Who Is TikTok CEO Shou Chew? Everything to Know

Shou Zi Chew testified in front of Congress on Thursday in an attempt to prevent a potential U.S. ban on TikTok

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew listens to questions from U.S. representatives during his testimony at a Congressional hearing on TikTok in Washington, DC on March 23rd, 2023
Photo: Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency/Getty

TikTok's CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress on Thursday to address lawmakers' concerns about the safety of the social media platform.

The tech executive testified in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, answering representatives' questions about TikTok's security and privacy risks.

Politicians have been talking about banning the app since it exploded in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Then-President Donald Trump first announced his plan to ban the platform from operating in the U.S. in April 2020, an attempt that was later paused by President Joe Biden's administration in February 2021.

In March 2023, however, Biden's administration endorsed a bipartisan bill that would empower the government to eliminate TikTok in the U.S. The administration also reportedly told TikTok to sell the app to avoid facing a ban, per the New York Times.

TikTok is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, which has caused politicians to have national security concerns surrounding the Chinese government gaining access to data from U.S. users.

Ahead of the hearing, Chew posted a video on TikTok's official profile announcing that the app had officially registered 150 million U.S. users. He also appealed to TikTok users for their help, asking them to share what they loved and wanted their elected officials to know about the platform in the comments.

Chew made another TikTok after wrapping up his testimony to share his thoughts on the hearing. "A lot was said at the hearing, but I hope you heard the message, the important message, that it is our responsibility to protect more than 150 million Americans who love and use our platform," he said before outlining a series of commitments to users.

The CEO named protecting users' safety and privacy as the company's top priorities, and said that the data of U.S. users will be stored "on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel." He also stated that TikTok will ensure that it "remains a platform for free expression and that it cannot be manipulated by any government."

Here's everything to know about TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.

He's from Singapore

Shouzi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., during an interview for an episode of "The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations" at the TikTok office in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022
Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg/Getty

Chew was born and raised in Singapore on Jan. 1, 1983, to his construction worker father and bookkeeping mother, per the Wall Street Journal.

Though the tech CEO left the country to attend school in London, he has since returned to Singapore, where he resides with his wife and two children.

Chew's home country became a topic of discussion during his congressional hearing after a representative asked if his own kids were on TikTok. While defending the safety measures the platform has taken to defend minors, Chew stated that his children do not use TikTok because they live in Singapore, where the version of the app for users under 13 is not available. However, he stated that if he lived in the U.S., where it is available, they would be permitted to use it.

He attended Harvard Business School and interned at Facebook

Chew Shou Zi, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Xiaomi Corp., left, shakes hands with a guest during the company's listing ceremony at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in Hong Kong, China, on Monday, July 9, 2018
Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg/Getty

After graduating from the Hwa Chong Institution in Singapore, Chew completed his mandatory military service for the Singaporean government, where he became an officer. He then went on to study at University College London, graduating with a degree in economics.

Chew remained in London after completing his studies and joined Goldman Sachs as an investment banker. He later moved to the U.S. to attend Harvard Business School, where he first entered the tech industry with a summer internship at Facebook.

Following his Harvard graduation, Chew worked for venture-capital firm DST Global. It was there that he first encountered the then-30-person team that would become ByteDance. Chew and his partners invested in the company, which would later go on to develop TikTok.

He met his wife Vivian Kao at Harvard

Shou Zi Chew and Vivian Kao attend The 2022 Met Gala Celebrating "In America: An Anthology of Fashion" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 02, 2022 in New York City
Theo Wargo/WireImage

Chew met his future wife Vivian Kao while they were both students at Harvard Business School. Kao graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in economics and Chinese studies before pursuing her MBA at HBS, per her LinkedIn.

Chew and Kao got close when they were both interning in California after their first year in business school. "So many of our classmates were also working in the Bay Area. It was an amazing summer," Kao later recalled in an alumni profile of the couple.

After graduation, the pair moved around a lot, living in London, Singapore, and Hong Kong before settling in Beijing. While Chew built his career in the tech industry, Kao has worked in several different fields over the years. "I just love startups. I'm industry agnostic," she said.

Now based in Singapore, Kao works as the CEO of Tamarind Global and serves on the Board of Trustees at Wellesley College, her alma mater. She and Chew are also parents to two young children, whom the TikTok CEO recently said are 8 and 6 years old. Last May, Kao and Chew attended the 2022 Met Gala in New York City.

Chew mentioned his wife during his opening statement to Congress. "I actually met my wife here," he said. "By the way, she was born just a few miles away from here, in Virginia."

He's been the CEO of TikTok since May 2021

Andrew Ross Sorkin speaks with Tik Tok CEO Shou Chew during the New York Times DealBook Summit in the Appel Room at the Jazz At Lincoln Center on November 30, 2022 in New York City
Michael M. Santiago/Getty

Chew first joined TikTok as chief financial officer in early 2021. He was named chief executive officer not long after, following the resignation of Kevin Mayer, a former Disney exec who held the role for just three months.

Since stepping into the top role, much of Chew's time has been devoted to defending the app to government officials who question the company's relationship with the Chinese government. In addition to his testimony in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chew has met with regulators in Europe and appeared at the World Economic Forum in January to speak with various global leaders.

While speaking in front of Congress, Chew reiterated that he has never had any discussions with Chinese government officials during his time as CEO.

His testimony has divided lawmakers and TikTok users

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 23, 2023 in Washington, DC
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

During TikTok's congressional hearing, Chew faced intense questioning from both parties about TikTok's safety measures, data use and possible affiliation with the Chinese government. According to CNN, the CEO spent the week leading up to his testimony in long prep sessions to practice his responses and sharpen his presentation skills ahead of the interrogation.

In terms of support from TikTok users, Chew's preparation seemingly payed off. In the hours after the hearing, users flocked to the comment sections of viral videos of Chew's appearance to applaud his testimony.

Lawmakers, however, were frustrated with Chew's responses. Rep. Tony Cardenas, a Democrat from California, accused Chew of avoiding tough questions and called him a "good dancer with words."

"You have been one of the few people to unite this committee," Cárdenas told Chew before comparing him to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who testified in front of the same committee in 2018.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin and the chair of the House Select Committee on China, told CNN after the hearing that the committee cannot ignore the national security concerns surrounding TikTok — even if it alienates younger voters.

"Republicans [and] Democrats agreed this is a threat," he said. "So we can't ignore it just because of concerns about alienating some teenagers on this app."

"It's a national security issue," he continued. "We have to deal with it before it's too late."

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