Zhang Yiming, founder of ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, resigned as CEO and chair earlier this year. He no longer has any management title or board seat. But that doesn’t mean he’s no longer in control.
The 38-year-old Zhang remains as active as ever inside the company. He continues to participate in high-level management discussions, attending virtual meetings and online group chats with other executives, according to people with knowledge of the matter. He’s especially focussed on big-picture tasks like mapping out industry and economic trends, identifying future business opportunities and crafting the company’s long-term strategies, the people said. As ByteDance grapples with the Chinese government’s crackdown on tech, Zhang also leads the company’s efforts to tackle climate change and promote renewable energy, initiatives that are in line with Beijing’s policy goals.
Zhang’s retreat from official executive roles has made governance and decision making at ByteDance more opaque—at a time when TikTok’s rapid global expansion continues to raise questions from foreign governments about the video app’s Chinese parent and its ties to Beijing. ByteDance, the world’s most highly valued startup, is the first Chinese internet giant to build an international product rivaling Meta Platforms and Google. A few months ago, two secondary market deals valued ByteDance at more than $300 billion, The Information has reported.