Oh, to be a fly on the wall at Kevin Mayer’s exit interview at ByteDance this week.
Surely the company’s head of human resources wasn’t too surprised when the CEO of its TikTok subsidiary gave notice after just three months on the job.
But while Mayer had to have expected some turbulence in a job at a Beijing-based conglomerate in this political climate, could he have ever anticipated the Category 5 geopolitical s–tstorm to follow?
His departure marks the latest twist in a saga that seems to get more dizzying by the day, particularly with regard to the social app’s future ownership.
Ever since Microsoft emerged as the likeliest home for TikTok, a seemingly endless parade of speculation about potential purchasers has ensued, each more improbable than the next: Oracle, Twitter and Netflix. Not to be outdone, Microsoft could end up partnering on an acquisition with Walmart.
At this point, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory could make a play for TikTok and no one would raise an eyebrow.
If external circumstances beyond his control weren’t bedeviling Mayer enough, it appears he had troubles internally at ByteDance, too. A CNBC report Thursday cited sources indicating founder Zhang Yiming had effectively sidelined him in separate sets of negotiations between ByteDance and Microsoft and Oracle to sell the very division Mayer was hired to lead.
But Mayer’s own leaked memo seemed to suggest his concern was the prospect of TikTok’s U.S. business being carved out for the sale would deprive him of the “global role I signed up for.”
Maybe we should take Mayer’s word for it that he wouldn’t settle for anything less than world domination in his role at TikTok. Or maybe that’s just a nice way of spinning the fact that he tired of a job seemingly so cursed from the start he felt like Trump had a voodoo doll with his face on it.
After all, the ink was barely dry on Mayer’s employment contract back in July when the president began to suddenly bat around TikTok with the kind of random glee that cats reserve for balls of yarn.
Honestly, if you had asked Trump about the ByteDance-owned app at the time Mayer’s hire was announced in May, it’s more likely the president would have confused TikTok with a breath-freshening candy.
But that changed quickly not too long after the merry pranksters on this wonderfully anarchic social-media platform pulled off one of the biggest embarrassments of Trump’s presidency, causing his team to wildly overestimate the anticipated audience at what turned out to be a rather sparsely attended political rally in Tulsa, Okla., in June.
As we learned about Trump at his inauguration, nothing turns his orange skin several shades redder than when he throws a party and no one shows up. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have come as any surprise that TikTok suddenly vaulted to the upper levels of Trump’s enemies list, somewhere between Barack Obama and CNN.
The subsequent chaos enveloping TikTok has surely been rough on its CEO. The only job in August that came under more pressure was the chancellorship at Liberty University.
Unfortunately for him, shortly after signing on to lead the hottest brand on the planet, Mayer discovered he’d jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.