As a conscript in Singapore’s armed forces, Shou Zi Chew cites a five-day survival camp in the Borneo woods as the most trying experience of his life. The TikTok CEO must show some of that grit as he fights to preserve the corporate survival of the contentious but hugely successful social video app.
His transnational academic and commercial career has swiftly propelled him to the top role at one of the biggest internet businesses in the world. The 40-year-old Singaporean, whose parents both worked in accountancy and construction, is scheduled to be questioned by US senators on Thursday amid rumors of a potential ban in the US.
He entered a prestigious high school at 12, where he added Mandarin proficiency to his natural English, thanks to a strong performance on a national exam. Chew earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from University College London during his military duty. Chew is a reservist officer in the Singaporean army till he turns 50.
He remained in the UK capital for two more years, working as a banker at Goldman Sachs. Through this experience in the financial industry, he eventually met a young Zhang Yiming, the creator of ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, who was building the business in a cramped apartment in Beijing’s university district.
Chew received his MBA from Harvard Business School in 2010, and before Facebook went public in 2012, he interned there during the startup phase giving him his first taste of life in the internet industry. He also met Vivian Kao, his future wife and a Taiwanese-American with whom he shares two children.
Chew does not allow his children to use the app, claiming in November last year that they are “too young.” His TikTok profile, created in February of last year and had just 23 posts, includes videos of him attending the Super Bowl and NBA games and meeting celebrities like Bill Murray.
After graduating from business school, Chew joined the Israeli-Russian Technology billionaire Yuri Milner’s venture capital company DST, where his proficiency in Mandarin allowed him to become a partner focusing on China.
In 2012, before the team established TikTok, he would make his crucial trip to Zhang’s ByteDance, as a result of which Chew and his partners invested in the firm the following year. As a chief financial officer of Xiaomi, a Chinese smartphone manufacturer with ambitions to compete globally with Apple, he oversaw investments in the company.
He joined Xiaomi in 2015 at the age of 32. Three years later, the company went public after Chew assisted in securing the money that made it possible. Although its share performance has been inconsistent subsequently, at the time, this was one of China’s largest-ever initial public offerings in the technology sector.
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In 2019, he was appointed to lead the company’s global business. Zhang convinced Chew to join ByteDance as the company’s first CFO in 2021. Two months later, as the Trump administration tried to force the sale of TikTok’s American assets, he was promoted to chief executive when Kevin Mayer, a former Disney executive, abruptly left the company after three months.
Chew was included in Fortune’s 40 under 40 list in 2021 due to his ascent to the top of the tech business. As part of TikTok’s more significant initiatives to mobilize support to avert a ban in the US and other countries, the low-profile executive is launching a media offensive.
He said in a post appealing to US TikTok users (as reported by Fox News)
“This could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you.”
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