ByteDance co-founder and CEO Zhang Yiming said he will step down as the chief executive officer of the TikTok owner at the end of this year, according to a statement published Thursday. Company co-founder and head of human resources Liang Rubo will take his place.

Why it matters: Zhang’s departure comes after the Chinese internet upstart dodged a threatened US ban on TikTok amid geopolitical tensions last year. 

Details: Zhang said in a letter addressed to the company’s to staff Thursday that he will focus on long-term strategy, corporate culture, and social responsibility.

  • “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,” he wrote.
  • Zhang said the success of ByteDance since its foundation in 2012 had been based on “our ability to innovate at just the right moment in the development of the industry,” including “applying machine learning to mobile and video products.”
  • He said that hadn’t had time to make progress in digging into machine learning since 2017 because of his daily duties as CEO. 
  • Zhang will take on a new role at ByteDance to drive innovation by “drawing on my strengths of highly-focused learning, systematic thought, and a willingness to attempt new things.” He will remain a board member.
  • Liang, who will take Zhang’s place, previously held leading roles at the company as the head of research and development (R&D), and head of ByteDance’s productivity software team.

Context: ByteDance reportedly planning to send its global hit TikTok public as it named former Xiaomi chief financial officer Shou Zi Chew as the app’s CEO.

  • However, ByteDance is facing increasing regulatory strain at home as China deepens crackdown on tech companies’ monopolistic practices.
  • Many of ByteDance apps including TikTok and news aggregator Jinri Toutiao are driven by machine learning algorithms, which are considered the “secret sauce” of the company’s success.

Wei Sheng

Wei Sheng is a Beijing-based reporter covering hardware, smartphone, and telecommunications, along with regulations and policies related to the China tech scene. He writes a monthly newsletter tracking...