Mr Chew then joined a venture capital firm and led its investments in Chinese tech giants like JD.com, Alibaba, Xiaomi and later, ByteDance.
In 2015 he joined smartphone company Xiaomi as chief financial officer and years later helped engineer one of the largest tech initial public offerings in China’s history.
When ByteDance offered Mr Chew the CFO role in March 2021, he agreed. A mere two months later he was appointed TikTok CEO, with founder Zhang Yiming praising his “deep knowledge of the company and industry”.
Later that same year, Mr Chew stepped down from his role at ByteDance to concentrate solely on leading TikTok as CEO.
Mr Chew assumed the role of CEO following the resignation of American and former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, who had faced mounting pressure from lawmakers over security concerns.
In September last year the New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources, that ByteDance has “kept optics in mind” when choosing TikTok’s chief executives.
The sources told the paper that Mr Chew straddles the Western and Chinese business worlds, with his country of origin Singapore offering a hedge against any potential crackdown from China or the US. Observers have made similar comments in other media reports.
“Mr Chew’s role can be viewed as symbolic and non-confrontational,” said Mr Alex Capri, a research fellow at the Hinrich Foundation and senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore’s Business School.
“But Mr Chew’s nationality won’t have any effect on the fundamental issue facing TikTok, which is widespread mistrust and fears about data security and privacy when it comes to a Chinese company.”
Mr Muhammad Faizal Abdul Rahman, a research fellow at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies who studies geopolitical competition and digital technologies, said that the significance of Mr Chew’s nationality may have been overstated.
“Given his familiarity with the social media industry, business leadership and Chinese tech scene, it is not surprising that TikTok finds him a good fit for a CEO to help the company compete with Western competitors and grow market share and revenue … He has the necessary tech executive credentials to lead TikTok,” he added.
“What Mr Chew is going through reflects the current reality where multinational private sector actors are increasingly drawn into issues of international security and caught in the conflict or competition for influence between the major powers.”