Tiktok has got a new chief—and he’s American. On Tuesday, Disney and Bytedance announced, in synchronized press releases, that Kevin Mayer, the man behind Disney+ and baby Yoda, was leaving Disney and joining Bytedance as CEO of Tiktok and global COO of Bytedance (which is much more than Tiktok). He is set to start on June 1 as Tiktok CEO and Bytedance’s global COO and will be based in LA.

Many are skeptical about the new hire. Tiktok is under a lot of pressure to prove it doesn’t answer to Beijing, thus making the move perhaps more about optics than operations. And Chinese companies don’t have a great track record with Western transplants. From Alibaba to Maotai, from Xiaomi to Baidu, there seems to be a serious mismatch between expectation and reality that forces high-profile hires to reconsider their decision. 

But Bytedance is not like other Chinese tech majors: Tiktok is China tech’s first true global hit in consumer-facing software. Neither Alibaba, Tencent, nor Baidu has anything like it. The only Chinese brands that have done well in the West are hardware-focused companies like Huawei and Xiaomi. An America CEO could be the right kind of localization that China’s most international tech major needs.

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John Artman

John Artman is the Editor in Chief for TechNode, the leading English information source for news and insight into China’s tech and startups, and co-host of the China Tech Talk podcast, a regular discussion...