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Increasing regulatory pressures are causing some internet managers to stay silent – no more than Jack Ma, Alibaba’s billionaire co-founder and one of China’s most famous entrepreneurs.
Mr. Ma resigned as Chief Executive of Alibaba in 2013 – also according to the company to focus on the major strategic direction. He remained the CEO of Alibaba until 2019. But even in retirement, he remains the company’s best-known face.
Regulators cited Mr. Ma and other executives at Ant Group, Alibaba’s fintech sister company, shortly before Ant’s proposed public offering was suspended last fall. Mr. Ma is Ant’s majority shareholder and was able to increase his fortune significantly with the sale of the shares. Chinese financial regulators later ordered Ant to overhaul its business to address concerns that it is exploiting regulatory loopholes. Since then, Mr. Ma has made himself rare in public.
Last year, Colin Huang, the founder of Pinduoduo, a fast-growing shopping app and Alibaba rival, handed over the CEO job while remaining chairman of the company. Eight months later, Mr. Huang also gave up that post. Pinduoduo said he wanted to do research in the food and life sciences.
ByteDance has mixed its top positions several times since the beginning of 2020. Recently, its Chief Financial Officer, Shouzi Chew, was named Chief Executive of TikTok, based in Singapore. That post was vacated last year by Kevin Mayer, a former Disney executive who left after less than four months when TikTok became a geopolitical piñata between China and the United States.
Mr. Zhang has led ByteDance with a focus on global expansion. He has discouraged internal hierarchies and tried to build a self-motivated workforce so that the company can continue to grow without losing the agility of a start-up.
“As companies mature and expand, many often fall into the trap of the CEO becoming overly central – listening to presentations, processing approvals, and making decisions responsively,” Zhang wrote in his letter to employees. “This leads to an excessive reliance on ideas that already exist in the company.”