ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming retreats from corporate roles as firm's IPO plan remains in limbo

ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, step down as chief executive, biggest tech unicorn, acquire Wuhan Hezhong Yibao Technology Co, third-party payment service UIPay, TikTok, Douyin, according to an internal memo, Tencent Holdings, Alibaba Group Holding, temporarily on the back burner, fanned speculation about a possible IPO, WeChat, Trump administration sought to block, own mobile payment service Douyin Pay, expansion into the video games industry, education drive, local services foray, e-commerce push, he donated 500 million yuan

ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming, the Chinese entrepreneur who is one of the world’s wealthiest billionaires under 40, has resigned as legal representative of at least three affiliated companies, months after announcing he would step down as chief executive of the country’s biggest tech unicorn at the end of this year.

Zhang, 38, on Wednesday relinquished his role as legal representative of Tianjin Tongrong E-commerce Co, the entity used by ByteDance to acquire Wuhan Hezhong Yibao Technology Co, operator of Chinese third-party payment service UIPay. He was replaced by Zhang Lidong, the head of commercialisation strategy at Beijing-based ByteDance.

Also on Wednesday, Zhang gave up his legal representative roles at Tianjin ByteDance Management Consulting Co and Tianjin ByteDance Haihe Management Consulting Co. These two businesses are involved in corporate image strategy and marketing campaigns, according to company records on enterprise information portal Tianyancha.

Li Fei, who has been in charge of several education, social and gaming projects at ByteDance, has taken over as legal representative of those two companies.

ByteDance, operator of hit short video-sharing apps TikTok and Douyin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, step down as chief executive, biggest tech unicorn, acquire Wuhan Hezhong Yibao Technology Co, third-party payment service UIPay, TikTok, Douyin, according to an internal memo, Tencent Holdings, Alibaba Group Holding, temporarily on the back burner, fanned speculation about a possible IPO, WeChat, Trump administration sought to block, own mobile payment service Douyin Pay, expansion into the video games industry, education drive, local services foray, e-commerce push, he donated 500 million yuan

ByteDance-owned short video-sharing app TikTok has amassed more than US$2.5 billion in consumer spending worldwide since its launch in 2016. Photo: Reuters

Zhang’s exit from those corporate roles appears in line with his vow to give up day-to-day responsibilities to “be more impactful on longer-term initiatives”, according to an internal memo posted on ByteDance’s website in May.

Having a low profile could also be helpful at this time when Beijing continues its crackdown on the country’s technology sector. ByteDance, Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding, which owns the South China Morning Post, were among 34 of the country’s largest tech companies that were hauled in by regulators for a haranguing in April amid the government’s antitrust campaign.

Apart from that, continued tensions between Washington and Beijing prompted ByteDance to put its plans for an initial public offering temporarily on the back burner. In April, ByteDance more than doubled its internal valuation in a new share option plan for employees, which fanned speculation about a possible IPO in Hong Kong or New York.

Still, Zhang and his team at ByteDance have also received some welcome news.

In June, the US Commerce Department rescinded a list of prohibited transactions with TikTok and WeChat that were issued in September, as the Trump administration sought to block new US downloads of both Chinese-owned apps.

ByteDance is also continuing its full-frontal assault on China’s established internet companies, as the firm seeks to diversify its sources of revenue. This initiative includes the launch of its own mobile payment service Douyin Pay, strategic expansion into the video games industry, an education drive, local services foray and e-commerce push.

Zhang was last seen by media at a public gathering in June at his home city of Longyan, in eastern China’s Fujian province, where he donated 500 million yuan (US$77 million) to set up an education fund.

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