CEO of Chinese-owned TikTok quits as US pressure mounts

US ordered TikTok owner ByteDance to sell the firm to a US company over concerns Beijing may gain access to user data.

Kevin Mayer, TikTok CEO [Bloomberg]
Kevin Mayer joined TikTok as CEO in May after leaving Disney where he paved the way for the acquisitions of iconic studios including Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, and the entertainment assets of Twenty-First Century Fox [File: Jesse Grant/Getty Images via Bloomberg]

TikTok Chief Executive Officer Kevin Mayer has resigned just months after taking the helm of the viral short video app, stepping out of the crossfire as the Trump administration targets the business owned by China’s ByteDance Ltd.

Mayer told employees of his decision in an internal memo and a company spokeswoman confirmed his resignation. Vanessa Pappas, currently general manager of ByteDance’s prized international service, will take his place.

Mayer joined TikTok as CEO in May, leaving one of the top jobs at The Walt Disney Co. For more than a decade, he helped the world’s largest entertainment company strategize and expand its offerings. He provided the rationale for acquiring Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, and the entertainment assets of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. for $71 billion in March. Mayer’s appointment by ByteDance had been expected to smooth relations between the social media giant and Washington, and enforce the notion that TikTok operates as a separate entity from its Beijing-based parent.

But his role had been in question for weeks. Hired to run TikTok’s global operations, Mayer was instead pulled into a likely breakup of the business as the Trump administration pressed for a sale of the U.S. division because of its alleged threat to national security. Microsoft Corp. has confirmed it’s in negotiations to buy TikTok’s operations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, while Oracle Corp. is also considering a bid, Bloomberg News has reported.

“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 said in an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg News. “I understand that the role that I signed up for–including running TikTok globally–will look very different as a result of the U.S. administration’s action to push for a sell off of the U.S. business.”

The Trump administration’s impending ban on TikTok has further worsened tensions between Beijing and Washington, which has leveled sanctions against a plethora of Chinese giants from Tencent Holdings Ltd. to Huawei Technologies Co. on grounds they pose a threat to national security. A representative for the White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Mayer’s departure, which the Financial Times first reported.

“We are working quickly to find resolutions to the issues that we face globally, particularly in the U.S. and India,” ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming said in a separate memo obtained by Bloomberg announcing Mayer’s resignation.

Mayer’s departure comes days after TikTok asked a federal judge to block the Trump administration from enacting a ban on the fast-growing social media network, bringing a geopolitical fight over technology and trade into a U.S. courtroom. TikTok and its Chinese parent, ByteDance, sued on Monday in federal court in Los Angeles to challenge an Aug. 6 order from President Donald Trump prohibiting U.S. residents from doing business with TikTok. Trump says TikTok is a security risk for user data.

The company said the president’s decision was made “for political reasons,” is unconstitutional and violates rights to due process. On Aug. 14, Trump ordered ByteDance to sell its U.S. assets and said the U.S. should receive a cut of the proceeds. Other bidders potentially interested in the assets include Twitter Inc. The social media company is among U.S. tech firms that have explored possible bids, though it’s unclear how far those talks have gone, according to multiple people familiar with the deliberations.

“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,” the TikTok spokeswoman said in a separate statement.

Source: Bloomberg