Zhang Yiming will step down from his position as CEO of ByteDance and hand over the reins to another cofounder by year end, the company announced on Thursday.
Zhang, 38, will transition to a new role that allows him to focus on “long-term strategy, corporate culture, and social responsibility,” according to an internal letter he wrote that was later released by the Beijing-based company. He will be succeeded by Liang Rubo, who is currently the head for human resources at ByteDance. The two will work together over the next six months to ensure a smooth transition, according to the company.
“The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager,” Zhang wrote in the letter. “I’m more interested in analyzing organizational and market principles, and leveraging these theories to further reduce management work, rather than actually managing people.”
“After several months of thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that transitioning out of the role of CEO, with all of the related day-to-day responsibilities, would enable me to have greater impact on longer-term initiatives,” Zhang added.
The entrepreneur built ByteDance into a global social media sensation by applying a self-developed algorithm to tailor recommendations of video clips to hundreds of millions of users of TikTok outside of China and Douyin within China. ByteDance was valued at $75 billion in 2018, and has been expanding its footprint ever since. It charged into new markets including e-commerce, online games as well as office communication. Douyin, for example, now allows its users in China to sell products such as food and makeup via its livestreams as well as short-form videos.
The company is now reportedly valued at $250 billion, Bloomberg reported in March. Zhang has amassed a personal fortune of $36 billion, making him the fifth-richest person in China, according to our Real-Time Billionaires List. A ByteDance spokesperson says Zhang will continue to work full-time at the company, but she has no comment on what he would do with his ByteDance shares.
Yet despite the staggering success, the past year has been tumultuous. The fate of TikTok in the U.S. is still up in the air as the Biden administration reviews bans proposed by the previous administration. TikTok was labelled a national security threat by former President Donald Trump, and ByteDance was ordered to divest its business in America to a local company.
But a planned sale to a consortium led by Oracle and Walmart has now been shelved indefinitely, the Wall Street Journal reported in February. The company also had to pay $92 million that same month to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging it illegally collected teenage user’s data on TikTok, according to the journal.