Changpeng Zhao: From McDonald’s Employee to Crypto Billionaire
Roots and Early Years
Changpeng Zhao, also known as CZ, is a prominent figure in the cryptocurrency world, known for founding and leading Binance, the world’s leading cryptocurrency exchange. Born in Jiangsu province, China, CZ’s family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in the late 1980s. Despite facing hardships, CZ worked in various service sector jobs, including McDonald’s, to support his family.
Academic and Corporate Ventures
CZ’s academic journey led him to study computer science at McGill University in Montreal. He began his career in stock trading, developing software for the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Later, he contributed significantly to futures trading software at Bloomberg Tradebook. In 2005, he founded Fusion Systems in Shanghai, known for creating some of the fastest high-frequency trading systems for brokers.
Entry into Cryptocurrency
CZ’s foray into cryptocurrency began in 2013, holding key positions in projects like Blockchain.info and serving as the CTO of OKCoin. In 2017, he left OKCoin to start Binance. A successful initial coin offering raised $15 million, leading Binance to quickly become the top cryptocurrency exchange globally by April 2018.
Recognition and Impact
CZ’s achievements in the crypto sector were recognized by Forbes Magazine in February 2018, ranking him third on their “The Richest People In Cryptocurrency” list. By September 2018, his estimated net worth was around $1.4 billion.
Legal Challenges and Resignation
In a significant turn, CZ stepped down as Binance CEO after pleading guilty to money laundering charges in November 2023. He agreed to pay a $50 million fine as part of a plea deal, separate from Binance’s $4.3 billion settlement with the DOJ. Prosecutors are seeking an 18-month prison sentence for Zhao.
Zhao’s Departure and Future Plans
CZ reflected on his departure, acknowledging his responsibility for his actions and expressing his intention to remain a passive investor in blockchain and other areas. He confirmed his ongoing involvement with Binance in a consultative capacity and revealed plans to stay as a shareholder. However, The New York Times reports that Zhao is barred from active involvement in Binance for three years following the appointment of a monitor.
Following Zhao’s resignation, Binance’s former Global Head of Regional Markets, Richard Teng, took over as CEO. Teng, with extensive experience in traditional financial markets, expressed his commitment to leading Binance in his new role.
CZ’s legacy in the cryptocurrency industry remains significant, marked by his technological contributions and the rapid growth of Binance, albeit overshadowed by recent legal challenges and his departure from the company’s leadership.