Who is Shou Zi Chew, the TikTok CEO testifying before Congress?

Shou Zi Chew (Getty Images)
Shou Zi Chew (Getty Images)

The chief executive of TikTok is set to face a grilling from US lawmakers on Thursday as the political storm surrounding the short-form video platform intensifies. 

The Biden administration is threatening to ban the app entirely in the US, which will likely be the biggest challenge in CEO Shou Zi Chew’s career. TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has faced criticisms over the data it holds on US users, which lawmakers fear could fall into the hands of the Chinese government.

The US is now pushing for TikTok to be sold to an American company to resolve national security concerns. Meanwhile, a bipartisan slate of lawmakers has stepped up efforts to ban the app.

TikTok and its leaders have argued against the moves, launching a campaign to convince US officials that the video app has no ties to the Chinese government.

Mr Chew is set to testify before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee about the app’s data security and privacy practices, and its alleged connections with Beijing.

In the two years since becoming CEO, the 40-year-old Singaporean has kept a relatively low profile. Apart from a few interviews, he operates largely in the background and little is known about how much power he truly holds within the company.

In recent days, he has done the rounds of major US media outlets, trying to reassure the public that TikTok does not pose a threat to US interests.

He has also appealed directly to the app’s US users for help. In a video posted on TikTok’s official account on Monday evening in Washington, he asked them to tell him what they loved about the platform in the comments section.

In the clip, which has garnered more than half a million likes, he says: “This comes at a pivotal moment for us. This could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you.”

But who is Shou Zi Chew, and how did he become TikTok’s CEO?

From humble beginnings

Born and raised in Singapore, Mr Chew is the son of a construction worker and bookkeeper. He said he was uprooted from a modest upbringing at age 12, when high marks on a national exam sent him to an elite Chinese-language school.

He is fluent in Mandarin and English, and was an officer in Singapore’s armed forces – a prestigious posting – while serving his military conscription.

Mr Chew obtained a bachelor’s degree in economics from University College London before heading to Harvard Business School, where he earned an MBA. He also interned at social media giant Facebook while it was still a start-up.

Facebook to TikTok

In 2010, Mr Chew began a five-year stint at DST Global, a venture capital firm helmed by the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner. He secured some of the most lucrative deals in Chinese internet history, including investments in the e-commerce platforms and Alibaba, and the ride-hailing service Didi.

In 2011, he helped lead the company’s $500 million investment in Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi.

He then worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs for two years, before joining Xiaomi in 2015 as its chief financial officer and international business president, shepherding it through its public listing in 2018.

Mr Chew jumped ship to ByteDance in March 2021, becoming the first person to fill the role of CFO at the media giant.

Just two months later, he stepped into the role of TikTok CEO, in the wake of his predecessor Kevin Mayer’s abrupt resignation amid the Trump administration’s attempts to force a sale of TikTok’s US assets.

A father, a golf enthusiast, and a Kevin Hart fan

Nearly a year after he took the helm of the platform, Mr Chew set up his own TikTok account, @shou.time, last February.

With only 18,000 followers – low by his own platform’s standards – Mr Chew’s profile sees him attending football games, travelling, trying Nashville hot chicken, or boating on a lake, often with generic captions such as “love the outdoors”.

He also shows more glamorous glimpses into his life – attending the Super Bowl and NBA games, meeting celebrities like Bill Murray, and attempting a dance with Ciara. 

The father of two, who is married to investment firm CEO Vivian Kao, has also said he does not allow his children to use TikTok as they are “too young”.

Mr Chew has also revealed in interviews that he is a golfing enthusiast and a fan of comedian Kevin Hart.