ByteDance CEO to step down, focus on ‘long-term’ strategy


ByteDance’s founder Zhang Yiming is stepping down from his CEO role and moving to a new role that focuses on “long-term strategy”. Co-founder and head of human resources Liang Rubo will take over the chief executive hat, as the two executives work on a transition slated to take place by end-2021. 

The parent company of video platform TikTok, ByteDance on Wednesday released an internal letter Zhang wrote to employees, explaining his decisions and stating his new role also would focus on corporate culture and social responsibility–areas in which he had hoped to achieve more than he currently had. 

He noted that stepping away as CEO would relieve him from having to manage day-to-day operations and better allow him to have a greater impact on initiatives that were long-term. it was the benefit of time that had enabled him to lay the foundation for ByteDance, which he cultivated between graduating from college and starting the company some nine years ago.

Zhang said: “I spent a lot of time thinking and learning about challenges like effectively disseminating information, using technology to improve products, and approaching the development of a company–much like one would a product: through constant re-evaluation, adjustment, and iteration.”

He said innovation and success required years of exploration, noting that companies such as Telsa was 18 years old and had started out experimenting with laptop batteries to power its vehicles, while the early development days of Apple’s HomeBrew software management tool dated as far back as the 1970s.

In efforts to scale and expand their business, he noted that entrepreneurs often ended up “overly central” and in the daily routine of listening to presentations, handling approvals, and making decisions reactively. This led to them depending on old ideas and being slow to develop new ones.

“I believe I can best challenge the limits of what the company can achieve over the next decade, and drive innovation, by drawing on my strengths of highly-focused learning, systematic thought, and a willingness to attempt new things,” he said. 

Zhang also revealed that he lacked some skillsets that “an ideal manager” should have as well as the desire to manage people, preferring instead to analyse organisational and market principles and tapping these to reduce management work. He added that he was not sociable and would rather participate in “solitary activities” such as reading and listening to music.

“I think someone else can better drive progress through areas like improved daily management,” he said. Pointing to Liang’s strengths in management and social engagement, he said his co-founder had assumed various roles in ByteDance, which included leading the company’s research and development efforts.

He added that Liang had developed key recruitment and corporate policies as well as management systems. The two executives would use the next six months to ensure a smooth transition, Zhang said. 

His announcement comes weeks after ByteDance’s current CFO and Singaporean Chew Shou Zi was appointed TikTok’s new CEO, as part of a “strategic reorganisation”. Chew, who had assumed his CFO position in March. is based in Singapore. 

TikTok’s US operations had been poised to be sold to Oracle and Walmart, but the sale was “shelved indefinitely” following a review by the Biden administration to assess security risks of foreign-owned apps and software. The sale had been prompted by former president Trump’s executive orders banning the downloads of Chinese-owned social media apps WeChat and TikTok, alleging they posed threats to his country’s national security, foreign policy, and economy due to the data they collected.

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