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TikTok C.E.O. Shou Chew’s Path From Quiet Tech Exec to Met Gala Crimson Carpet

Though the Met Gala serves as a branding occasion for Vogue, it has lengthy accepted sponsorships from the tech giants which have threatened the very survival of legacy media publications.

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder, appeared because the ball’s honorary chair in 2012. 4 years later, when Apple was a Met Gala sponsor, its chief government, Tim Prepare dinner, confirmed up in tux and tails. And Instagram provided money in 2022.

The 2024 occasion is sponsored, partially, by TikTok, the social media goliath whose future seems murkier than that of Condé Nast, the writer of Vogue, The New Yorker and different magazines, which has laid off staff and shuttered or offered off a few of its publications in recent times.

TikTok discovered itself in jeopardy final month, when President Biden signed a invoice that gave ByteDance, the Chinese language firm that owns TikTok, 9 months to unload the app or face a ban in america. Within the wake of that political firestorm, Shou Chew, the 41-year-old chief government of TikTok, is anticipated to affix dozens of superstar visitors on the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in Manhattan on Monday night.

He was chosen by Anna Wintour as an honorary chair for the profit, which raises tens of tens of millions of {dollars} annually for the museum’s Costume Institute. Ms. Wintour, the worldwide editorial director of Condé Nast and the editor in chief of Vogue, has run the occasion for 1 / 4 of a century, utilizing her sense of superstar and vogue synergy to create a splashy showcase of among the world’s most influential individuals, a gaggle that has come to incorporate extra social media influencers and fewer one-name stars (Beyoncé, Woman Gaga, Madonna) in recent times.

TikTok could also be loathed by Washington lawmakers who’ve raised issues in regards to the Chinese language authorities’s entry to its 170 tens of millions customers in america, however it stays an plain cultural drive in American life, particularly amongst Gen Z. The app can also be a vogue drive, and the Met Gala supplies many TikTok creators with loads of fodder. That makes the little-known Mr. Chew at the very least as highly effective because the way more recognizable co-chairs of this yr’s celebration — Zendaya, Jennifer Lopez, Dangerous Bunny, Chris Hemsworth and Ms. Wintour herself.

Together with TikTok, the luxurious vogue model Loewe is a sponsor; its artistic director, Jonathan Anderson, will serve alongside Mr. Chew as an honorary chair.

TikTok declined to disclose its monetary contribution to the star-studded occasion. In earlier years, a sponsor is understood to have kicked in roughly $5 million.

Mr. Bezos and Mr. Prepare dinner had been recognized portions after they greeted the likes of Rihanna and Beyoncé at earlier Met Galas. Mr. Chew, then again, is prone to go unrecognized by many of the gawkers who line up behind the barricades alongside Fifth Avenue, lots of whom could also be making TikTok movies on their telephones.

Beginning in 2022, when U.S. lawmakers had been turning up the warmth on TikTok, the corporate modified its public relations technique. As a substitute of retaining a low profile, it launched into a attraction offensive, with the fresh-faced Shou (pronounced “present”) Chew entrance and heart.

As TikTok plowed tens of millions into its lobbying efforts, Mr. Chew met with the heads of assume tanks in Washington and international leaders on the World Financial Discussion board in Davos, Switzerland. At The New York Instances’s DealBook convention in November 2022, he fielded questions on nationwide safety issues whereas sporting denims, an off-the-cuff blue blazer over a white T-shirt, and white sneakers that regarded recent out of the field.

His anticipated look on the Met Gala — as soon as a staid affair for New York blue bloods that has grow to be an East Coast Oscars on Ms. Wintour’s watch — will be seen as a part of TikTok’s shift in the way it presents itself to the general public. However this time round, as a substitute of sitting down with those that have affect over issues of coverage, the TikTok chief might be standing on a crimson carpet earlier than a squadron of photographers.

Mr. Chew, who declined by way of a TikTok consultant to be interviewed for this text, grew up in Singapore. That’s the place he has his predominant residence together with his spouse, Vivian Kao, 42, a onetime Goldman Sachs affiliate, and their three kids. In 2021, the couple spent greater than $60 million on a home within the Queen Astrid Park space of the island nation, in keeping with The Enterprise Instances of Singapore.

