Who is Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok?
With the spotlight on TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew lately, let's learn more about him
In light of the increasing global scrutiny surrounding TikTok, which could potentially result in a US ban of the Chinese-owned application, the focus has shifted towards its enigmatic CEO, Shou Zi Chew. The 40-year-old Singaporean is scheduled to testify before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, where he will be questioned on the app's data security, privacy practices, and its purported links to Beijing. However, information regarding Chew's modus operandi and the extent of his authority at the company remains scarce.
TikTok's Chief Operating Officer, Vanessa Pappas, has been the primary spokesperson for the company and faced questioning from Congress last September concerning US data transfers to China. According to a New York Times profile from September, which cited former executives at TikTok and ByteDance, it was suggested that Shou Zi Chew's decision-making abilities are constrained, and that ByteDance's founder, Zhang Yiming, is in control of the company's operations.
Despite the limited information available about his role and authority, TikTok is now showcasing Shou Zi Chew more prominently, even as the company's ties to the Chinese government continue to come under increased scrutiny. In a letter addressed to lawmakers last June, the company emphasized that it operates independently of its parent company ByteDance and highlighted that Chew is a Singaporean national residing in Singapore.
Born and raised in Singapore, Chew received his education from a prestigious school with a strong Chinese heritage and is fluent in both English and Mandarin. Additionally, he previously served as an officer in Singapore's military, which is considered a notable and honorable position during the country's compulsory military service.
Shou Zi Chew received a bachelor's degree in economics from University College London before attending Harvard Business School, where he earned his MBA and interned at Facebook during its startup phase. He subsequently worked at investment firm DST for five years, during which his team became early investors in ByteDance in 2013. Additionally, he worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs for two years before assuming the role of Chief Financial Officer and President of International Business at Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi, where he played a critical role in taking the company public in 2018.
In March 2021, Shou Zi Chew joined ByteDance as its first Chief Financial Officer. Two months later, he assumed the role of TikTok CEO after his predecessor, Kevin Mayer, resigned abruptly amidst the Trump administration's efforts to compel the sale of TikTok's US assets.
The biggest challenge going forward
With US lawmakers calling for TikTok to divest ownership of its US assets or face a ban, Shou Zi Chew is now confronted with one of the most significant challenges of his career. The issue has also become a contentious one for China, with the state media outlet Global Times publishing an opinion piece on Tuesday asserting that the push for a TikTok ban is a product of a "toxic American political atmosphere" and would constitute a violation of free market principles.
In light of the heightened scrutiny from both sides, Chew has undertaken a charm offensive of sorts in recent months. For example, he created his own TikTok account, @shou.time, in February of last year to offer glimpses of his personal life, which included attending the Super Bowl and NBA games, meeting celebrities such as Bill Murray, and attempting an awkward dance with singer Ciara. His account now boasts almost 18,000 followers.
Shou Zi Chew has actively engaged with the media, sharing in interviews that he is a golfing enthusiast and a fan of comedian Kevin Hart. He is married to Vivian Kao, CEO of an investment firm, and they have two children. Chew has also stated that he prohibits his children from using TikTok due to their young age. In recent days, he has emphasized in interviews that TikTok does not pose a threat to US interests and has made a direct appeal to the app's US users for assistance. On TikTok's official account, he asked users to tell him what they would like to convey to lawmakers. Chew acknowledges that this is a crucial moment for TikTok, as the decision could impact all of its 150 million US users.
Shou Zi Chew claims that TikTok is no threat to the US
Taking a stand or declaring a position is always a tricky aspect of media coverage, so we’ll stay away from that. However, it is important to note that the US government and others have expressed concerns over the potential national security risks associated with TikTok's data collection practices and alleged ties to the Chinese government. These concerns have led to calls for TikTok to divest its US assets or face a ban in the country.
Shou Zi Chew has repeatedly emphasized that TikTok operates independently of its Chinese parent company ByteDance and has engaged in various efforts to address these concerns. Ultimately, it is up to policymakers and individuals to make their own informed judgments regarding the potential risks and benefits associated with using TikTok.