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Who is TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew? Key facts ahead of his congressional hearing.

Shou Zi Chew interned at Facebook and studied at Harvard Business School before becoming TikTok’s CEO. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
7 min

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will testify for his first congressional hearing on Thursday, where he is likely to face intense grilling from politicians from both parties who argue that the popular app, which has 150 million U.S. users, cannot be trusted.

Here’s a quick guide for what to know about Chew, a 40-year-old Singaporean who interned at Facebook and studied at Harvard Business School before becoming the public face of one of the most popular — and contentious — apps in the United States.

TikTok's CEO testifies before Congress. Follow our live updates.

Who is TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew?

Chew was born and raised in Singapore, the island nation in Southeast Asia that has become a prominent bridge for international business between China and the West. “The thing about growing up on a small island … is you get wanderlust at a very young age,” he said in an interview last year.

After completing his military service — mandatory for most male Singaporeans — he left to study economics at University College London (UCL), a top British university, graduating in 2006 and working at investment bank Goldman Sachs for two years.

He then moved to the United States to get his master’s degree at Harvard Business School. “I remember struggling with this decision,” he said in a speech to UCL graduates in 2022, as he was unsure whether taking time to do the master’s degree “would enhance or delay my career.” However, he adds, “I’m glad that I did choose to go, despite my own uncertainties, as it was there that I met my wife.”

Chew met Vivian Kao by email when they were both completing summer internships in California, he told a Harvard alumni magazine. Kao, who previously also worked at Goldman Sachs, was working for a clean-energy start-up at the time. Chew’s internship was with Facebook, the then-ascendant social network that is now a bitter competitor to TikTok.

Chew and Kao have two children. Chew is based in Singapore, although he has spent many of the previous several weeks in Washington, meeting with members of Congress as part of his lobbying efforts for TikTok.

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How did Shou Zi Chew become CEO of TikTok?

The Washington Post tech reporters break down the many challenges facing TikTok as Washington raises concerns about the potential risks of Chinese-owned tech. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

Chew says he was first introduced to DST Global, a venture capital firm that bet on major tech firms including Facebook and Twitter, while he was working at Goldman Sachs. After completing Harvard Business School, he worked with DST Global as a partner, where he helped to coordinate one of the earliest investments in ByteDance by building relationships with its two young founding engineers, Liang Rubo and Zhang Yiming.

He spent five years working with Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi, where he helped lead an initial public offering, before being appointed CEO of TikTok and chief financial officer of its parent company, ByteDance.

What has Shou Zi Chew said about his career path?

Chew has framed his career path as similar to that of many start-up entrepreneurs, telling his fellow graduates: “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or where life would take me. In hindsight, there was no big plan. … I put myself out there, and I took chances when they came.”

He has also advised graduates to “leave your comfort zone,” even if it feels “uncertain and uncomfortable” — advice that may feel particularly pertinent ahead of his first congressional hearing, where he will face questioning from several unfriendly lawmakers who argue the foreign-owned app is a danger to the American public.

Is TikTok a Chinese company?

TikTok is owned by the Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance. Biden administration officials, like Trump appointees before them, have argued that TikTok should be sold to a U.S. buyer to resolve concerns about how the app could provide Americans’ data to the Chinese government or promote Chinese propaganda. TikTok’s leaders have argued those concerns are unfounded, and the United States has never provided evidence for those claims.

TikTok argues that it operates independently. It says it stores U.S. user data on servers in the United States and Singapore, that it has not been asked to provide U.S. user data to the Chinese government, and that it would not do so if asked.

Chew has told members of Congress in one-on-one meetings that his company is unaffiliated with the Chinese government, and stressed in a letter to lawmakers that he is “a Singaporean based in Singapore.”

To TikTok, or not to TikTok, that is the question. (Video: Illustration by Elena Lacey/The Washington Post; iStock)

However, this has not been enough to assuage fears that Chew and TikTok are ultimately answerable to ByteDance in Beijing. Former TikTok employees and technical experts have argued that as long as the app’s top decision-makers work in a country skilled at using the web to spread propaganda, surveil the public, gain influence and squash dissent, risks with the app remain.

Governments around the world have moved to ban or restrict TikTok amid security fears, while the U.K. public broadcaster BBC and Denmark’s public broadcaster have also advised staff to delete TikTok from corporate phones over privacy concerns.

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What can we expect from Shou Zi Chew’s first congressional hearing?

Chew and TikTok have mounted a sophisticated and aggressive lobbying campaign in recent months ahead of the hearing. Chew has been involved in a vigorous charm offensive, giving several interviews and meeting lawmakers, while the company has rolled out policy changes intended to assuage concerns about data privacy, misinformation and harms to children.

Chew previously told The Washington Post that he intends to tell lawmakers during the hearing that the largely lighthearted entertainment app now has more than 150 million monthly active users in the United States — a 50 percent gain in the past two years — and that a ban would stomp on their speech.

He has also, with help from a high-level preparatory team, worked to steel himself for congressional members’ responses, which probably will include several tough questions designed to elicit viral sound bites.

In meetings with lawmakers, Chew has worked to provide technical details of Project Texas, a restructuring plan that TikTok says would neutralize the risk of data theft or misuse by the Chinese government, and talked at length about the company’s investments in children’s safety efforts and content moderation, according to people who have attended. He has called on lawmakers to push for industry-wide regulations that would hold TikTok and its American rivals to the same set of rules.

He has also urged them to think past the counter-lobbying of TikTok’s competitors, most notably Facebook parent company Meta, which The Post first reported last year had funded a nationwide media and lobbying campaign designed to portray its rival as a generational threat.

Chew has also used his own platform in his lobbying efforts. In a recently uploaded video, Chew, dressed casually in jeans and a hoodie, emphasized that 5 million U.S. businesses used that app and that the company had 7,000 employees in the United States.

“Some politicians have started talking about banning TikTok. Now this could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you,” he said, urging users to post comments with “what you want your elected representatives to know about what you love about TikTok.”

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Cat Zakrzewski and Cristiano Lima contributed to this report.