The household is very non-public. A uncommon glimpse of Ms. Kao and one in all their kids appeared in a video that Mr. Chew posted on TikTok from a current Taylor Swift live performance at Singapore Nationwide Stadium.

Mr. Chew has stated that his father labored in development and that his mom was a bookkeeper. After attending one in all Singapore’s prime secondary faculties, he accomplished two years of necessary nationwide service within the Singapore Armed Forces, the place he was an officer. From there, he enrolled at College School London.

After graduating in 2006 with a level in economics, he took a job within the London workplace of Goldman Sachs. That was the place he met Nathalie du Preez, who stays a good friend of his.

“We sat on the identical flooring, and he was strolling previous,” Ms. du Preez recalled in a cellphone interview.

In an early dialog, they discovered that that they had each utilized to Harvard Enterprise College. They took espresso breaks collectively at Leonidas Goodies across the nook from the workplace.

Once they arrived at Harvard within the fall of 2008, Ms. du Preez and Mr. Chew shared a experience with a gaggle of individuals certain for Ikea. They had been simply two of the various college students looking out for fairly priced dwelling décor gadgets.

“He’s come a good distance since then,” she stated.

Ms. du Preez and several other different Harvard Enterprise College classmates interviewed for this text recalled Mr. Chew as somebody who was humorous, though they might not recall a selected humorous factor he had stated. Additionally they agreed that he was razor-sharp, however provided no specific examples of his acuity.

They described him as interested in popular culture and sports activities, saying he was a fan of Manchester United and recalling that he had attended a David Guetta present on the Roxy in Boston. They talked about that he favored video video games, together with the soccer sport FIFA, and famous that he was the tidiest of his roommates.

Mr. Chew met the girl who would grow to be his spouse, Ms. Kao, after they had been each at Harvard Enterprise College. A graduate of Wellesley School, she had grown up in Bethesda, Md., and is Taiwanese American.

Mr. Chew and Ms. Kao discovered themselves in enterprise college because the monetary disaster arrived. “We known as it the ‘simply in time’ admissions class, as a result of the markets crashed that fall,” Caren Kelleher, a fellow classmate, stated in an interview.

Though it was a time when huge banks had been failing, a few of Mr. Chew’s fellow enterprise college students had been stunned when he took a summer time internship at Fb, moderately than going into finance. The social media firm was solely 5 years previous and years away from going public.

His classmates later realized he had made a prescient selection, in keeping with Jean Abillama, who lived throughout the road from Mr. Chew in Cambridge, Mass. “He was seeing this huge wave of tech and e-commerce, the tech wave coming to gentle,” she stated.

Grasp’s diploma in hand, he joined DST World, a enterprise capital agency led by Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire who was on his technique to turning into one of the vital necessary non-public buyers in Silicon Valley corporations. Mr. Chew served as Mr. Milner’s level man in China, the place he helped lead investments in Alibaba and the Chinese language ride-sharing service DiDi.

Throughout that point, Mr. Milner supplied a reported $10 million in financing to a news-aggregation app based by the entrepreneur Zhang Yiming, who developed a rapport with Mr. Chew. The app would grow to be ByteDance. Mr. Chew additionally helped with DST World’s funding in Xiaomi, one in all China’s largest cellphone producers.

In 2013, Mr. Chew and Ms. Kao had been married. Two years later, Mr. Chew left DST to grow to be the chief monetary officer of Xiaomi, which he helped take public in 2018.

Mr. Chew was named the chief monetary officer of ByteDance in March 2021. He ascended to the highest TikTok job two months later. In November of that yr, he stepped down as ByteDance’s chief monetary officer.

TikTok’s earlier chief government, Kevin Mayer, had resigned after lower than 4 months on the job, citing the growing strain placed on the corporate by the Trump administration due to its ties to China.

