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Entrepreneur gets the best of both worlds

Posted: 14 Jan 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mems? sensors? accelerometers? controllers?

Yang Zhao is president and CEO of Memsic Inc.
The United States and China are poles apart, politically as well as geographically, but their coming together is "the best thing" that is happening to "our global society," said Yang Zhao, president and CEO of Memsic Inc., in Andover, Massachusetts. He, himself, wants to play a role in bringing the two countries closer. "By running a successful business between the two countries, we link people together and create a great product to serve human society," he said. "I feel this is one outstanding service one can do for his own as well as for global society."

Zhao obtained his Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Physics, from the Beijing University. He pursued further studies through the China-US Physics Examination and Advancement (CUSPEA) programa program choosing 100 graduates across China each year for advanced studies in the United States. He finished his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University in New Jersey.

From 1993 to 1999, Zhao worked with the Micromachined Products Division of Analog Devices. There, he saw the immense advantages of combining the latest technologies in the United States with the low-cost manufacturing in China. "With my background, I could access the best of both worlds," he said, relating how he turned into an entrepreneur. "I decided to start Memsic to compete with big companies. I convinced my employer Analog that I can get things done more efficiently, and with lower costs and a smaller team, by starting China operations. Analog supported me. Then I raised venture capital money. We have now developed our key technologies as well as products."

Memsic, with venture capital partly derived from Taiwan's TSMC, develops integrated sensors/accelerometers using MEMS.

Ready for change

The road from China to the United States was not an arduous one for Zhao. Reminiscing about his decision to settle down in a new country, he said he did not experience any culture shock since he was prepared for the change. However, the 38-year-old entrepreneur finds a subtle difference in work culture. "Western work culture is more straightforward than Chinese work culture," he explained. "People in the West openly debate about issues without letting their differences affect their personal relationships. Personal ties matter less in workplaces in the United States; in China, they matter a lot. American culture tolerates failures, and respects people who have tried but failed. The Chinese are overly concerned about success, but I think we are gradually learning from the Americans."

A balance of team culture is an important consideration when Zhao recruits staff. "In our China subsidiary, the entire staff is Chinese," he said. "In our U.S. company, we need to find a balance in the subtle cultural differences among various peoples."

Zhao finds a great difference between material life in the United States and in China; yet he feels that the quality of life for him was better in his homeland. "Cars and luxurious houses do not solely determine the quality of life," he said. "Social circles, the ability to access different levels of society, the wide availability of the choicest food, and many other factors combine in determining the quality of life you lead. In the United States, one has more freedom and resources available for growth; but you may not be able to access the best all the time."

Home is where the heart is

Zhao, who is now an American citizen, feels equally at home in China and in the United States, although he said he misses Chinese food and his friends the most. He wants to feel at home in every country that offers him the best opportunities. He believes that if opportunities open up elsewhere, he would frequently travel to that country and feel at home in that country, too.

Where, then, are the best opportunities for Chinese engineers? "It depends on individuals," he said. "Smart Chinese engineers have a better chance of learning and using the latest technologies in the United States, and expand their horizons. If they opt to remain in China, they can rise faster in Chinese companies, and become influential in a short time, unlike in the West."

The United States offers the best business experiences, and the best part of Western culture, according to Zhao, and even if Chinese engineers do not want to live there, they should, at least, get some exposure.

Zhao has the rare distinction of being a Chinese who has set up production facilities both in the United States and China. "The main problemgetting the right talentis the same in both countries," he said. "The downturn in the US economy helped a bit. On the whole, setting up a production unit in China is easier. The government is very helpful. Besides, most things in China are about 10 times cheaper than in the United States. In terms of price and convenience, setting up a factory in China is a far better business proposition."

Focusing on the global market

Zhao feels happy that American companies are making a beeline to set up production facilities in his homeland. "This is going to benefit everyone, and not just the United States, which will get better deals, and China, whose economy will grow faster."

Zhao wants Memsic to grow to a $1 billion company. He did not say when this will come about, but he is sure it will not be too long. "I know of a single marketthe global market," he said. "And I am building a team that will address this market. Providing the latest technology is only a part of this attempt. Acquiring international orientation and living in all cultures is equally important. Our team is prepared for this."

While semiconductor chips and smart systems are Zhao's main areas of interest, he is fond of fishing, music, traveling, and philosophy. He also enjoys teaching, and is looking forward to it. "I am an adjunct professor in Beijing University and Tsinghua University," he said. "I'd like to teach international business and entrepreneurship in universities. The best MBA program can be taught only by someone who has been in business, and I can fit the bill."

Kirtimaya Varma

Electronic Engineering Times Asia

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