TikTok’s poaching of Disney’s Kevin Mayer to be its CEO was just the most visible part of a broader strategy by its Chinese owner to shift its centre of power away from China at a time of rising global tensions.
The short video app’s parent company ByteDance has quietly made a series of moves in recent months to transfer global decision-making and research capabilities out of its home country.
The strategy is aimed not only at TikTok, which is not available in China, but all of ByteDance’s non-China focused businesses, the sources said. Such businesses also include units in India like social networking app Helo.
ByteDance has expanded TikTok’s engineering and research and development operations in Mountain View, California. The company has hired more than 150 engineers there.
ByteDance has also hired a New York-based investor relations director to stay in touch with major investors including General Atlantic and KKR, relationships that were previously managed through Beijing.
The new hire, Michelle Huang, is a former SoftBank investor who worked on the Japanese firm’s investment in ByteDance.
The changes come at a time of heightened tension between the United States and China over trade, technology and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as intense U.S. regulatory scrutiny of TikTok, which has rapidly gained popularity around the globe and counts the United States as one of its biggest market.
Mayer, who was dually named ByteDance’s chief operating officer based in Los Angeles, will also be handed leadership for areas such as global corporate development.
More broadly, ByteDance is also recruiting engineers around the world, including in Singapore, Jakarta and Warsaw, online job postings show.
These significant organizational changes are being greeted warily by some ByteDance staff who support the company’s global operations from China.
Since last year, TikTok has faced scrutiny by U.S. authorities over potential national security risks. An investigation by the U.S. Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is focused on the handling of personal data.