Mayer cites ‘sharply changed’ political environment after Donald Trump ordered ByteDance to sell up within 90 days
TikTok’s chief executive, Kevin Mayer, has quit less than three months after he joined from Disney to lead the next stage of its expansion, amid a “sharply changed” political environment and with Donald Trump accusing the Chinese-owned video app of threatening national security.
Mayer was hired after overseeing the successful launch of the Disney+ streaming service – and after being overlooked to replace Disney chief executive Bob Iger – as part of TikTok’s drive to become a more US-centric business. That strategy now lies in tatters.
His job is being filled temporarily by TikTok’s US general manager, Vanessa Pappas, until a permanent replacement is appointed.
In a letter to staff, parts of which have been seen by the Guardian, Mayer said he had decided to leave after Trump ordered TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to sell its US assets to a US company within 90 days.
“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,” the letter said.
“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.”
In a statement, TikTok thanked Mayer for his time and wished him well. “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 said.
ByteDance founder and chief executive Zhang Yiming said in a separate letter that the company was “moving quickly to find resolutions to the issues that we face globally, particularly in the US and India”.
He said Mayer had joined just as the company was “entering arguably our most challenging moment”.
“It is never easy to come into a leadership position in a company moving as quickly as we are, and the circumstances following his arrival made it all the more complex,” Zhang said.
US tech companies including Microsoft, Twitter and Oracle have expressed interest or announced talks with ByteDance to acquire some of TikTok’s operations outside China.
TikTok’s Chinese ownership has raised concern about the potential for sharing user data with Chinese officials as well as censorship of videos critical of the Chinese Communist Party government. TikTok says it does not censor videos and it would not give the Chinese government access to US user data.
In early August Trump threatened to ban TikTok on the basis of national security concerns.
He later issued a pair of executive orders banning US transactions with the Chinese companies that own TikTok and also WeChat, saying the US must take “aggressive action” in the interest of national security. TikTok is suing the US government over the executive orders.
In a blog post it said “the company does not take suing the government lightly, however we feel we have no choice but to take action to protect our rights, and the rights of our community and employees”.
“In our complaint we make clear that we believe the administration ignored our extensive efforts to address its concerns, which we conducted fully and in good faith even as we disagreed with the concerns themselves.”