ByteDance’s CEO and cofounder, Zhang Yiming, has announced he’s stepping down from his role leading the company. Zhang will move to another position in the company, allowing co-founder Liang Rubo, who currently runs HR in ByteDance, to become the new CEO.
Under Zhang’s leadership, ByteDance’s kid company, TikTok grew to become the most valuable startup in the world. But the prodigy thinks his time at the helm is up as he’s no longer developing new ideas to keep the company at the top of innovation.
“Yet I worry 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. As an example, before 2017, I spent a lot of time keeping track of developments in machine learning. However, since then, while I do my best to bookmark technical articles online, I haven’t had the time to make much progress digging into the area. During technology meetings, this sometimes means I actually struggle to keep up with the discussion,” Yiming said.
He explained that his decision was masterminded by the urge to avoid the trap of the CEO becoming overly central — listening to presentations, handling approvals, and making decisions reactively, that companies often fall into when they mature and expand. This leads to an over-reliance on existing ideas already in the company, and results in knowledge structures being slow to iterate.
“In order to avoid this trap, I gradually came to a decision over the last six months to take on a new role at ByteDance. I believe I can best challenge the limits of what the company can achieve over the next decade, and drive innovation, by drawing on my strengths of highly-focused learning, systematic thought, and a willingness to attempt new things,” he said.
Yiming led ByteDance through its toughest period, characterized by former US President Donald Trump’s executive order aimed to end TikTok’s operations in the United States. TikTok scaled the challenge, recording unprecedented growth.
ByteDance has a range of social media platforms including Douyin, China’s version of TikTok that powers creation of short-form mobile videos. There is also Toutiao, one of the most popular content discovery platforms in China that offers users a unique, personalized and comprehensive content experience, enabling them to discover and explore topics of interest, ranging from sports and entertainment to agriculture and history.
Others are Xigua Video, Helo, Lark, the Indonesian news content app – Babe and research and data analytics tools Byteplus.
Yiming said Rubo, given his versatility, and leveraging his strengths in management, organization, and social engagement, will be able to lead ByteDance in many fronts.
“There are still many things that we need to improve, and I think someone else can better drive progress through areas like improved daily management. The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager.
“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,” he said.