The opposition of U.S. lawmakers didn’t abate through the presidency of Joseph R. Biden Jr. As Mr. Chew labored to maintain lawmakers at bay, he discovered time to attend the 2022 Met Gala with Ms. Kao. He went all-out formal, in conventional white tie and tails; she wore a resplendent floral-patterned robe.

These days, Ms. Kao runs Tamarind World, a household workplace that, in keeping with its web site, “manages investments and philanthropy” for a “Singaporean household.” Its shareholders embrace Mr. Chew and a belief linked to Mr. Chew and Ms. Kao, in keeping with public information.

There was debate about whether or not Mr. Chew — who travels with a small safety element — is the controlling drive at TikTok. Firm sources have instructed The Instances that main strategic choices had been dealt with by Mr. Yiming, amongst others.

Mr. Chew displayed a way of enjoyable in his TikTok deal with — @shou.time — which riffs on the pronunciation of his first title. However the account didn’t have a lot of a following till March 2023, when he was grilled by Congress.

Beneath aggressive questioning, Mr. Chew was made to repeat that he was a citizen of Singapore, not China. He went on to emphasize that TikTok was not managed by the Chinese language Communist Occasion and famous that his spouse is an American, telling his questioners, “By the best way, she was simply born a number of miles away from right here.”

That was the looks that catapulted him into public consciousness. Earlier than the listening to, he had fewer than 20,000 TikTok followers. He now has 3.9 million.

Customers posted clips highlighting belligerent questions from lawmakers. Quite a lot of TikTokers even known as Mr. Chew “zaddy,” a slang time period that refers to an older, enticing man.

On Nov. 8, 2023, TikTok introduced that it will function “the lead sponsor” of this yr’s Metropolitan Museum of Artwork Costume Institute Profit, the formal title of the Met Gala. Days after the announcement, Vogue Singapore revealed a uncommon sit-down interview with Mr. Chew.

He was photographed in Louis Vuitton denims and a velvet Brunello Cucinelli blazer, and he spoke benignly about his necessary service in Singapore’s armed forces in “the jungles of Brunei” and doing diaper responsibility for a 3rd time. “There’s fairly an age hole between this child and the earlier child,” he stated within the interview. “My spouse and I are relearning every part, like altering diapers.”

Together with different prime tech executives, Mr. Chew was known as earlier than Congress once more in January. He pressured that he didn’t dwell in China and stated he was not a member of the Chinese language Communist Occasion.

Whereas turning down interview requests from information organizations digging into TikTok’s Chinese language ties, Mr. Chew gave an interview to a different Condé Nast publication, Wired, throughout a TikTok music competition in Mesa, Ariz., in December 2023.

The Wired article largely saved the give attention to TikTok’s pop-culture footprint whereas seeming to defend it in opposition to its American critics by arguing that “a thinly veiled anti-Chinese language xenophobia has grow to be a dependable a part of the U.S. political playbook.” It additionally included an advance plug for Mr. Chew’s look on the Met Gala.

“It’s very cultural,” Mr. Chew instructed Wired. “Style is an extremely necessary a part of TikTok. Louis Vuitton has 12 million followers on our app.” (The designer now has greater than 13 million TikTok followers.)

Ms. du Preez, the Goldman Sachs colleague and Harvard classmate, stated she was not stunned that Mr. Chew can be inquisitive about teaming up with Vogue and Ms. Wintour, notably at a time when the corporate he leads is making an attempt to indicate that it’s not managed by China.

“The Met Gala is an extremely well-followed night,” she stated. “By way of making pals within the U.S., I feel it will make sense to try this, and everybody who’s going could have a TikTok account.”

Not that she anticipated him to pick a memorable ensemble.

“I’ve little doubt Vivian will gown him in one thing stunning,” Ms. du Preez stated. “And at this level he can get quite a lot of recommendation from anybody about what to put on. I’m positive Anna Wintour may give him suggestions.”

For the report, Mr. Chew is slated to put on one thing from Ralph Lauren, the American designer whose fondness for crimson, white and blue has made him a pure option to outfit U.S. Olympics groups in patriotic garb.

Ryan Mac contributed reporting. Kirsten Noyes contributed analysis.

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