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Shou Chew

The Banker of TikTok

Shou Chew is a Singaporean who started out at Goldman Sachs where he led investment in Alibaba, Xiaomi, and then Bytedance. He joined Xiaomi, often described as "the Apple of Asia" in 2015 as their CFO which he helped take public in 2018. In 2021 he joined Bytedance, the Chinese AI-based media business that owns TikTok. Three months after joining Bytedance, amid huge political challenges and future uncertainty, he became CEO of TikTok.

TikTok, beyond all its controversies, is today a cultural phenomenon, seeking “to inspire creativity and bring joy” by providing users with “a window to discover, a canvas to create, and bridges for people to connect.”

Bytedance launched TikTok in 2017 as its international platform, and a sister company to Douyan which is available in China, but with no sharing of data or operations between the two businesses.  This, of course, the source of concern about its privacy policies, and how influential the Chinese state is in the international business.  TikTok has continued to argue that there is no influence, and has so avoided attempts to ban the business, or forcibly change its ownership. Concerns also persist on the impacts of its platform on young users.

In September 2021, TikTok reported that it had reached 1 billion users, and earned $4 billion in advertising revenue in that year.

In a 2022 New York Times interview Chew was asked whether he worked “at the behest of the folks at ByteDance and therefore at the behest of the Chinese government” to which he said “I am responsible for all the strategic decisions at TikTok.” He added that ByteDance is “organised the way you would expect an internet company to be organised” with global investors and a board of shareholder and employee representatives. “I am responsible for the decisions at TikTok, but, ultimately, I have to be responsible to the shareholders and to the board as well.”

Chew describes himself as a a 40-year-old father of two who likes to golf and read books on theoretical physics. He continues to be based in Singapore.

After completing his mandatory military service in Singapore, Chew studied economics at University College London, followed by an MBA from Harvard in 2010. He was exposed to Silicon Valley while at Harvard, after he interned one summer at a “startup” that “was called Facebook,” as he put it in an alumni spotlight.

In 2013, he led a group that became one of ByteDance’s earliest investors. In an interview with David Rubenstein, Chew said he stayed in contact with the ByteDance team throughout his career and they eventually reached out to offer him the CFO position. He took over as CEO of TikTok in April 2021. As CEO of TikTok, “I’m most focused on trust building,” he told Rubenstein. “We are a young company and I think trust is something that we have to earn, through actions.”

A recent CNN profile says that Chew doesn’t tweet and has a private, but verified, Instagram account with zero posts. He has shared a handful of videos on TikTok, mostly short clips of his travels and visits to various TikTok offices. But despite running one of the most popular apps on the planet, Chew largely keeps his own life private.

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