Shou Chew: How a Facebook intern became the boss of TikTok

In the summer of 2009, Shou Zi Chew was working as a student intern for Facebook. Just over a decade later, he had worked his way up to be the head of the US tech giant’s biggest competitor.

The 40-year-old Singaporean will follow his former boss Mark Zuckerberg when he appears before Congress on Thursday to face questions about concerns surrounding the world’s most popular app.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will ask him about allegations relating to TikTok’s ties to the Chinese government, which has led some US lawmakers to call for an outright ban of the viral app over fears that it is used as a tool for spying and spreading propaganda.

The Congress members may also take the opportunity to get to know the enigmatic tech leader a bit more, as it is one of the only public appearances he has ever made in the US despite TikTok being used by more than 150 million people in the country.

So little is known of him that as of 22 March, 2023, his Wikipedia page is just six sentences long. By contrast, Mr Zuckerberg’s page stretches to more than 6,000 words.

So what is known about him?

After growing up in Singapore, he moved to London for a bachelor’s degree in economics at University College London, which he graduated from in 2006. His LinkedIn profile shows that he then worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs before moving to Boston for an MBA at Harvard Business School. Unlike Mr Zuckerberg, he actually finished his course at Harvard.

It is on his Harvard alumni page, which appears to now be only accessible through archived versions, where he claims to have interned at Facebook. “I was working for a startup that summer,” he said. “It was called Facebook.”

It was also there that he met his wife Vivian Kao “over email”.

Together they have two children, neither of which he claims now use TikTok. “They’re too young for that,” he said during a rare public appearance at The New York Times’ 2022 DealBook Summit.

After Harvard, the pair moved to China where he worked as a venture capital banker in Beijing. One of the investments he made was in TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, which at the time was a small machine-learning startup.

His interest in the tech sector drew him to his next major role as chief financial officer of Chinese phone maker Xiaomi. During his time there, he helped take the company public in what was one of the country’s biggest tech IPOs in history.

He joined TikTok in March 2021, also serving as a CFO before taking on the top role of CEO just a few months later in May.

Under his stewardship, Mr Chew pushed TikTok to become the biggest Chinese tech success story the US and the world has ever seen. But it is because of its origin and the unavoidable links to the Chinese state – all companies in China must agree to share data with the Commuist Party if requested – that the app’s very existence is now under threat.

It means Mr Chew’s low public profile compared to other tech leaders is unlikely to last long, with the scrutiny surrounding TikTok and its CEO expected to keep growing until either a ban is put in place or a resolution is found.


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