“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,” Mayer wrote Wednesday to staff at the ByteDance-controlled short video-sharing app. “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. (Read Mayer’s full letter below.)
“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,” a TikTok spokesperson told Deadline in a statement tonight. “We thank him for his time at the company and wish him well.”
TikTok’s U.S. General Manager Vanessa Pappas will take over Mayer’s responsibilities for the immediate future. The Financial Times first reported the news of Mayer’s resignation.
Once touted as a possible successor to Bob Iger at Disney, one-time Hulu boss Mayer’s move to TikTok came less than two months after theme park chief Bob Chapek was named CEO at the media giant in late February. The chairman of Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International, Mayer played a pivotal role in the successful launch of the Disney+ streaming service in late 2019 and was widely expected to be a par of the company for the long haul.
However, the sharp elbows of Disney corner-office battles probably seem quaint compared to the realpolitik of TikTok. Soon after being named TikTok CEO and COO of Zhang Yiming’s China-based parent company ByteDance in May and formally taking over June 1, Mayer found himself pulled into the danger zone known as Donald Trump.
Launched in 2016, TikTok has enjoyed surging growth in the U.S. and around the world, especially among social-media-loving teenagers. Along with its Chinese version, called Douyin, TikTok has been one of the most downloaded apps on the planet; since January 2018, the site has surged more than 800% from its then-11.3 million users, with its global footprint reaching 689 million users across more than 200 countries.
Sounds like a recipe for unlimited success, until Trump put TikTok in the cross-hairs on his anti-China stance heading towards November’s election. Citing national security concerns, Trump issued a threatened executive order on August 6 declaring TikTok would be banned unless it can secure an acquisition by a U.S.-based firm by September 15. With that sale deadline later increased deeper into the fall, Oracle and Microsoft are seen as the leading contenders to snag the company from its Beijing-based parent.
Amidst all that heat, a new blaze started earlier this week when TikTok sued Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross and the Department of Commerce. Unveiled on August 24 in federal court in California seeking an “invalidating” of the president’s executive order, the complaint wants the action, which it views as an attack on the First Amendment, declared “unlawful and unconstitutional.”
That is a fight and future for which Mayer clearly didn’t want to hang around.
READ KEVIN MAYER’S FULL LETTER HERE:
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.
I want to be clear that this decision has nothing to do with the company, what I see for our future, or the belief I have in what we are building. Yiming understands my decision and I thank him for his support on this.
As we look to the next phase of this company, there is no doubt that the future is incredibly bright. For our users, any potential structural changes should not affect their experience, and I strongly believe that our community will be more creative and diverse than ever. The platform will continue to provide our global community an amazing and integrated experience as it does today. Similarly, from an employee perspective, I believe that the vast majority of work will be unchanged.
At the same time, 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 US business. I’ve always been globally focused in my work, and leading a global team that includes TikTok US was a big draw for me.
The great news is that the TikTok team will be in the incredibly capable hands of Vanessa, who will serve as interim head for TikTok globally. She has fearlessly led operations in the US, and won the trust of our employees, creators, users, and partners. I am extremely grateful for the time that I was able to work with her and wish her success.
In my short time here, I have been amazed at the passion and dedication of our teams, particularly given the political criticism that we have faced. Like all companies in our space, we face challenges, but I have tremendous confidence that we have a world-class security team in place working to make people on our platform safe, and an amazing global team that makes this such a unique, creative, and inclusive platform.
Thank you for all of your work during this period, and at heart I will always be a member of the ByteDance team, rooting for all of you.
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