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Achieving professional manager career with entrepreneurship

Posted: 28 Nov 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:entrepreneur? career? management? ceo? president?

Cheng: "There is no loser or winner in any career. Make no comparison and stick to what you believe in."
Wonder of wonders. Who would ever think that an academic under-achiever who was rejected countless times by companies, and hence, left without a choice turned to sales, would today manage one of the biggest global semiconductor companies?

From a striving salesman to become the president of Texas Instruments (TI) Asia, Terry Cheng is a living proof that the world is round and revolving. This gentleman from Taiwan took the position in 1997 when he was in the tenure of president of HP China and had been working for the company for 19 years. With around 10,000 employees , he is now taking charge of TI's business in 12 countries including China, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, and India. As Asia becomes the global manufacturing center of electronic products, the revenue of TI in the Asian region is also on the rise.

Young spirit of ebullience

In contrast with his successful track record as a professional manager in foreign companies, it is hard to believe that he was once an unconstrained literature enthusiast in the university. Graduating from electronics engineering department of Taiwan's National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) in 1974, Cheng recalled his bold university life, "Though NCTU is in HsinChu, I was so busy in extra-curricular activities that I spent more time staying in Taipei."

He was crazy with pop music at that time. Forming a band with friends and hosting record shows and concerts were mostly the activities he was busy with. In addition, he ran a newspaper in NCTU, wrote news stories, and was also a member of school football team. One of his classmates, Zhong-Tan Duan, would later on become the president of Rock Music Co., a famous music records company in Taiwan.

"Being too busy, I rarely paid attention to my academic works. I remembered that in my senior year, I only took the credits that were just enough for graduation. But at the end, I found I got a zero score on my grade report, and I even didn't know that I had taken that course." He laughed and said, "After asking my friends, I realized that one of my classmates was afraid that I wouldn't be able to graduate and chose an easy-pass course for me--but forgot to tell me! Anyway, I finally graduated, but with a big, unsightly zero on my record."

Beggars can't be choosers

Just like graduating from college, getting to the top of the corporate ladder was not easy for Cheng. He really intended to be an engineer but popular companies at that time, such as Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology and China Steel Company, closed their doors for him. Retiring from military service in 1976, Cheng started his first job at a trading company as a salesman of semiconductor equipment. And, because of business needs, he often visited TI's factory in Chonghe, beginning his long-term relationships with TI. "I remembered that I earned NTD 5,500 per month, there's a difference compared to Chung-Shan Institute or TI's offer at around NTD 8,000 at that time. Looking at the scale of TI's Chonghe factory, I always thought that TI is a great company but it never crossed my mind that this factory would belong to my business territory someday."

Two years later, Cheng entered HP Taiwan, starting from the basic level sales representative all the way to the top. "To my memory, my greatest sense of achievement was when I got promoted to first-line manager, having a small but own private office and leading a small team of five people at my full command. As my position got higher, the feeling of inertia got stronger." He explained, "The organizational structures that a senior manager has to deal with are getting complicated accordingly. And it is very often that it is other departments that are responsible for the decisions I made, therefore, not everything can just run as I expect." Naturally, behind hyped appearance, a top-level manager has his own pressures and hardships to overcome.

In February of 1992, Cheng was assigned as president to HP China. With abundant experiences in China market and long-time relations with TI, Cheng was often invited to speak about the market at TI management meetings. Until 1996, the incumbent TI Asia President, Dr. Keh-Shew Lu, had other assignments, so he looked for a suitable candidate to replace him.

"I still remember that it was in September 1996, I made a presentation to TI executives as usual. But after exchanging business cards with them, I wondered how come this time they were all the key persons in the company including the CEO and several vice presidents," he said. At last, Cheng realized that this meeting was specially arranged by Dr. Lu to introduce Cheng to TI's top management. "Then in April 1997, I received a phone call from a headhunter, asking me to take the position of president of TI Asia, and I decided to take the job," Cheng said.

Having been involved in China market for 10 years, Cheng thinks it is "passion" that drives his continuous devotion to the management work in China. An executive without a career plan, he holds an open attitude towards success, "Many of my classmates who had excellent academic performances in the university chose to obtain higher degrees in the United States and then found a job there. Impacted by this serious economic slump, some of them might plan to move back to Taiwan. It is not that easy sometimes. Some of my average classmates started their own business in Taiwan and now become presidents of public-listed companies, accumulating plenty of fortunes. As for me, I have been working for foreign companies as a professional manager for a long time and created my own career path. It is really difficult to tell which way is the best," he emphasized. "There is no loser or winner in any career. What counts is your own thinking and experiences. Make no comparison and stick to what you believe in."

Entrepreneuring the future

Cheng as TI's president, is responsible for 35 percent of TI sales worldwide. As early as 1999, TI allied with Great Wall Technology Co., Eastern Communications Co. Ltd, and China Putian Corp. to establish Beijing DigiPro Information Technology targeting at IA and home networking market. Similarly, eyeing at the broadband network, TI ventured with a local company to form Shanghai DigiVision Technology Co., which is now a member of HDTV middleware group. And, early this year, TI also teamed up with Nokia, LG, and others to found COMMIT Inc., in a bid to participate in the formulation of TD-SCDMA 3G specification.

Cheng pointed out that, as China enters WTO, the three trade barriers--tariff, quota, and mandatory local purchase ratio--that the government used to take to protect its domestic industries will no longer be effective in five years. Instead, it is believed that China will adopt other strategies, such as imposing value-added taxes, setting up Chinese standards, and executing local government's protection policies.

Currently, China has been embarking on the formulation of proprietary Chinese standards for DTV, digital audio broadcasting, DVD, and 3G cellphones. In order to break through these barriers and become an early member of related associations, Cheng has started the deployment through setting up three companies for different segments.

Meanwhile, TI also established 50 DSP labs in 47 universities in China in its long-range strategy. According to Cheng, "We are cultivating talents for our customers and sowing seeds for the business in the future." A high-level business executive as he is, it shows that the innovative thinking and farsighted vision and precision in making plans are required to succeed.

- Karen Kou

Electronic Engineering Times - Asia

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