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TikTok CEO quits as company reportedly plans sale to Microsoft, Walmart

Enlarge / TikTok’s US operations may soon be part of every cool teen’s favorite conglomerates, Microsoft and Walmart.

TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer, who only began the job on June 1, is heading right back out the door again as the company plans a sale under pressure from the White House.

“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,” Mayer wrote in an email to TikTok employees late Wednesday. “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.”

Mayer praised employees’ efforts, saying that “there is no doubt that the future [of TikTok] is incredibly bright.” But at the same time, 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 US Administration’s action to push for a sell off of the US business.”

Until this spring, Mayer was one of Disney’s top executives, where he successfully headed the launch of the Disney+ streaming service. In February, however, he was unexpectedly passed over to succeed outgoing Disney CEO Bob Iger in favor of Bob Chapek. Three months later he announced he was jumping ship to TikTok, in a move that spawned dozens of stories about TikTok’s meteoric growth and its potential to make it big as a force in media.

TikTok, in its official statement on Mayer’s departure, said, “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.”

Not the job he signed up for

Even as TikTok’s popularity has skyrocketed amid the 2020 pandemic, though, the company itself has been struggling against the Trump administration. Earlier this month, the White House declared the existence of TikTok—along with another Chinese app, WeChat—to be a national emergency and issued an executive order that would effectively ban it from operating inside the United States.

TikTok has repeatedly denied the administration’s allegations that it shares US user data with China, and it filed suit on Monday alleging that the orders are unconstitutional and politically driven by an “anti-China political campaign” ahead of the November election.

President Donald Trump on August 3 issued a personal ultimatum, telling TikTok it had until September 15 to sell to a US buyer if it wanted to keep operating inside the United States. Microsoft at the time publicly confirmed it was considering a way to purchase TikTok’s US assets and has been considered the leading contender for an acquisition since.

Today, however, Walmart unexpectedly announced that it has joined forces with Microsoft to go in together on the deal.

Walmart wants TikTok for its potential to integrate e-commerce and advertising, the company said. “We believe a potential relationship with Tik Tok US in partnership with Microsoft could add this key functionality and provide Walmart with an important way for us to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses.”

Walmart added, “We are confident that a Walmart and Microsoft partnership would meet both the expectations of US Tik Tok users while satisfying the concerns of US government regulators.”

Sources told CNBC that TikTok is expected to announce a sale “as soon as next week,” ahead of Trump’s September 15 deadline and that the transaction is expected to be valued at between $20 billion and $30 billion.

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