New ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo getting a warm welcome, leaked posts show

Zhang Yiming is moving out of the CEO role at TikTok's parent company. His little-known co-founder, who has a reputation for both technical chops and strong people skills, is replacing him.

​ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming (left) and his successor, Liang Rubo (right).
ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming (left) and his successor, Liang Rubo.
Photo: ByteDance

When news broke that Zhang Yiming would shift out of the CEO spot at ByteDance, the Chinese tech giant that owns TikTok and a host of other popular apps, some fingers pointed to Beijing. Was Zhang just one more victim of the government's widening crackdown on Big Tech?

Internal messages paint a different picture: Employees have taken the news calmly, and mostly seem to be embracing Zhang's replacement, Liang Rubo.

Liang co-founded the company with Zhang in 2012 and currently heads human resources, a key role as the company swiftly expands. When ByteDance named a new CFO for TikTok, Liang, not Zhang, sent a note out about Shouzi Chew's appointment.

On Thursday, in an internal letter to ByteDance employees, Zhang announced he would transition out of the CEO position by the end of 2021.

Screenshots of conversations on ByteDance's internal forum reviewed by Protocol show a light atmosphere around the leadership change. Many wished Zhang the best of luck while welcoming Liang's leadership with warmth and humor.

One employee wrote of looking forward "to Rubo's first letter addressed to employees as the CEO" but hating "to see Yiming leave." Another believed that Liang "will lead us to a new future."

The new chief's challenges

ByteDance spent 2020 in the center of a U.S. controversy spun up by then-President Donald Trump over TikTok's transfer of American users' data to China. The company hired Disney executive Kevin Mayer to run TikTok, but he quit after four months amid political pressure to spin off TikTok's U.S. arm. India banned TikTok, along with other Chinese apps.

The U.S. spinoff faded after Trump lost the election. And ByteDance seems to be in a better position than other Chinese tech rivals as Beijing pushes an antitrust crackdown, having received only a token fine over one past merger deal. It's pledged to obey China's antitrust regulations.

One way to read Liang's appointment is that Zhang sees ByteDance's future challenges as commercial and technological, not political. Prior to his current role in human resources, Liang was the tech lead on some of ByteDance's most popular products, including Douyin, the Chinese predecessor to TikTok, and Toutiao, the AI-enabled content aggregator that first made ByteDance a household name.

Liang's also a trusted acquaintance of his co-founder. He and Zhang were college roommates back at Nankai University in the early 2000s. The two have been business partners since 2009, when they co-founded the real estate search engine

Many employees noted their long friendship. One ByteDance employee quipped that Zhang's favorite person is Liang: "On 5/20, I give you the CEO title." In Mandarin, "520" sounds a bit like the phrase "I love you."

Liang has a reputation for strong people skills. A former employee reporting to Liang told a local newspaper in Chengdu that Liang is a skilled technologist and a good boss. "He'd often teach us to write code, and he treated people under him pretty well," the person told Chengdu Business Daily.

"Most colleagues were surprised, but they quickly embraced the change," a ByteDance worker told Protocol. "Quite a few people are inspired by Yiming's move, and they admire him even more now."

Following Zhang's announcement, Liang wrote in an email to employees that the new role is "a huge challenge, a lot of pressure" for him. But, he added, he's confident that the company will "continue to break through and go to the next level."

ByteDance's next steps

In his internal letter, Zhang acknowledged that he is not a conventionally ideal manager and enjoys solitude. Compared with managing people, he's more interested in "analyzing organizational and market principles, and leveraging these theories to further reduce management work." Zhang said in his next role — his new title wasn't clear — he would focus on long-term strategies, corporate culture and social responsibility.

Several ByteDance workers described Zhang to Protocol as a nerdy and genuine person, and a thoughtful leader who's easily approached. Most ByteDance workers address Zhang by his first name, Yiming, instead of his official title, and he's widely beloved, they said.

Unlike other Chinese tech behemoths that have top-down management and hierarchical corporate structures, 9-year-old ByteDance has a relatively flat organizational structure and a democratic culture. "Yiming wants everyone to feel empowered to express their thoughts," another ByteDance employee told Protocol.

