Kevin Mayer has resigned as CEO of TikTok as the threat of a ban looms over the popular social media app.
TikTok owner ByteDance tapped Mayer, the former chairman of Disney’s direct-to-consumer business, in May of this year. His resignation comes just three months into his tenure at a moment of significant pressure for the company, which President Donald Trump has said he will ban in the U.S. if it does not soon find a U.S. buyer.
In a letter to employees obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Mayer said that the political environment had caused him to reconsider the job. “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,” he wrote. “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.”
Vanessa Pappas, the general manager of TikTok in North America, Australia and New Zealand, will serve as the company’s interim CEO.
“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,” a TikTok spokeswoman said in a statement. “We thank him for his time at the company and wish him well.”
When Mayer landed the top job at TikTok, one in which he reported directly to ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming and also served as COO at the parent company, the app was seeing explosive growth in the U.S. and other parts of the world as people found themselves stuck indoors during the early days of the novel coronavirus pandemic. TikTok currently has 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.
At the time, TikTok was facing governmental scrutiny due to its Chinese ownership and U.S. regulators had begun to look into whether the app was a security risk. The longtime Disney executive, who oversaw the launch of Disney+ but was passed over to become Bob Iger’s CEO successor, was part of ByteDance’s effort to bring on executives who could help it in its brewing battle with Washington.
But in the months since Mayer assumed the role, President Donald Trump has ramped up the pressure. On Aug. 6, he signed an executive order that will effectively block business with TikTok in the country if ByteDance does not sell its U.S. business in the coming months. The company was given 90 days from Aug. 14 to complete a sale.
ByteDance is now in the middle of complicated sales discussions with suitors that include Microsoft and, per reports, Oracle. It has also sued President Trump and is asking a California federal judge to bar him from enforcing the ban.
Zhang, in a memo to staff reviewed by THR, thanked Mayer for his time at the company, acknowledging that he joined at a tough time for the global business, particularly in the U.S. and India, where TikTok has been banned since late June.
“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,” he wrote. “Kevin spoke to me, and I fully understand that the resulting outcome that we land upon due to the political circumstances we are operating within could have significant impact on his job in any scenario, but particularly given his global role while he’s based in the U.S.”
In his letter to employees, Mayer said that he doesn’t expect any structural changes to the business to impact TikTok’s users or employees, of which there are currently around 1,400 in the U.S. But, he added, “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. I’ve always been globally focused in my work, and leading a global team that includes TikTok U.S. was a big draw for me.”
The Financial Times first reported on Mayer’s departure.
11:29 p.m. Updated with the staff memo from ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming.