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TikTok owner ByteDance names veteran corporate lawyer Julie Gao its new CFO as tech unicorn's IPO plans remain in limbo

·3 min read

TikTok owner ByteDance, the world's most valuable unicorn, has appointed veteran corporate lawyer Julie Gao as its new chief financial officer (CFO), filling a major vacancy in the company's senior management ranks after a sweeping reorganisation initiated last November.

Gao, previously a partner at American multinational law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates, has advised many Chinese technology companies on public listings and other transactions, ByteDance chief executive Liang Rubo said in an internal letter on Monday to announce the new appointment.

"Julie has worked with us for multiple acquisitions and fundraising deals since 2016, so she's familiar with our mission, culture, team and business," Liang said in the letter. He also expressed his belief that Gao "will be of great help" amid ByteDance's plans to go public.

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ByteDance's CFO position was left vacant in November last year, when Chew Shou Zi relinquished that role to serve as chief executive of global hit short video-sharing platform TikTok.

Julie Gao, the new chief financial officer of ByteDance, has extensive experience working on public listings in the United States, Hong Kong and Singapore. Photo: Weibo alt=Julie Gao, the new chief financial officer of ByteDance, has extensive experience working on public listings in the United States, Hong Kong and Singapore. Photo: Weibo>

Gao worked with ByteDance on two of the company's biggest acquisitions, according to her biography on Skadden's website. These were popular teen karaoke app Musical.ly, which merged with TikTok's operation in 2018, and Moonton Technology, developer of video game Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. She was also involved in several rounds of private equity financing, valued at multiple billions of dollars, for the Beijing-based social media giant.

On major transactions involving other Chinese tech companies, Gao also worked on Baidu's purchase of streaming platform YY Live, Didi Chuxing's merger with Uber Technologies' China business, and Alibaba Group Holding's acquisition of Youku Tudou. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

But Gao now faces higher stakes at ByteDance, as the unicorn's plans for an initial public offering have become complicated because of China's crackdown on the activities of Big Tech companies.

The tightened regulatory regime saw privately-held ByteDance - with a valuation of US$320 billion earlier this month, according to Chinese tech media platform 36Kr - post significantly slower revenue growth last year.

Following its reorganisation, ByteDance has continued to make calculated moves that ensure it does not stray from its business goals and Beijing's regulatory oversight. In recent years, the company has sought to diversify its revenue stream by branching into e-commerce, online education, financial technology and video gaming.

ByteDance last week announced a collaboration with Shenzhen-based electronics giant Konka Group Co, which is introducing a new smart television series powered by the tech unicorn's MEyou operating system.

Earlier this month, ByteDance launched its own music-streaming app in China to challenge the market-leading platforms run by major units of Tencent Holdings and NetEase.

ByteDance last month teamed up with Qualcomm, the US semiconductor and wireless technology giant, to pursue advances in metaverse-ready extended reality technologies.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.