Other Chinese tech giants and their CEOs have come under the spotlight for misogynist cultures marked by inappropriate remarks and even accusations of sexual assault. In stark contrast, under Zhang's helm, ByteDance has become a rare Chinese tech company that is known for its inclusion and diversity.

In a society where the majority of people hold conservative views about sexual orientations and gender identities, ByteDance is the first Chinese tech firm that openly supports the LGBTQ+ community, according to Chinese media. Many employees are drawn to ByteDance for its open culture and its mission.

The one downside: Workers are expected to work a "996" schedule — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for six days — once every other week.


A pro-China disinformation campaign is targeting rare earth miners

It’s uncommon for cyber criminals to target private industry. But a new operation has cast doubt on miners looking to gain a foothold in the West in an apparent attempt to protect China’s upper hand in a market that has become increasingly vital.

It is very uncommon for coordinated disinformation operations to target private industry, rather than governments or civil society, a cybersecurity expert says.

Photo: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Just when we thought the renewable energy supply chains couldn’t get more fraught, a sophisticated disinformation campaign has taken to social media to further complicate things.

Known as Dragonbridge, the campaign has existed for at least three years, but in the last few months it has shifted its focus to target several mining companies “with negative messaging in response to potential or planned rare earths production activities.” It was initially uncovered by cybersecurity firm Mandiant and peddles narratives in the Chinese interest via its network of thousands of fake social media accounts.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (

Some of the most astounding tech-enabled advances of the next decade, from cutting-edge medical research to urban traffic control and factory floor optimization, will be enabled by a device often smaller than a thumbnail: the memory chip.

While vast amounts of data are created, stored and processed every moment — by some estimates, 2.5 quintillion bytes daily — the insights in that code are unlocked by the memory chips that hold it and transfer it. “Memory will propel the next 10 years into the most transformative years in human history,” said Sanjay Mehrotra, president and CEO of Micron Technology.

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

Ripple’s CEO threatens to leave the US if it loses SEC case

CEO Brad Garlinghouse said a few countries have reached out to Ripple about relocating.

"There's no doubt that if the SEC doesn't win their case against us that that is good for crypto in the United States,” Brad Garlinghouse told Protocol.

Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile for Collision via Getty Images

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said the crypto company will move to another country if it loses in its legal battle with the SEC.

Garlinghouse said he’s confident that Ripple will prevail against the federal regulator, which accused the company of failing to register roughly $1.4 billion in XRP tokens as securities.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.


The Supreme Court’s EPA ruling is bad news for tech regulation, too

The justices just gave themselves a lot of discretion to smack down agency rules.

The ruling could also endanger work on competition issues by the FTC and net neutrality by the FCC.

Photo: Geoff Livingston/Getty Images

The Supreme Court’s decision last week gutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions didn’t just signal the conservative justices’ dislike of the Clean Air Act at a moment of climate crisis. It also served as a warning for anyone that would like to see more regulation of Big Tech.

At the heart of Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision in West Virginia v. EPA was a codification of the “major questions doctrine,” which, he wrote, requires “clear congressional authorization” when agencies want to regulate on areas of great “economic and political significance.”

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.


Microsoft and Google are still using emotion AI, but with limits

Microsoft said accessibility goals overrode problems with emotion recognition and Google offers off-the-shelf emotion recognition technology amid growing concern over the controversial AI.

Emotion recognition is a well-established field of computer vision research; however, AI-based technologies used in an attempt to assess people’s emotional states have moved beyond the research phase.

Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft said last month it would no longer provide general use of an AI-based cloud software feature used to infer people’s emotions. However, despite its own admission that emotion recognition technology creates “risks,” it turns out the company will retain its emotion recognition capability in an app used by people with vision loss.

In fact, amid growing concerns over development and use of controversial emotion recognition in everyday software, both Microsoft and Google continue to incorporate the AI-based features in their products.

“The Seeing AI person channel enables you to recognize people and to get a description of them, including an estimate of their age and also their emotion,” said Saqib Shaikh, a software engineering manager and project lead for Seeing AI at Microsoft who helped build the app, in a tutorial about the product in a 2017 Microsoft video.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories