ByteDance CEO to Step Down, Says He'd Rather Daydream Than Manage People

File photo of Zhang Yiming, CEO of ByteDance, at the 1st Digital China Summit in Fuzhou on April 23, 2018.
File photo of Zhang Yiming, CEO of ByteDance, at the 1st Digital China Summit in Fuzhou on April 23, 2018.
Photo: STR/AFP (Getty Images)

The CEO of ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, is stepping down at the end of 2021 according to a memo posted to the ByteDance website on Thursday. And while most corporate transitions are filled with bland PR-speak, Yiming’s departure memo is an interesting case study in honesty.

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Why is Yiming letting someone else take the reins at the enormous tech company he co-founded which just so happens to be the corporate parent of TikTok? According to Yiming, he’s not a very good manager and would prefer to spend his time daydreaming. How’s that for just laying it all out there?

“The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager,” Yiming wrote in a memo that went out to employees before it was shared online.

“I’m more interested in analyzing organizational and market principles, and leveraging these theories to further reduce management work, rather than actually managing people,” Yiming continued. “Similarly, I’m not very social, preferring solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and daydreaming about what may be possible.”

The note opens with a preface that current HR head Liang Rubo, who co-founded ByteDance with Yiming, will become the new CEO after a 6-month period of transition. ByteDance also claims the internal memo is being released publicly because ByteDance is a “global company committed to transparency.”

Founded in China in 2012, ByteDance has become a global behemoth through products like TikTok, which has come under fire in the U.S. for not having the kind of transparency the company is clearly worried about showing.

The Chinese government has done its best to regulate domestic tech companies over monopoly concerns, leading some people to believe Yiming stepping down might be under government pressure. Jamie Powell, a reporter for the Financial Times, seemed to be one of those skeptics.

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“sounds about as plausible as the Pinduoduo ceo stepping down at 41 to ‘pursue research in the food and life sciences,’” Powell tweeted early Thursday.

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And while we don’t know whether there was any pressure from the Chinese government, it seems plausible enough that maybe an introvert billionaire might want to take a less stressful position at his own company. Yiming, who’s 38 years old, is worth an estimated $36 billion and will do just fine financially while he’s daydreaming.

“A few years ago, I posted on social media: ‘The meaning of travel lies in switching time and space, which helps you observe others’ lives in a new environment as a stranger, and reflect on yourself and your life with a detached eye.’ After handing over my role as CEO, and removing myself from the responsibilities of daily management, I will have the space to explore long-term strategies, organizational culture and social responsibility, with a more objective perspective on the company,” Yiming wrote in his note to employees.

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“In our 2012 business plan, I told the team that the most rewarding thing about building a company is being able to enjoy the journey together. I look forward to this new phase and continuing our voyage together!”

Matt Novak is a senior writer at Gizmodo and founder of Paleofuture.com. He's writing a book about the movies U.S. presidents watched at the White House, Camp David, and on Air Force One.

DISCUSSION

thirdamendmentman
ThirdAmendmentMan

If i were worth $30 billion or so I wouldn't want to work either. Especially not managing people.