TikTok names ByteDance finance chief Shouzi Chew as its new chief executive
TikTok, the popular short-video app, has named ByteDance Ltd. Chief Financial Officer Shouzi Chew as chief executive, filling the top leadership position after the departure of Kevin Mayer last year. Vanessa Pappas, who has served as interim head, has been named chief operating officer.
Beijing-based ByteDance is TikTok’s parent company. In a statement Friday, TikTok said Chew, who joined ByteDance last month as CFO, will retain that position at that company. Previously, Chew spent a number of 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.
Mayer had left one of the top jobs at Walt Disney Co. last year to lead TikTok, which has become one of the world’s most popular apps. He departed only a few months later after then-President Trump ordered ByteDance to sell TikTok in the U.S. or face a ban, citing national security concerns over its Chinese ownership. Trump left office without a resolution.
Chew, who hails from Singapore, is fluent in English and Chinese and can easily navigate the halls of Chinese tech companies and the boardrooms of banks such as Goldman Sachs, where he spent time in its investment banking unit. He also previously worked for DST Investment Management, which took a chance on ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming as an early investor in the company.
The move to hire Chew is a sign that ByteDance is moving toward an IPO of some of its businesses.
TikTok is still enjoying explosive popularity, but Chew will have to navigate the political tensions between the U.S. and China as well as increasing concerns about data privacy, especially involving children who use the app.
“The leadership team of Shou and Vanessa sets the stage for sustained growth,” 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.”
Pappas will maintain her current responsibilities, including managing TikTok’s key operations, the company said.
Zhang had discussed deals with a number of U.S. tech giants, including Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp., but ultimately decided to wait out the crisis brought on by Trump’s executive order, 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 has been no indication, however, that ByteDance will be forced to go through with the sale.
The social video app faces growing scrutiny from the U.S. government, rising competition from rivals like Facebook and the defection of top creators.
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 Inc. or Snapchat. TikTok studies usage closely and considers hundreds of data points, including which websites people browse and how they type, down to keystroke rhythms and patterns.
It’s 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 allow.
In 2019, ByteDance was fined $5.7 million by the U.S. 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 the U.K. and Europe over privacy concerns.
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