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The staff at ByteDance and the cashiers were surprised when the founder returned

Zhang Yiming said he had initially negotiated to step down as ByteDance executive “with a small group” in March, but investors at $ 200bn said they were shocked.

After years of hard work, the 38-year-old founder announced he was offering the job to the CEO in a letter of resignation to employees Thursday, even though his company is preparing for the first public offering.

Although he stated in his letter that he has no interest in “directing people”, Zhang was the only executive director of ByteDance, and had built the company, which owns the TikTok video program, to become a global competitor to Facebook and Tencent.

He had just survived a major crisis in the industry: threatening the US government to ban TikTok.

“I just heard about Yiming Zhang stepping down – amazing,” sent Patrick Collison, the $ 95bn boss for Stripe. “To better understand their killings: ByteDance was founded in 2012, it is said to have made $ 35bn of revenue by 2020, and it recruited 40,000 people last year.”

ByteDance advertisers say they were shocked by the move, and could only refer to the recent pressure on professional work with Beijing as meaning.

Since the end of 2020, China has been re-using its main weapons through antitrust and other laws. Zhang’s resignation follows the appointment of Colin Huang’s Pinduoduo ecommerce chief in March, who were also shocked. Earlier this month, Ant Group chief Simon Hu also resigned, just months after their history in Shanghai and Hong Kong was shattered by Beijing.

“The government is undermining the great power of all professional leaders,” said Feng Chucheng, a counterpart in Beijing.

In his resignation letter, Zhang said he wanted the “CEO’s trap not to be overstated”. This reflects the concern of the central government, which has long complained about the power of professional leaders.

For ByteDance, in particular, whose top three programs charge more than an hour for users every day, “regulators are always worried about how it could affect public discussions. False stories are what the party is up to,” Feng said.

Beijing has issued a number of guidelines for the management of social media and promoting “good”. Earlier this year’s editors criticized ByteDance on sexual content to the core.

“Yiming is not really good at public relations [in China], ”Said a friend. In 2018, ByteDance met for the first time to die or die at the hands of the government, which criticized a number of programs containing “pornography”. ByteDance was forced to shut down Neihan Duanzi, a joke-sharing program with 22m users daily. But the company came back after a long period of public apology, and hired other people to end government relations.

Zhang clashed with Beijing in 2020, in an effort to achieve what Trump’s administration wants the US-based TikTok to do. The Chinese government fired again external regulatory pressures at the appropriate level, where the monitors allowed the opposing storm to hit Zhang.

Liang Rubo, a Zhang colleague at the university, founder of ByteDance and HR CEO, took over the job six months later. The staff members who worked with Liang describe him as a loyal lieutenant of Zhang.

Zhang Yiming and Liang Rubo

Liang Rubo, on the right, was announced as the new senior in a letter from Zhang Yiming, left, posted on ByteDance’s page

While all the employees at ByteDance were shocked by Zhang’s resignation, Liang’s employees were shocked. “My friends and I did not think Liang would take over,” said HR staff, who said Chinese chair Zhang Lidong was “stronger and more courageous” than Liang. “[Liang] He’s not the CEO of me, ”said one HR staff member.

Liang’s appointment says Zhang Yiming will “rule behind the curtain”, said an HR official.

Workers do not expect Liang to deviate from Zhang’s path – which is comforting. “We were all amazed,” said one ByteDance expert. “But after a short discussion, everyone went back to work, because we saw that Liang had taken Yiming’s mind, and there shouldn’t be much change.”

Zhang’s departure reflects the weakness of ByteDance’s management and its advancement, with all officials directly informing him.

ByteDance declined to comment on whether Zhang will continue to sit on its five members, with four seats reserved.

The company has been making the most of technology in the history of technology, almost doubling in a year and a half to more than 100,000 people, and its programs have done very well, generating about $ 35bn in revenue by 2020, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The next part was sitting blockbuster IPO in Hong Kong or New York. A number of people close to the idea say negotiations with officials of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange advanced significantly earlier this year. But negotiations slowed down by summer, people said.

In April, the state-run China Securities Journal reported that ByteDance had set up an IPO system in Hong Kong. Although it was followed by some journalists, the original article was removed within a day, and government journalists were told not to reprint the story – which is not uncommon for government inspectors, who do not interfere in market sentiment. ByteDance later said it was “not ready at the moment”.

“Zhang’s departure could help the company get more government approval to issue an IPO,” Feng said. While the reasons for ByteDance’s shift in the content are not yet clear, political pressure could explain how its IPO lies have already responded.

Zhang’s resignation was part of a “sensational” move as the company moves to the IPO, says one person who is planning. “He took the idea, then he obviously had to announce it before moving on to the next phase of the offer – he wouldn’t have gone down during the IPO.”

The move does not affect the structure of China’s ByteDance business, a source of revenue. In March 2020 Zhang set up Chinese operations under the leadership of Kelly Zhang and Zhang Lidong.

At the same time, he established himself as the global CEO, creating the position of CEO of TikTok, which is now held by Shouzi Chew.

His idea of ​​going backwards could benefit ByteDance, says Li Chengdong, founder of technology at Beijing Dolphin. “He protects the company and himself from future risks.”

“Usually, the change of CEOs is not good for the company, but this is a change for the CEO and the Chinese culture,” Li added. “Zhang would still be in charge.”

Additional comments by Nian Liu in Beijing, Tabby Kinder in Hong Kong and Hannah Murphy in San Francisco

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