TikTok CEO announces plan to quit months after taking up the role

27 Aug 2020

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TikTok’s CEO will step away after a brief tenure as the company faces a potential US ban and sale of its assets.

Just months after taking on the role, TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer is walking away from the company. Sources speaking with The Financial Times said that Mayer told employees at TikTok and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, of his decision to quit.

In a letter to employees, he wrote: “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 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.”

Those familiar with TikTok’s internal situation have said Mayer didn’t anticipate to what extent the popular video-sharing app would become embroiled in political tensions between the US and China. Speaking when Mayer first joined ByteDance, one source told The Financial Times that he would have had to “put himself in a sensitive political zone”.

“He will have to align himself with both his Chinese masters and public scrutiny in the US,” they said.

Mayer was appointed CEO of TikTok in May. He was previously Disney’s head of streaming, leading the recent launch of the Disney+ platform.

Legal action by TikTok

An executive order issued by US president Donald Trump on 14 August tasked ByteDance with selling off TikTok’s US operations within 90 days. It followed another order on 6 August banning any transactions with the app in the US unless it is sold by its Chinese parent company.

TikTok recently confirmed plans to sue the US government over Trump’s order, saying that it had “no choice but to take action to protect our rights”.

“To be clear, we far prefer constructive dialogue over litigation,” TikTok said in a statement earlier this week.

“But with the executive order threatening to bring a ban on our US operations – eliminating the creation of 10,000 American jobs and irreparably harming the millions of Americans who turn to this app for entertainment, connection and legitimate livelihoods that are vital especially during the pandemic – we simply have no choice.”

Microsoft, which confirmed earlier this month that it was in negotiations with TikTok, is understood to be the lead bidder to take over the video-sharing platform in the US and potentially in other regions.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic