It leads the most popular application in the world and, even so, for the vast majority Shou Zi Chew is a complete unknown. This began to change on Thursday, when the discreet CEO of TikTok He tried to defend, before dozens of Democratic and Republican congressmen, the reputation of a platform that the United States could ban for its alleged ties to China. After five hours under the spotlight, he did not convince anyone.
Until now, the COO, Vanessa Pappas, was the visible face of TikTok. She is the one who attended public events in the sector and who had already been questioned in Congress. Meanwhile, Chew has flown it from Singapore, thousands of miles from Washington. The company has used that argument to dismiss allegations about its ties to Beijing. Still, it’s unclear how much decision-making power Chew actually holds. A dozen former executives and employees of the company told ‘The New York Times’ that it is limited and that The person in charge is actually Zhang Yiming, the billionaire founder of the Chinese giant ByteDance.the owner of TikTok.
Chew was born in Singapore in 1983, 40 years ago. She trained at the prestigious Hwa Chong School, an elite center where she became fluent in Mandarin and English. He did military service, like most men in the country, and managed to rise to the rank of officer. Later, he moved to Europe to study economics at University College London.
Although he is known for his role as a technology executive, this enigmatic businessman began working for two years at the American Goldman Sachs, one of the largest investment banks in the world (which is also a ByteDance shareholder). His formative journey also led him to cross the Atlantic. In USAdid his internship at Facebook when Mark Zuckerberg’s project was still a startup and later he obtained an MBA from the renowned Harvard Business School.
Investor in Chinese companies
His experience as an investor at Goldman Sachs led him to sign on as a partner at DST Global, an influential venture capital firm founded in Hong Kong by Russian-Israeli Yuri Milner, one of Silicon Valley’s biggest investors. In 2017, the international journalistic investigation ‘Paradise Papers’ revealed that this firm had served as vehicle of Kremlin to invest in American social networks. DTS built a multi-billion dollar empire by investing in promising internet companies like Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, WhatsApp or Airbnb. For five years, Chew was key in expanding that business by driving investment in large Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Xiaomi or ByteDance.
In the high spheres of power, favors are collected. In 2015, Chew signed on as Xiaomi’s CFO. The technology company, known for having popularized its range of mobile phones, said at the time that the Singaporean investor “recognized the value of Xiaomi early on.” Chew was also the company’s president of international business and guided it through its 2018 IPO.
Six years later, in March 2021, Chew joined the parent that owns TikTok, in which he had also invested, as CFO. However, two months later, the platform’s CEO, Kevin Mayer, abruptly resigned following accelerated pressure from the Donald Trump administration for ByteDance to divest its US business. Chew assumed the helm of the company expecting to be able to navigate a ocean of geopolitical turmoil.
Two years later, Chew faces his toughest mission yet. This Thursday he did not seem to convince Washington that TikTok is a safe space. However, the impression is very different if one takes into account the hundreds of messages of support you are getting from many users. If the authorities cannot be seduced, the strategy involves an aggressive public relations campaign that mobilizes citizens. In just one day, Chew’s newly launched account on the platform has grown from 18,000 followers to almost 94,000. Still, that maneuver might not be enough. TikTok is up to its neck in water.