TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer exits as Trump ban nears

TikTok chief Kevin Mayer at Disney’s D23 EXPO 2019.
TikTok chief Kevin Mayer is leaving the streaming video app. He is pictured at a Disney expo in Anaheim last year.
(Jesse Grant / Getty Images for Disney)

TikTok Chief Executive Kevin Mayer resigned on Wednesday night after just three months on the job, as President Trump’s ban on the popular viral streaming app looms.

Mayer’s surprise exit comes as the company has been under immense pressure after Trump signed executive orders, including one that would require TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to divest TikTok’s U.S. operations by Nov. 12.

The departure of Mayer, a former senior Disney executive, is a big blow to the company, which has a large presence in Culver City. His appointment was intended to bring more legitimacy to TikTok, which secured a foothold in the U.S. by becoming especially popular among teens and is expanding to a broader audience.


The app has seen a surge in use as people shelter in place and look for ways to be entertained during the coronavirus crisis. The number of people using TikTok in the U.S. has exponentially grown, from 11.2 million monthly active users in January 2018 to 91.9 million users in June 2020, according to documents filed by TikTok in federal court.

But the company’s future has been clouded by the Trump administration’s campaign against it.

Mayer wrote in a memo to staff on Wednesday night that he has always been “globally focused” in his work and “leading a global team that includes TikTok U.S. was a big draw for me.” With ByteDance required to sell off its TikTok U.S. division, that has put a damper on the company’s global strategy.

“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,” Mayer said in his note.

Vanessa Pappas, currently general manager of TikTok U.S., will become interim head, according to Mayer’s note.

The social video app faces growing scrutiny from the U.S. government, rising competition from rivals like Facebook and the defection of top creators.

July 31, 2020

Mayer’s resignation will probably increase anxiety among creators and employees who are concerned about what will happen when Trump’s first executive order against TikTok goes into effect on Sept. 20. That order could bar U.S. companies from placing ads on the app or potentially stop TikTok U.S. employees from getting paid.

TikTok filed a lawsuit this week calling the order unconstitutional, and a separate lawsuit has also been filed on behalf of employees. Several potential bidders have emerged, including Microsoft and Oracle.


In a statement, TikTok said,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.”

It was unclear what Mayer planned to do next. The Financial Times first reported news of his departure.

Mayer, who arranged several deals that transformed Walt Disney Co., left the Burbank entertainment giant to join TikTok after Disney’s board selected parks and products Chairman Bob Chapek to succeed Bob Iger as its CEO in late February. Iger, who had been CEO for 15 years, took on the role of executive chairman.

Mayer played a key role in several significant deals at Disney, including the acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm.

Though many were stunned by the news, some industry analysts noted that Mayer’s job had grown increasingly difficult.

“He’s got the pressure of the U.S. government on top of him and that’s about as heavy as it gets,” said Gene Munster, a managing partner of venture capital firm Loup Ventures. “In the near term, he’s not in the driver’s seat and so there’s only so much you can do.”

Trump, who has been waging a trade battle with China, says TikTok threatens national security. In the U.S., the app is used by 100 million people.

TikTok has maintained that its U.S. user data are stored in Virginia and backed up in Singapore. The company said it has not and will not give information to the Chinese government.