Chinese tech unicorn ByteDance co-founder billionaire Zhang Yiming on Thursday announced that he will step down as CEO, in a surprise move that signalled a major leadership shake-up at the nine year-old technology firm which created popular global short-video app TikTok.
Zhang, 38, who is one of China's wealthiest entrepreneurs, said he is ready to step down after nearly a decade of running the world's largest unicorn, becoming the latest among the country's technology founders to quit in their prime.
Zhang will step down from his role as CEO of the Beijing-based ByteDance, giving up his day-to-day responsibilities to "be more impactful on longer-term initiatives," the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted the company announcement on Thursday.
"The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager.
"I'm more interested in analysing organisational and market principles, and leveraging these theories to further reduce management work, rather than actually managing people," Zhang wrote in a message on the company's website.
"Similarly, I'm not very social, preferring solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and contemplating what may be possible," he said.
Zhang's sudden move to step down followed a similar pattern by top Chinese business tycoons including the Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, who stepped down in May last year, sparking speculation about the increasingly difficult business environment in China.
Since then he and his e-commence giant came under severe scrutiny from the regulators.
Alibaba subsequently came under increasing scrutiny by antitrust regulators who slapped a record fine of $2.78 billion last month for indulging in a monopolistic act of abusing its dominant market position.
Zhang said he will be replaced by Liang Rubo, ByteDance's head of human resources.
Zhang said he will remain at ByteDance, where he will focus on “longer-term initiatives” after stepping back from day-to-day responsibilities.
He did not say whether he would remain chairman of the firm, nor specify what form of his new role would take but hinted that he may focus on social impact.
Zhang has a net worth of $35.6 billion as of 2020, according to Forbes.
ByteDance hit the global headlines after its main video app TikTok ran into trouble in India and the US.
TikTok, which was hugely popular in India, was part of over 267 Chinese Apps banned in India.
ByteDance projected $6 billion loss due to the ban on TikTok in India.
During his presidency, Donald Trump constantly attacked ByteDance, accusing TikTok of being a threat to US national security.
US politicians and officials had expressed concerns about users' personal data being passed to the Chinese government.
TikTok denied accusations that it shared user data.
Last month, ByteDance was one of 13 online platforms called on by Chinese regulators to adhere to tighter regulations in their financial divisions, as part of a wider push to rein in technology companies, BBC reported.
For many years, Beijing took a hands-off approach to encourage the technology firms to grow but official scrutiny of their platforms has stepped up as they have branched out into financial services, it said.
The People's Bank of China in a recent statement said, "internet platforms have played an important role in improving the efficiency of financial services and broadening the access of financial services to more people.
"At the same time, some financial services were running without licences, and there are serious rule violations in areas such as regulatory arbitrage, unfair competition and damaging consumers' interests."
Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters