By Michelle Phipps-Evans
Satya Narayana Nadella, an Indian American, recently made history when he was named the third chief executive officer of Microsoft on Feb. 4, 2014. According to Microsoft, the multinational computer giant, Nadella brings “a relentless drive for innovation and a spirit of collaboration to his new role.”
At the company for 22 years, Nadella was executive vice-president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group, responsible for building and running the company’s computing platforms, developer tools and cloud services.
Nadella’s rise only underscores that a number of Asian Americans have enjoyed a place in technology-related careers, despite certain challenges and setbacks. Although there are several, here’s a short list of a few high-profiled ones.
Web-portal pioneer; co-founder of Yahoo! Inc.
Jerry Yang is a Taiwanese-born American Internet entrepreneur as the co-founder and former chief executive of Yahoo! Inc., the globally known web portal. Back in late 1994 when Yang saw that his quirky personal website was receiving 100,000 visitors a day, he saw its potential to become a web directory for every user. He took a hiatus from earning his Stanford engineering degree, and in less than a year and a half, venture capitalists maneuvered Yahoo! to one of the richest initial public offerings or IPOs in Silicon Valley history.
Suddenly Yang and partner David Filo were millionaire boy-wonders who became icons of the Internet craze. Within two years, Yahoo!’s market valuation had shot up to $30 billion, putting Yang’s 11 percent stake at more than $3 billion by the time he was 32. The status of controlling shareholder was ceded to another Asian named Masayoshi Son whose Softbank snapped up more than a third of Yahoo!’s shares. However, Yang remains the cheerleader, strategist and public face for the world’s most popular web portal. Today Yahoo! boasts 230 million visitors per day and is venturing into everything from ecommerce to business services. As of September 2013, according to Forbes magazine, Yang is worth $1.7 billion.
The now-45-year-old Yang was born in Taiwan, and his father died when he was 2. As he was entering his teen years, he migrated with his grandmother, mother and younger brother and settled in San Jose, Calif. After he and fellow electrical engineering student Filo hit on the idea of a web directory, they hacked code to sort hyperlinks into hierarchies, giving birth to “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” He holds a master’s of science degree and a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University. A resident of Los Altos Hills, Calif., Yang is married and has two children.
David Sun, chief operations officer, Kingston Technology Corporation
John Tu, president, Kingston Technology Corporation
David Sun, 62, and business partner John Tu, 73, founded Kingston Technology, a multinational computer technology company that develops, manufactures, sells and supports flash memory products and other computer-related memory products, out of a garage in 1987. The pair sold their 80 percent stake of the Fountain Valley, Calif.-based company to Masayoshi Son’s venture capital firm, Softbank for $1.5 billion in 1996. Three years later, they repurchased that stake for $450 million after market demand for DRAM, the form of memory that stores information on chip products, declined. The company is headquartered in Fountain Valley, Calif.
Originally from Taiwan, Sun is the president of the David and Diana Sun Foundation, which, in the last few years, has given millions to vocational and high schools in his birth country. Sun holds a bachelor’s of arts and science degree from Tatung University in Taiwan. Tu, an active philanthropist, donated $1.2 million to the University of California, Irvine, to give an iPad to every first-year medical student at the school in 2011. He is also the main benefactor of the Freedom Writers program, an initiative to improve the academic outlook of students in poor communities. Born in China in 1941, Tu grew up in Taiwan, and studied electrical engineering at Technische Hochschule Darmstadt in Germany before he and his first wife came to the United States and opened a gift shop in Scottsdale, Arizona. Years later, he sold it for a tidy profit and moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s where he met Sun.
Together they started a computer component maker called Camminton and sold it before founding Kingston, which they both jointly retain a 20 percent stake in the company. Both men, who live in California, are worth around $4 billion each according to Forbes.
Sharon X. Ling
Principal engineer at JHU APL
Sharon X. Ling is a principal engineer in the space department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. APL is a nonprofit center for engineering, research, and development that works with federal agencies and private-sector clients.
Ling is the supervisor of the lab’s electronic packaging section, where she leads the packaging design effort for spacecraft subsystem electronics from conceptual packaging design to integration, as well as mission-critical trade studies and reliability assessments.
Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Ling’s parents were high school teachers who taught her to seek out science and knowledge. She came to the United States as a student, and in 1990, earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa. In 1997, she earned her doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland-College Park.
In other published reports, Ling said she loves the detailed technical aspect of her job, from concept, design and analysis to integration, testing and delivery of flight hardware. She has collaborated with 43 co-authors from 1999 to 2011, and has been cited by four authors.
Albert Y.C. Yu
Microprocessor Architect; Intel Corporation, Sr. Vice President (retired)
Albert Y. C. Yu joined Intel in 1972, and established himself as the mastermind of the company’s microprocessor architecture. By the time he retired in September 2002 from his post as Intel’s chief technology officer for all microprocessor research and development, he had become the tech czar for the company’s rise to global chip-making dominance. Yu strategized the creation of six generations of microprocessors, from the 80386 all the way to the latest Pentium 4, which has become the world’s highest volume chip. He also led the teams that developed the Itanium-T processor family for the business server market. Yu’s status as a Silicon Valley legend keeps him very much in the spotlight. He sits on boards at Berkeley, Stanford and Harvard and the Tech Museum in San Jose, Calif. In addition to nearly three dozen technical works, he authored a Chinese-language best-seller, Insider’s View of Intel and Creating the Digital Future (The Free Press, 1998).
Yu, who was born in 1941 in Shanghai, China, came to the United States to study electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology where he earned a bachelor of science. His first paying job was soldering cables for high-energy physics experiments during his sophomore year. Later, he received a masters and doctorate from Stanford University before working at Fairchild Semiconductor, the company founded in part by Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce who, in July 1968, would leave to found Intel.
Yu enjoys tennis, swimming, hiking and fooling around with his PC. His only regret is not having forced his two kids to learn to speak at least one Chinese dialect. Now retired from Intel, Yu is chairman of OneAngstrom LLC. He is still active investing and mentoring high technology companies. He is a member of the Committee 100.
First Asian-American Software Tycoon; founder of Computer Associates
Charles Wang is the world’s first Asian software tycoon. As a young man with a degree from a community college in Queens, NY, and a determination to enter a new field called “programming,” in 1976, Wang and a partner secured exclusive North American right to sell licenses to a Swiss disk operating system. The software’s unique sorting routine gave it significant speed advantage, which proved critical when primitive vacuum-tube mainframes strained to process every byte of data. Wang’s Computer Associates grew at breakneck pace. By the early 1980s, the only serious rival on the independent software landscape was Bill Gates and a small company called Microsoft.
The eventual success of the Windows operating system let Microsoft pull ahead by the early 1990s, but Wang didn’t let the challenge distract him. He accelerated an already voracious acquisition strategy. By 1998 Computer Associates reached $25-billion in market capitalization. Later, he bought the New York Islanders hockey team and became a leading light on the international charity circuit. Wang’s flamboyant ways raised eyebrows when his company’s shares tumbled soon after he exercised stock options that let him pocket a cool $700 million in May 1998. Under shareholder pressure, in 2002 Wang turned over full control of the company to protégé Sanjay Kumar.
Wang was born in 1944 in Shanghai where his father was a justice of the Supreme Court. The family moved to New York when Wang was 8. His first part-time job was sorting mail at a local post office. Graduating from Queens College in 1967, he reportedly picked a career out of the classifieds.
Victor and Janie Tsao
Founders of Linksys Corporation
Victor and Janie Tsao founded computer accessories manufacturer Linksys, which is now part of technology giant Cisco Systems, in the garage of their modest Irvine, Calif., home. They migrated to the Unites States from Taiwan in the 1970s and worked corporate jobs while starting their own business.
The Tsaos parlayed their connections in the Taiwanese technology manufacturing sector to profitable partnerships with American companies seeking lower-priced makers of computer peripherals. The first product that spelled major success for the Tsaos was a printer-to-personal computer connector that extended the reach of existing cables from 15 feet to 100 feet by using telephone line technology.
Linksys grew quickly with new products that included Ethernet hubs, cables, and network cards and other peripherals that allowed households and small businesses to link their computers and peripherals to facilitate data sharing. The success of Linksys hinged on the Tsaos’ risk-taking strategy of popularizing existing technology by presenting less expensive alternatives ahead of the competition. It was among the first to launch a line of wireless routers and computer cards compatible with the 802.11b standard, now known as Wi-Fi technology.
They kept their operations lean, displaying their frugal lifestyle even while Linksys’ profits were already breaching $300 million. The Tsaos sold Linksys to Cisco Systems in 2003 when revenues were more than $500 million. Victor and Janie Tsao continued to work with Cisco in different capacities for many years.
Founder of ViewSonic Corporation
James Chu, founder of ViewSonic Corporation, began his sales career as a salesman of Chinese-English dictionaries and English language instruction tapes. He came to the United States as an underpaid sales manager of a small Taiwanese keyboard maker. He was forced to leave this job and strike out on his own in the U.S. at a time when he spoke very little English. He founded Keypoint Technology in 1987, sold keyboards on consignment from his previous employer until he was cut off for being too successful. He found another source and never looked back.
In 1990, Chu launched the ViewSonic line of color monitors. Within a year, the brand became one of the highly-rated computer monitor manufacturers along with big names such as Sony, Panasonic and NEC. By 2000, ViewSonic became the largest manufacturer of computer monitors in the U.S. and Japan. The company acquired Nokia Display Products in 2000. ViewSonic continues to grow as computer display technology evolves. It has received numerous awards over the years as the leading vendor of computer monitors in the U.S. Chu remains chairman and chief executive officer of the company, although he has relinquished much of the day-to-day management to professional managers.
SuperFlash Inventor; Founder of Silicon Storage Technology, Inc.
A pioneer in the use of microchips as heavy-duty storage devices is Silicon Storage Technology Inc.’s founder Bing Yeh who founded SST in 1989 to produce bio chips, non-volatile memory chips that contain a computer’s most basic operating instruction sets. He saw mobile computing’s growth potential and dedicated the $15 million raised in a 1995 Initial Public Offering to developing a superior type of flash memory chip. It was called SuperFlash, and since 1996 SST has been among Silicon Valley’s 20 fastest-growing companies.
Today SST derives a large chunk of its revenues from licensing its SuperFlash technology to giant chipmakers like Samsung, Motorola, NEC, Seiko-Epson and Toshiba. Flash memory remains the fastest growth sector as of the semiconductor industry. In 2002 SST began developing its third generation SuperFlash chip, which will produce storage capacity of up to 16 megabit. At those densities, flash memories can become viable alternatives to hard drives in notebooks and laptops, greatly enhancing their speed and portability.
Yeh, who was born in Taiwan, attended National Taiwan University where he was a physics graduate student. He left Taiwan in 1976 with $20 in his pocket. He earned an engineering degree at Stanford University, and was doctorate candidate in applied physics. From 1979 to 1981, he worked at Intel as a development engineer; then he was at Honeywell from 1981 to 1984. In 1984, he became a development manager at Xicor.
In 1989, he co-founded SST. Yeh and a partner patented SuperFlash and applied the technology to produce credit-card sized memory-boosting cards for laptops. The demand never materialized, and by 1992 SST had been reduced to 10 employees and $700,000 in revenues. What saved SST was the popularity of memory-gobbling Windows 95 operating system. The sudden demand for larger-capacity non-volatile system memory chips produced a quantum leap in SST’s revenues, mainly through sales to Taiwanese producers of PC motherboards. That was when Yeh took SST public to raise the capital needed to invest in its second-generation flash memory chips.
E-Commerce Visionary; Founder of Broadvision
Pehong Chen saw early the Internet’s potential as a medium for businesses to interact with customers on a one-to-one basis. In 1992, when media giants began mulling the possibilities of video-on-demand as the ultimate goal of interactive TV, Chen saw the need to create a completely personalized home shopping network that could tailor information to each home. In 1993, he founded Broadvision and, after 100-man-years of development, released One-To-One, the world’s first e-commerce software. The investment community fell in love with the concept, sending Broadvision shares into the stratosphere.
Two years later investors decided the Internet wasn’t real. The ensuing NASDAQ meltdown forced Chen to take his company through a 9-for-1 reverse stock split on July 24, 2002, just to return share prices above the $1 threshold. By that October Broadvision’s valuation had plummeted to $37.7 million, essentially the amount of cash and liquid assets on hand. In one dizzying fall, one of the tech boom’s brightest stars had lost 99.87 percent of its brilliance.
However, Chen stayed and continued the brutal cost-cutting in 2001. By the end of 2002, Broadvision’s workforce was reduced to 449 full-time employees. Chen’s reward came in the very next quarter when Broadvision reported a $1.3 million profit on $24.5 million in revenues. The numbers were humble, but they proved that, even in a post-bubble economy, the company and its enterprise portal software were real. Its client list had grown to 1,200, including eight of America’s 30 largest companies, the State of California and the U.S. Air Force.
Chen was born in 1957 in Taiwan, and at age 7, became an aspiring violinist. By the time he started National Taiwan University, he had switched to guitar and joined a rock band. He earned a degree in computer science, served his two-year compulsory military stint and migrated to the U.S. with his wife. Both received fellowships to Indiana University at Bloomington. Both earned master’s degrees in computer science before moving to Northern California. Chen attended Berkeley for his doctorate and his wife went to work for a database company.
Chen was recruited by Italian electronics giant Olivetti to do leading-edge multimedia development with top researchers recruited from Xerox Park. By 1988, he was developing a computer teleconferencing systems which Intel still sells as ProShare. After only three months Chen grew frustrated. He finished out a full year and left in 1989 to found Gain Technology with $4,000, half from Chen and half from a partner. They wrangled a meeting with Matsushita execs and proposed a multimedia software system to enhance its computer business. They were rewarded with a $15 million contract. To this day Matsushita aggressively sells the software as Gain Momentum. In 1992 Sybase offered $100 million for Gain. Chen sold and signed a three-year contract as vice president of multimedia. When the contract expired in 1993 he started up Broadvision.