“She failed the audition I think,” recalled Fred Seibert, cofounder of Next New Networks, who met Pappas when he guest lectured at the New School, where she was completing a master’s degree in media studies.
With Mayer’s time at TikTok ending and the company’s problems very clearly not ending, Pappas was named interim global head of TikTok in late August. She had previously run TikTok’s North America, Australia and New Zealand business. Pappas, who is Australian, represented TikTok as its face in the US instead of Mayer who, as TikTok pointed out numerous times in his short tenure, was an “American CEO.”
“With Mayer leaving it was big shoes to fill for Vanessa while navigating TikTok through a Category 5 storm,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities. “Fast forward to today, Vanessa and her team have played a game of high stakes poker and appear to have won this latest battle.”
“A born media mogul”
Those who know Pappas describe her as a quiet and thoughtful person, with a deep background working with social media stars and, according to TV producer Kit Laybourne, who met her when she was a teacher’s assistant in his course at the New School, a “born media mogul.”
“She was the kind of person who came in and did her job, put her head down and figured out the things that needed to be done,” Seibert said.
“I’m focused on making sure we’re providing an amazing experience for the hundreds of millions of people who come to our platform for joy and connectivity,” Pappas said in a statement to CNN Business. “For me, it’s a matter of reminding folks that we have a path forward and that we have our North Star.”
Pappas is “unusual” in this role because she has such a deep knowledge of “what makes the community of talent click,” said Herb Scannell, cofounder of Next New Networks and the former president of Nickelodeon and former vice chairman of MTV Networks. “What [TikTok] has in her is somebody that the community knows ‘gets’ them. Her career has been built on getting them.”
An expert on social media stars briefly becomes one herself
Before Pappas was named interim head, she took on the role of calming TikTokers’ nerves and assuring them the service was there for the long-term.
It’s unclear how long Pappas will serve in the interim role and whether she will be named permanent CEO, if and when TikTok finalizes its investment deal with Oracle and Walmart. (TikTok declined to comment on the matter.) But she will likely remain a force in the social media world wherever she ends up.
“She looks at the world from the eyes of the creator,” Seibert said. “Wherever the next generation of creators go, I know she will be following them.”