ByteDance chief hands over the reins as pressure mounts ahead of much-awaited IPO

By Sayujya S, Desk Reporter
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Zhang Yiming ByteDance Image
Zhang Yiming, the founder of ByteDance

The founder of China-based internet technology company ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, is stepping down from his position as the world’s most valuable startup nears its highly anticipated market debut.

Mr. Zhang will hand over the chief executive officer role to the company’s human resources chief Rubo Liang, he announced in an internal memo posted online. The billionaire entrepreneur will remain the chairman but plans to relinquish most of his day-to-day duties and focus on long-term strategy instead, a person familiar with the matter said.

Pressure from scrutiny

Mr. Zhang is retreating from the spotlight just as the Chinese government intensifies efforts to curb the influence of internet firms and their billionaire founders, from Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group to Tencent Holdings. The antitrust campaign coincides with a series of moves from ByteDance that could shake up the country’s internet landscape.

Zhang Yiming Image
Zhang Yiming
Founder – ByteDance

“I feel I did not achieve as much as I had hoped to on my previous objectives in the areas of new strategic opportunities, organizational management, 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.”

In 2020, he appointed two executives to run the Chinese side of ByteDance’s sprawling business. This month, he elevated recent hire and former Xiaomi finance chief Shou Zi Chew to CEO of its US business.

New moves

Mr. Liang, an entrepreneur like Mr. Zhang, takes the helm just as ByteDance prepares for a highly anticipated initial public offering (IPO) in the US or Hong Kong. It’s also planning its next big act which is a move into education devices and eCommerce that could put it in rivalry against Alibaba and Meituan in a $1.7 trillion Chinese arena.

ByteDance, whose overall revenue more than doubled to $35 billion last year, has kicked off preparations for an IPO of some of its main businesses and is choosing between Hong Kong and the US as the listing venue, according to sources. It could raise at least several billion dollars from a listing of the Chinese assets, although things are still under discussion.

Zhang’s journey with ByteDance

Mr. Zhang founded ByteDance in 2012 before using highly refined artificial intelligence (AI) recommendation engines to create hit news service Toutiao and viral global video app TikTok. His first big success was Toutiao, which means “headlines” in Chinese. TikTok became a global phenomenon, while its cousin Douyin leads in China’s domestic market.

Mr. Zhang now ranks among the world’s richest people after ByteDance shares traded in the private market at a valuation of more than $250 billion.

Related: TikTok looks to dethrone Facebook with in-app shopping