Zhang Yiming, the storied co-founder of ByteDance, is stepping down from his role as the CEO and passing the torch to Liang Rubo, another co-founder of the TikTok parent and one of the world’s most valuable internet juggernauts.
In an internal letter to employees, 38-year-old Zhang said he is making the transition to spend more time on “long-term strategy, corporate culture and social responsibility.”
Zhang will work side by side with Liang, currently ByteDance’s head of human resources and his college classmate, over the next six months to ensure a smooth transition. Zhang will remain as a member of the board at ByteDance.
From the sound of the letter, Zhang reminisces about the period between college and starting ByteDance in 2012 when he spent ample time thinking about the future. That led him to conclude that machine learning would revolutionize the way people encountered information and the idea laid the foundation for ByteDance’s algorithm-driven content distributors such as Toutiao and TikTok. But acting as CEO, he said, he was preoccupied with “listening to presentations, handling approvals, and making decisions reactively.”
“Innovation and success are rooted in years of exploring and imagining what is possible. However, few people have real insight into the future, preferring to model on current and past achievements,” the founder wrote, citing American tech giants as role models.
“People are amazed by the success of electric cars, but they forget that Tesla is 18 years old and first experimented with laptop batteries to power its vehicles. People know about Apple’s software management tool HomeBrew, but few realize that computer geeks were discussing the Apple I in the HomeBrew Club in the 1970s.”
Zhang also recognized that he’s not the ideal manager type, saying he’s “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.”
Liang appears to be a better fit for wearing the CEO hat for his experience leading R&D and Lark, which started as an internal work collaboration tool and later evolved into a full-flung SaaS product sold to other enterprises.
Another high-profile Chinese tech boss who recently resigned from day-to-day operations was Colin Huang, founder of Alibaba’s arch rival Pinduoduo. Huang took a step back so he could allocate his energy to food and life sciences, areas that the e-commerce firm hopes could fuel its future growth.