Kevin Mayer, the former Walt Disney Co. executive who became CEO of TikTok about three months ago, resigned today. He cited the changed “political environment” in the wake of President Donald Trump’s pressure on TikTok’s Beijing-based owner, Byte Dance, to sell the app’s operations in this country to a U.S.-based operation within 45 days of Aug. 6.
Microsoft, Oracle and others are said to be interested.
“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for. Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company,” Mayer said in a letter TikTok’s staff.
“I understand that the role that I signed up for—including running TikTok globally—will look very different as a result of the US Administration’s action to push for a sell off of the U.S .business,” he added.
Tech analyst Neil Cybart translated that statement in a succinct tweet, as The Week’s Peter Weber observes.
“Paraphrasing Mayer: I didn’t leave Disney for this dumpster fire,” Cybart tweeted.
Vanessa Pappas, a former YouTube executive who has been general manager of North America, Australia and New Zealand, will serve as interim head for TikTok globally, Mayer reveals in his letter to employees.
“Talks in Washington over the fate of TikTok began weeks after Mr. Mayer officially joined the company in June. Mr. Mayer did not anticipate the extent to which TikTok would become involved in tensions between China and the U.S., said the people familiar with the matter, as the Trump administration and regulators raised concerns about data privacy and national security…,” Financial Times’ Henny Sender, James Fontanella-Khan and Anna Nicolaou write in breaking the story.
“‘He has put himself in a sensitive political zone,’ said one person familiar with his time at Disney, speaking when Mr. Mayer first joined ByteDance. ‘He will have to align himself with both his Chinese masters and public scrutiny in the U.S.’”
“U.S. officials say they are concerned that TikTok could pass on data it collects from Americans streaming videos to China’s authoritarian government. TikTok has said it doesn’t share data with the Chinese government and wouldn’t do so if asked,” Liza Lin writes for The Wall Street Journal.
“Still, experts have pointed to existing legislation in China which could force local Chinese companies like ByteDance and others to hand over data to the Chinese government,” writes CNBC’s Saheli Roy Choudhury.
“Based on [Trump’s] Aug. 6 executive order, a sale must go through before Sept. 15 or the app could be banned in the U.S. On Monday, TikTok sued the U.S. government alleging it was deprived of due process. The lawsuit could delay the ban, giving TikTok more time to get a better deal for the sale,” Choudhury adds.
“We appreciate that the political dynamics of the last few months have significantly changed what the scope of Kevin's role would be going forward, and fully respect his decision. We thank him for his time at the company and wish him well,” TikTok said in a statement cited by FOXBusiness’ Dom Calicchio.
“Mr. Mayer, who was the top streaming executive at Walt Disney Company, joined TikTok in May not only as its chief executive, but also as the chief operating officer of ByteDance. In an interview at the time, Mr. Mayer said he had left Disney for TikTok because ‘the magnitude of this opportunity was just something I couldn’t pass up,’” writes Mike Isaac for The New York Times.
“Mayer's departure is a ‘huge setback for the company,’ said Edith Yeung, who spent years investing in Chinese companies with venture capital firm 500 Startups. She is a partner with Race Capital, investing mostly in US firms,” Donie O'Sullivan and Sherisse Pham write for CNN Business. ‘[A] leader cannot jump ship in the most critical time for a company,’ she added.
“If Mayer had stuck it out, ‘he would be running one of the biggest social media companies in the world,’ Yeung said, though she added that ‘no American would blame him for quitting.’
“'I wish he would hang in there,’ she said. ‘He could change the course of China-U.S. tech history. Oh well.’”