CEO of TikTok owner ByteDance steps down

20 May 2021

Image: © Dennis/

Zhang Yiming said that he lacked ‘some of the skills that make an ideal manager’ and will transition to a new role later this year.

There’s a shake-up in the top ranks of TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, with its CEO stepping aside.

Zhang Yiming, one of the co-founders of the tech firm, told employees on Tuesday (19 May) that he was moving on from the top leadership position.

Fellow co-founder Liang Rubo, who is currently head of HR, will take the CEO reins. Zhang will move to a new role by the end of the year that will focus on long-term strategy, corporate culture and social responsibility.

The move comes soon after ByteDance CFO Shou Zi Chew was appointed as CEO of TikTok, ByteDance’s flagship product. This followed the departure of previous chief executive Kevin Mayer, who walked away from TikTok last year just months after taking on the role.

In a letter to employees, Zhang said he did not feel he was the right fit for scaling ByteDance any further, both from a managerial and technical standpoint, and juggling these different responsibilities.

“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,” he said in the letter.

“The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager.”

Zhang and Liang will hammer out a transition plan for the next six months to ensure the changing of roles moves smoothly, he added.

For Liang, he will enter the hotseat of CEO during a crucial time for ByteDance and TikTok specifically, both at home and abroad.

Recently ByteDance was caught in the crosshairs of the Chinese government’s crackdown on large tech companies. It was one of several companies hauled into meetings with officials for a dressing down. The government has been slapping large fines on big tech firms, most notably Alibaba, in an attempt to rein in these large players.

This comes just months after the dust settled on TikTok’s challenges in the US under the Trump administration, which almost forced a sale of its US division. While those calls have abated, the company still regularly faces questions about its ties to the Chinese government, which it denies.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin