Zhang Yiming and Liang Rubo. Image credit: ByteDance
The transition at the top of TikTok’s parent company won’t be immediate and is expected to take place by the end of the year. When the 38-year-old does step down as CEO he won’t be done with his creation, as he will move into another role that allows him to focus on exploring long-term strategies, organizational culture, and social responsibility with a more objective perspective on the company.
The decision comes after six months of introspection which Zhang to say that he worries “that I am still relying too much on the ideas I had before starting the company, and haven't challenged myself by updating those concepts.”
In a letter to employees Zhang admitted that he believes he lacks some of the skills necessary to be an effective manager, stating, “I’m more interested in analyzing organizational and market principles, and leveraging these theories to further reduce management work, rather than actually managing people. Similarly, I’m not very social, preferring solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and daydreaming about what may be possible.”
These realizations led Zhang to begin discussions with a small group of executives in March about the possibility of having Liang, who has stronger management, organization, and social engagement skills, take over as CEO.
Rubo has served in several core leadership roles at ByteDance since co-founding the company in 2012, including head of R&D, Lark and Efficiency Engineering, and most recently, Human Resources and Management.
Yiming stated that since day one, Liang had been an “invaluable partner” and that over the next six months “we will work side by side to ensure the smoothest possible transition, and I know you will all also support him.”
The Beijing-based tech company is one of China’s most valuable start-ups and widely considered to be the first ventures from the country to find global success due to the popularity of TikTok.
However, this success has led countries like the US to closely scrutinize the company’s policies and practices and has even attracted attention from China itself. In fact just one day after Zhang made his announcemnt the Chinese govenemnet revealed a list of 105 tech companies, including ByteDance, that allegedly engaged in improper collection and use of data.
As CEO, Liang will have to walk a fine line to appease both global regulators as well its home governemnt, which have conflicting goals and interests.
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