Chinese TikTok founder steps down and announces he prefers 'reading'

Chinese TikTok founder steps down and announces he ‘lacks managerial skills and prefers daydreaming’ in new Beijing tech crackdown – seven months after Jack Ma disappeared from limelight

  • Founder of Bytedance, Zhang Yiming, 38, announced he will step down as CEO
  • Tech firm Bytedance is the parent company of the video-sharing website TikTok
  • Zhang said he lacks some skills to be a manager and instead prefers ‘reading’
  • He will transition to new role while co-founder Liang Rubo will take over as CEO 

The Chinese TikTok founder has announced he will be leaving the role as he lacks managerial skills and prefers ‘reading and daydreaming’ to running the tech giant.

Zhang Yiming, co-founder of the video-sharing site’s parent company Bytedance, said on Thursday that he will step down as CEO and transition to a new role by the end of the year.

His new position will focus on ‘long-term strategy’ while Liang Rubo, with whom he set up the firm, will replace him in his current role.

Beijing has tightened the rules on China’s technology sector, levying fines, including on Bytedance last month, for allegedly flouting monopoly fines, and issuing stark warnings to billionaire digital bosses about their responsibilities to society.

Zhang Yiming (pictured in April 2018), co-founder of TikTok’s parent company Bytedance, announced on Thursday that he will step down as CEO and transition to a new role

Zhang’s decision to step down comes just seven months after Alibaba founder Jack Ma disappeared from the limelight, after speculation that brash comments by him to regulators brought the hammer down on his firm.

In an unusually candid open memo by one of Asia’s new tech-rich, Zhang, 38, announced that he lacked some of the skills that make an ‘ideal manager’.

He continued: ‘The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager.

‘I’m more interested in analysing organisational and market principles… than actually managing people.’

Zhang added that he is also ‘not very social, preferring solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and daydreaming about what may be possible’. 

News of his stepping down from ByteDance comes as Beijing clamps down on the unprecedented influence of some of China’s biggest technology firms.

Zhang has been under pressure to convince the world TikTok will not hand data to China’s Communist Party, while also appearing not to give in to demands from the West (file image)

E-commerce giant Alibaba was fined 18.2 billion yuan ($2.78 billion) last month, after an anti-monopoly probe found the e-commerce giant had abused its dominant market position for several years.

The Alibaba business empire has come under intense scrutiny in China since billionaire founder Jack Ma’s stinging public criticism of the country’s regulatory system in October. 

Jack Ma, who lost his title as China’s richest man in March, has been unusually absent from the spotlight after it was thought that his comments brought the hammer down on his firm.

The State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) announced its antitrust probe into Alibaba in December.

While the fine brings Alibaba closer to resolving its antitrust woes, Ant Group, Alibaba’s internet finance arm, still needs to agree to a regulatory-driven revamp that is expected to cut its valuations and rein in some of its freewheeling businesses.

Bytedance was among 34 tech companies summoned by regulators in April that were told to undergo ‘complete rectification’ and ‘heed the warning’ of Alibaba.

TikTok is believed to have around one billion users worldwide including more than 100million in the United States.

Last year, as TikTok erupted in the US amid a spike in social media usage thanks to the pandemic, concerns grew that ByteDance was using it to gather intelligence on American consumers. 

Since, Zhang has been under pressure to convince the world that TikTok will not hand data over to China’s Communist Party, while protecting his image at home by not appearing to give in to demands from the West. 

The tech giant has insisted it would never provide user data to the Chinese government. 

While he was US president, Donald Trump made a series of demands on the Chinese company over security concerns, including calls for the US operations of TikTok be sold to an American company or it would be shut down.

Oracle, which is owned by Trump mega-donor Larry Ellison, stepped forward to buy it and Walmart joined in later. The Trump administration said it would endorse the deal. 

Zhang’s decision to step down comes just seven months after Alibaba founder Jack Ma (above) disappeared from the limelight, after his criticism of the country’s regulatory system

ByteDance fought it and filed court papers contesting the executive order. Three federal judges sided with them but before Trump left office, his administration appealed those decisions. 

However, current president Joe Biden was reported in February to have stopped the landmark action put in place by his predecessor.

The Wall Street Journal cited anonymous sources saying the deal had been put on hold while Biden’s administration reviewed the national security information that went behind it.

Sources did not indicate whether Biden’s team plans to reverse the executive order. He may instead impose limits on how to restrict the collection or storage of user data. 

Neither Walmart nor Oracle commented on the Wall Street Journal report at the time and both companies had been quiet on the details of the forced sale for months.

ByteDance now has more than 60,000 staff in 30 countries and last year, Zhang announced that the firm was looking to recruit around 40,000 more.

The company also runs popular products including Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, news aggregation app Jinri Toutiao and productivity app Lark, which features cloud storage, chat and calendar functions.

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