company continues to deal with headwinds overseas and at home.
The forced divestment of TikTok’s US operations initiated under the Trump administration is still undecided as President Biden’s administration put a pause on the legal action, but is still reviewing the issues of Chinese apps.
India banned TikTok along with dozens of other Chinese apps last year on national security grounds, the same reason the US used to try to force ByteDance to sell the app in the country, an issue that remains unsettled.
Domestically, tech giants have faced tighter antitrust regulations as Beijing named it one of this year’s governing focuses. Companies including Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings, Baidu and Didi Chuxing have been fined over unreported mergers and acquisitions.
ByteDance products are available in over 150 markets and as of 2020 it had over 100,000 employees.