Meet Changpeng Zhao, the CEO of Binance and the richest man in crypto, who worked at a gas station before making his $30 billion fortune

Changpeng Zhao is the founder and CEO of Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. With a net worth of around $30 billion as of October 25, he’s the 33rd-richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Zhao — who’s often known as CZ — is one of the most prominent people in cryptocurrency, as well as the wealthiest person in the industry.

Crypto winter has taken a toll across the industry, and Zhao is no exception. His real-time estimated net worth is a far cry from the peak of his personal wealth: His net worth peaked at $95.9 billion earlier this year, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index shows.

Zhao’s interest in cryptocurrency began in 2013 when he first learned about Bitcoin, according to a 2018 Forbes report. His career in the up-and-coming digital currency industry started at, where he served as the head of development.

Zhao founded Binance in 2017 and powered it to become the biggest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume. The exchange handles some $76 billion in daily trading volume, according to Protocol. In 2021 alone, Binance generated over $20 billion in revenue, according to Bloomberg. Binance is bigger than its four largest competitors combined, per Bloomberg.

Zhao and Binance did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

Zhao was born in a rural village in Jiangsu province in China in 1977 to a family of teachers, per Fortune.

Nanjing, Suzhou, China. Fang Daqing

Zhao, who is Chinese-Canadian, moved to Vancouver in the late 1980s with his family, according to Forbes.

Zhao’s father, Shengkai, was a professor who was exiled to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution in China, according to the Maclean’s report.

Zhao said in a September blog post that his family had to wait in line outside the Canadian embassy for three days to procure visas. He added that he was “lucky to have been able to leave at that time.”

Shengkai immigrated to Canada to pursue a doctorate degree at the University of British Columbia, per Maclean’s. After the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, Zhao and his family followed his father and moved to Vancouver.

Zhao said he experienced food rationing growing up in rural China. “You get a ticket to buy meat,” Zhao told Fortune in a March interview. Zhao told Maclean’s that it wasn’t until he moved to Canada that he ever drank fresh milk, because it was so rare to find it in China.

When Zhao moved to Canada, he held a number of part-time jobs, including working as a cook at McDonald’s, according to the Maclean’s report.

Zhao also worked at a Chevron gas station and as a referee for volleyball games in his teens to earn money, per Maclean’s.

Zhao said in the blog post that moving to Canada “changed my life forever.” He added that he spent his “best years as a teenager” growing up in Vancouver.

According to a 2018 Forbes report, Zhao is frugal: He doesn’t own cars, yachts, or luxury watches, and his “only indulgence” were three mobile phones he owned at the time.

Zhao studied computer science at McGill University in Montreal, the same school where his father worked as a visiting scholar, per Maclean’s.

McGill University

Zhao’s interest in technology was fueled by a $14,000 286 DOS computer that his father — “a math whiz and programmer” — bought when Zhao was in his teens, per Maclean’s. Before attending McGill, Zhao enrolled in programming classes in high school and started coding when he was just 16 years old, per Bloomberg.

After graduating from university, Zhao had a successful career working on the Tokyo Exchange and Bloomberg’s Tradebook, per Forbes. Zhao, then only 27 years old, was promoted thrice in less than two years to manage teams in New Jersey, London, and Tokyo.

In 2005, Zhao quit the corporate life and moved to Shanghai to become a partner at the trading system company Fusion Systems. According to Zhao’s Linkedin page, he left the company in December 2013.

The vast majority of Zhao’s multibillion-dollar wealth comes from his controlling stake in Binance Holdings, per Bloomberg.

Cryptocurrency exchange Binance founder and CEO Changpeng Zhao speaks at a Binance fifth anniversary

While Bloomberg estimates Zhao is worth around $30.6 billion from his majority stake in the cryptocurrency platform, it’s not a complete picture of his wealth. Bloomberg said it did not include cryptocurrency directly held by Zhao in his net worth, as the amount is not publicly available.

Zhao has personal cryptocurrency holdings in Bitcoin and Binance Coin, per a September report by Bloomberg. In 2021, Binance had over 90 million users, Bloomberg reported, citing an estimate from Zhao.

Zhao is said to have a considerable amount of wealth from Bitcoin, having bought $1 million worth of the digital currency when it was just $600 a unit, per Maclean’s.

But Zhao’s journey at Binance has been far from smooth sailing — the company has been embroiled in several controversies.

Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance

In October, some $570 million worth of cryptocurrency traded on Binance was stolen in a blockchain hack, according to the New York Times. Zhao told CNBC in an October interview that no users had lost money in the attack, and that “software code is never bug-free.” The Binance hack is one of the biggest cryptocurrency hacks of all time.

Binance said in a blog post that in the event of a hack in the future, its validators will decide if the hacked funds will be frozen. The decision would be made through a series of “on-chain governance votes” — the system that manages and implements changes to the blockchain. Binance added they would also consider implementing a “bug bounty reward system,” so users are incentivized to report bugs.

Binance has also been criticized for its ties to China. Binance only delisted Chinese yuan-based trading pairs on the exchange in 2021, and served customers in China for several years, according to a September article by Protos. Chinese authorities banned all crypto-related transactions in September 2021.

Zhao responded to these allegations in a blog post published in September, where he clarified that Binance was never incorporated in China and said it does not “operate like a Chinese company culturally.” He added that he is “a Canadian citizen, period.”

Binance also garnered controversy for enabling Iran-based users to trade cryptocurrencies on the exchange despite US-imposed sanctions, according to a July report by Reuters. Binance informed traders in Iran to liquidate their accounts in November 2018, but seven traders continued until September 2021 to use the account even after the ban. Binance did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment at the time.

Zhao is currently based in Dubai, according to a June report by Forbes. He was previously based in Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands in Singapore

Zhao moved to Dubai in late 2021, where he leases an office to run what Bloomberg described as “a new phase” of Binance. Zhao also owns an apartment and a minivan in the city, the publication reported.

“I have always liked placed with diverse cultures,” Zhao told the Gulf News in an August interview. He described the city as “very pro-crypto,” according to a 2021 interview with Bloomberg.

Previously, Zhao lived in Singapore from 2019 to 2021. The city-state spent hundreds of millions of dollars investing in the sector amidst a crackdown on the industry in the US, UK, and China.

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