Kevin Mayer became CEO of TikTok less than four months after taking the job. As his resignation comes amid the ongoing political turmoil caused by the Trump administration, his decision to leave likely has less to do with politics than with his own autonomy as an acquisition looms.
“I have done a thorough reflection on what the structural changes in the business will require and what that means for the global role I have signed up for,” Mayer said in an email to staff, posted in his full on Pandaily. “In this context, and as we hope 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 became CEO of TikTok on June 1, tasked with helping the company navigate turbulent political waters in the United States as pressure began to mount to investigate the app because of its Chinese ownership. At the same time, he was also appointed COO of ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, giving him the reins of a global business. The offer was strong enough to convince Mayer to step down as head of Disney’s DTCI team (direct to consumer and international), where he oversaw the launch of Disney Plus. It didn’t hurt that just three months earlier, Mayer had been fired as CEO after Bob Iger resigned – a position many in the industry thought he was a favorite.
“He thought the grass was greener on the other side, so he jumped over the fence and landed in the quicksand,” said a Disney employee in the company’s streaming division, who asked to remain anonymous. The edge.
Reports suggest Mayer has not been included in recent talks with two main contenders from TikTok, Microsoft (now joined by Walmart) and Oracle. The fact that he was left out of the loop likely bode badly for Mayer’s future in what was meant to be a large and increasingly powerful role.
When Mayer signed up as CEO of TikTok in May, he was entering a company that, while controversial, was also thriving. TikTok experienced rapid growth between October 2019 and June 2020, with the company adding 52 million users in those eight months alone. Advertisers are flocking to the app, Creators are building real careers with their followings, and TikTok shows no signs of slowing down. Companies like Instagram and YouTube are trying to figure out how to emulate some of its success as the app continues to dominate the US market.
“It’s always a really tough decision to make,” Brian Stafford, author of Governance in the digital age, Told The edge. “Many CEOs feel pressured to stay with a company to help them through a transition. Hence the whole mantra of “captain goes down with the ship”. “
There is a difference, however, between running a global company with a great deal of autonomy and running a regional company under review by a tech giant. Mayer, it seems, was not likely to get the same high position from the TikTok buyer. The point of forcing a sale is to get ByteDance out of the picture – Mayer is losing the biggest global company he really wanted to be in, not just TikTok. “Being a division CEO as opposed to the The CEO was probably a major calculation in this decision, ”Stafford said.
In addition to leading TikTok, Mayer has been tasked with “driving the global development of ByteDance” and has been tasked with segments as broad as “music, games” and “emerging companies,” according to a press release announcing his appointment at the time. Without ByteDance, Mayer’s position seems much smaller.
In an email to staff discussing departure, also posted on PandailyZhang Yiming, CEO of ByteDance, noted that the sale would have a “significant impact” on Mayer’s work, “especially given his global role while based in the United States.
Once TikTok is acquired, Mayer could end up “reporting to someone who would likely want to use TikTok for a different strategy,” said Tal Chalozin, chief technology officer at analytics firm Innovid..
“Kevin is the kind of guy who has to get involved in something very special,” Chalozin said. “He set a record for successful products. He doesn’t want to be known as the guy who made it to Disney but couldn’t do TikTok.
Chalozin and Stafford both think Mayer will be fine. He is known as one of the smartest strategists at work, with a very good track record of success. Whether or not he ends up in another CEO position or head of a specific division in another company – “I don’t think the three-letter CEO title is everything for him,” Chalozin said – Mayer will move on.
TikTok’s new leader, for now
For now, Vanessa Pappas will act as interim CEO of TikTok. It’s a good choice: Pappas has been working with ByteDance on TikTok since 2018, becoming the Managing Director of the platform in January 2019. Prior to joining ByteDance, Pappas spent seven years at YouTube, giving him a wealth of experience in online video. and social media platforms.
Pappas is arguably more associated with the company than Mayer was in less than 100 working days. Pappas is the press guy, the person who writes many blog posts about TikTok updates, and has been with the company longer. Pappas is “just as ready to launch the business through a transaction as anyone else,” Stafford said.
“The TikTok team have worked tirelessly to make this platform a place of joy for hundreds of millions of people around the world, and we are just getting started,” Pappas said in a statement to The edge. “It’s amazing to look back on our past two years and see how much we’ve accomplished, and I’m even more excited for what we’ll continue to bring to our community in the future. The future of TikTok is bright. “
Whether or not Pappas stays in the job depends a lot on who acquires TikTok. Each business is likely to have a different goal for the application, and if big changes in strategy occur, changes in personnel will come with them. Just months after Jason Kilar took over as CEO of WarnerMedia, longtime executives Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly were ousted. Randy Freer stepped down as CEO of Hulu after Disney acquired a controlling stake, all moving under Mayer while he was still at Mouse House.
“A company like Oracle is more likely to put that company under another leader,” Stafford said. “Microsoft has a history of keeping the team current. It is as much the philosophy of the purchaser as anything else. “
If Microsoft or Oracle want to keep TikTok as is, Pappas could stay in the role. If the company is to change TikTok’s strategy – Walmart, which today joined the list of potential acquirers, sees it more than any other potential e-commerce platform – the leadership role could go to someone with the experience of moving a product in that direction. “The evolution of strategy can take leadership in a different direction,” Stafford said.
Like everything with TikTok these days, it’s all a wait and see game.