China politics

Kevin Mayer Finds Mortal Geopolitical Combat Much Harder Than Running Streaming For Mickey Mouse

That didn’t last long.

Less than four months into the job, TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer decided to resign amid what he called a “sharply changed” political environment.

In a letter to employees, Mayer came as close as one can come to saying what every overburdened executive who finds him or herself suddenly thrust into an impossibly challenging operating environment wants to say.

“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”, Mayer remarked, adding that “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 other words: “This ain’t what I signed up for, folks”.

Apparently, Mayer’s motivation for joining the company revolved around a desire to lead a global brand, and with TikTok under pressure to sell its US business to an American company, the situation is no longer attractive to Mayer, who, upon joining in May, explained his decision by referencing “the magnitude of [the] opportunity”, which he said “was just something I couldn’t pass up”.

As it turns out, leaving the safe confines of Disney (where he was the company’s top streaming executive) to enter mortal geopolitical combat was a poor decision. Who knew?

If only the writing had been on the wall. If only there were signs — anything that would have indicated TikTok might become what The New York Times aptly described as “a geopolitical piñata”.

(Trump effectively inaugurated his tech war with China in May of 2019, when he blacklisted Huawei, exactly a year prior to Mayer joining TikTok.)

As recently as last month, Mayer was on offense, lampooning Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to launch what TikTok derided as “failed copycat products” and accusing the world’s third richest man of “maligning attacks… disguised as patriotism”.

Some have speculated that Zuckerberg’s public remarks (both to Congress and otherwise), may have emboldened the Trump administration in its already aggressive efforts to crackdown on TikTok, which The White House insists poses a grave national security threat.

Mayer joined TikTok at “arguably our most challenging moment”, ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming said, adding that while he “cannot get into details”, the company is “developing solutions that will be in the interest of users, creators, partners and employees” as it navigates the extremely treacherous waters around the US-China tech war.

TikTok sued the Trump administration earlier this week, even as the likes of Microsoft and Oracle debate the relative merits of buying the company for anywhere between $20 billion and $50 billion. Trump has variously insisted the US government should get a piece of the proceeds, although the president has yet to articulate under what authority he could make such an Corleone-esque claim.

On the heels of an August 6 executive order aimed at hastening the divestiture process, Trump issued a second order on August 14 linked to a CFIUS review, effectively ratcheting up the pressure to intolerable levels.

“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”, TikTok said, in a statement.

Mickey Mouse didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.


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