ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming quits company board, but remains powerful behind the scenes, sources say
- Zhang Yiming, 38, is said to have ceded his board seat to Liang Rubo, his successor as CEO of ByteDance
- Questions over who is in charge of ByteDance and TikTok have repeatedly sparked concerns in Washington
Zhang Yiming, the 38-year-old billionaire founder of TikTok owner ByteDance, has quit the board of the company, reigniting questions over how much control he will retain over the world’s most valuable unicorn.
The news was first reported by Chinese media LatePost on Tuesday night.
ByteDance, which is a private company and has no obligation to publicly disclose changes in its board of directors, declined to comment.
As China’s first globally successful social media operator, ByteDance has repeatedly fielded concerns from Washington over who is ultimately in control of the operations of its wildly popular short video platform TikTok.
During a US congressional hearing last week, Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas, said that the firm does not share American user data with the Chinese government. Under questioning from Republican Senator Ted Cruz, Beckerman said TikTok has “no affiliation” with ByteDance.
Despite giving up his board seat, Zhang, who has a net worth close to US$60 billion according to Forbes, will remain a key decision maker behind the scenes when it comes to strategic issues, one person with a close understanding of ByteDance told the South China Morning Post. Another source said Zhang is still actively sharing his thoughts on ByteDance’s development in internal group chats.
Zhang, who created ByteDance almost a decade ago in a Beijing residential flat, has long maintained a low profile, a sharp contrast to the conspicuous success of TikTok, which said it topped 1 billion global monthly users in September, while its China-only sibling app Douyin has more than 600 million daily active users.
The last time that Zhang was seen in public was in late June, when he donated 500 million yuan (US$77 million) to set up an education fund in his home city of Longyan in China’s eastern Fujian province. The local education bureau published a picture of Zhang visiting the high school he attended.