Singaporean Chew Shou Zi named new CEO of popular Chinese video app TikTok

Shou Zi Chew joined TikTok parent ByteDance in March and will remain in his post at the Chinese company.
Shou Zi Chew joined TikTok parent ByteDance in March and will remain in his post at the Chinese company.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - TikTok, the popular short-video app, named ByteDance chief financial officer Chew Shou Zi as chief executive officer, filling the top leadership position after the departure of Mr Kevin Mayer last year.

Ms Vanessa Pappas, who served as interim head, was named chief operating officer.

Mr Chew, who joined TikTok parent ByteDance in March, will remain in his post at the Chinese company, according to a statement on Friday (April 30).

Previously, Mr Chew spent several years as CFO and international business president of Xiaomi Corp, where he took the gadget maker public in one of the largest-ever Chinese tech listings on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Mr Chew, who is from Singapore, is fluent in English and Chinese. He is experienced in navigating the halls of Chinese tech companies and the boardrooms of banks like Goldman Sachs Group, where he spent time in its investment banking unit.

He also previously worked for Mr Yuri Milner's DST Global, which took a chance on ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming as an early investor in the company.

The move to hire Mr Chew is a sign ByteDance is moving towards an initial public offering of some of its businesses.

TikTok is still enjoying explosive popularity, but Mr Chew will have to navigate the political tensions between the United States and China as well as increasing concerns about data privacy, especially involving children who populate the app.

"The leadership team of Shou and Vanessa sets the stage for sustained growth," Mr Zhang said in the statement.

"Shou brings deep knowledge of the company and industry, having led a team that was among our earliest investors, and having worked in the technology sector for a decade. He will add depth to the team, focusing on areas including corporate governance and long-term business initiatives."

Ms Pappas will maintain her current responsibilities, including managing TikTok's key operations, the company said.

Mr Mayer had left one of the top jobs at Walt Disney last year to lead TikTok, which has become one of the world's hottest apps with more than 100 million users in the US alone. He departed only a few months later after former US president Donald Trump ordered ByteDance to sell TikTok in the US or face a ban, citing national security concerns over its Chinese ownership.

Mr Zhang had discussed deals with a number of US tech giants, including Microsoft and Oracle but ultimately decided to wait out the crisis, anticipating less hostility after the presidential election. TikTok never signed a final agreement, and the deal remains stuck in limbo while the Biden administration conducts a review. There is no indication ByteDance will be forced to go through with the sale.

TikTok's success is driven by a powerful algorithm that predicts what people want to see next. The app goes beyond even the systems used by Facebook or Snapchat. TikTok studies usage closely and considers hundreds of data points including what websites people browse and how they type, down to keystroke rhythms and patterns.

It is this mountain of data, collected from a largely young user base, that underpinned the Trump administration's concerns over what might happen if the information fell into the hands of the Chinese government, something TikTok has said it would never hand over.

In 2019, ByteDance was fined US$5.7 million (S$7.6 million) by the US Federal Trade Commission to settle allegations that Musical.ly, which ByteDance bought and folded into TikTok, illegally collected information from minors. It was the largest FTC penalty in a children's privacy case at the time. This month, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of millions of children in Britain and Europe over privacy concerns.