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China tech

ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming quits board of TikTok parent

Outgoing chairman to remain a full-time employee but without subordinates

Zhang Yiming gave up the CEO role at ByteDance in May, saying he would focus on "longer-term initiatives."   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Zhang Yiming, the ByteDance co-founder who earlier this year stepped down as chief executive of the parent company of TikTok, has relinquished his position as chairman and left the company's board.

Liang Rubo, who succeeded Zhang as CEO in May, has now also assumed the chairmanship as management thinks "the best development model for the company is that the CEO and chairman are the same person," a person at the company familiar with the personnel shifts told Nikkei Asia.

Liang co-founded the company and was Zhang's college classmate.

Zhang, 38, will remain a full-time staff of ByteDance, one of the world's most valuable startups, though no personnel will report to him, the company employee said, adding that his new role has yet to be fully determined.

"He is still an important resource to the company," the employee said. "For example, it would be good for him to advise the company on product improvement."

Zhang resigned as CEO in May, saying this would free him to "have greater impact on longer-term initiatives."

Zhang's exit from the top management of ByteDance comes amid China's ongoing crackdown on its technology sector.

A series of top executives at the country's hottest tech startups have stepped away from leadership roles in recent months. Su Hua, 39, quit last week as CEO of Kuaishou Technology, the top rival of ByteDance's Douyin video service. Colin Huang, the 41-year-old founder of Pinduoduo, quit as chairman in March after giving up his position as CEO last year.

The leadership changes are a sign of the internet sector's maturation, according to William Bao Bean, general partner of venture capital group SOSV and managing director of its Chinaccelator affiliate in Shanghai.

"The role of a leader of a large internet conglomerate, especially in China is twofold: It is investor relations and government relations," he said. "So the skills of building an amazing product and making users super happy and then monetizing them through a creative business model are not the skills necessarily required to communicate on a quarterly basis to investors."

ByteDance has reportedly been considered an initial public offering in Hong Kong, though the company has publicly denied such plans. Kuaishou raised $5.3 billion through a listing in Hong Kong in February.

"Zhang Yiming has greatly contributed to the growth of ByteDance in the past few years but he also missed some of the great opportunities," said Zhang Yi, chief analyst at data mining company iiMedia in Guangzhou, noting the company's forays into gaming and e-commerce had had limited impact.

"Zhang is more of a technician, which means he may lack some strategic views on commercial expansion," he said.

In an internal memo to staff on Tuesday, Liang said ByteDance would be reorganized into six business units.

The changes would make TikTok and Douyin, its Chinese counterpart, stand-alone units with other divisions focused on gaming, work collaboration technology and vocational training. ByteDance's first made a splash in China with Jinri Toutiao, a news app that used artificial intelligence to feed stories to readers.

Meanwhile, Shou Zi Chew, who joined ByteDance as chief financial officer in March and became TikTok's CEO in May, will focus solely on the latter role.

Zhang's resignation was reported earlier by Chinese technology news site Late Post.

On Monday, amid a monthslong outcry over the Chinese industry's so-called '996' work regimen -- 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday -- ByteDance directed employees to work only weekdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with preapproval needed for any overtime.

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