Zhang Yiming to step down as ByteDance CEO

ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming will step down as chief executive of the group behind popular video app TikTok, in the latest retreat from the limelight by a Chinese tech leader as Beijing cracks down on the industry.

Zhang, 38, founded ByteDance almost a decade ago, pushing the Beijing-based group to spin out a slew of hit apps including TikTok and sister Chinese platform Douyin. He also steered the company through a period of US-China tensions.

ByteDance said Zhang would step down as chief executive at the end of the year, and would be replaced by co-founder and head of human resources Liang Rubo.

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The transition comes as the company mulls an initial public offering, with its shares recently trading hands at a valuation of more than $200bn in private markets, according to people familiar with the matter.

“Since the beginning of this year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to better drive real long-term breakthroughs, which cannot simply rely on steady, but incremental, progress,” Zhang wrote in a company blog post. 

Zhang said he would remain at the company full-time, but will work on “longer-term initiatives” and help “drive innovation, by drawing on my strengths of highly-focused learning”.

“I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager,” Zhang wrote. “I’m more interested in analysing organisational and market principles,” he added, saying that he was “not very social” and preferred “solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and daydreaming”. 

His resignation also arrived as China’s tech industry comes under regulatory assault, and followed other notable exits from leading tech companies.

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Colin Huang, founder of Pinduoduo, exited the ecommerce group in March, while food delivery group Meituan is also facing an antitrust probe.

Chinese regulators in November suspended the $37bn initial public offering of fintech Ant Group, which would have been the largest-ever stock market listing, at the last minute.

Ant’s ecommerce affiliate Alibaba was fined a record $2.8bn last month after regulators found it had abused its market dominance.

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Jack Ma, the founder of both companies, has hardly been seen in public since criticising China’s regulators and state-owned banks in a speech in Shanghai late last year.

Additional reporting by Nian Liu in Beijing

Video: Why TikTok and WeChat are the new front line in the US-China tech war

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