By Chris Kenji Beer
Northwest Asian Weekly
In the last piece from this series, you read how entrepreneur Naveen Jain came from a humble upbringing in India to become one of the captains of the tech industry in the region. Weihua “Wayne” Zhang’s career takes a different path from Jain’s.
Zhang is Northwest Asian Weekly’s second nominee for the 2016 Technology and Innovation Award.
While Jain and Zhang sat around Pacific Software Publishing’s conference room in Bellevue, I observed contrasting opinions and perspectives between them. Most every question I posed to them evoked diametrically opposite answers and perspectives. If Jain would be considered an “out of the box” thinker, Zhang would be the model of an “in the box” thinker.
He would say, “Work within the system, work within your means, work with what you have, and persevere.” But angles to doing business are never mutually exclusive — success in life as a young entrepreneur or aspiring professional will always contain both “out of the box” and “in the box” thinking — and then a lot of thinking entrepreneur’s can call their own.
“When I was young, I had no idea what I was going to do,” said Zhang. “I wanted to create products and work on my own.”
Born and raised in China, Zhang came to the United States to achieve the high level of education that the University of Washington offers. He taught at Princeton University before returning to the Seattle area to work for Nextel International and the late Keith Grinstein, its chair at the time.
Grinstein handed over to Zhang the responsibility of expanding Nextel International into Asia (not to be confused with Nextel U.S.A, founded here by Craig McCaw, which merged with Sprint). Zhang built a substantial presence for Nextel International in East Asia, which also led him to facilitate the first-ever foreign board membership in China, held by Seattle’s Craig McCaw. McCaw remains on the board of China Unicom today.
“This validated my professional life [at the time] and my role” as a bridge builder across the Pacific, added Zhang.
Career entrepreneurs “are visionaries who can see into the future and what the markets bear,” said Zhang. “What drives me is to create products that benefit people and create markets for them. I like the strategic development behind this process.”
Clearly, Zhang’s strategy works, having co-founded China’s largest mobile games and applications company, China Mobile Games Enterprise, Inc. (CMGE). Just after the merger that created CMGE, the company generated what approaches $300 million in 2015 revenue, based on early Securities and Exchange Commission-available numbers and projections. CMGE now employs 1,500–2,000 people.
“I love starting new companies, bringing in young people, and seeing them get excited about what [they] are doing,” said Zhang. “But I also like to see 100 of my staff leave the company and succeed in their own ventures after they leave. Their success tells me I did something right. This is success to me.”
If you are an aspiring young professional, you may consider becoming a bridge builder across the Pacific. There are numerous examples of Northwest region bridge-builders. To name a few: Chris Lee, Steven Woo, Rich Tong, Valerie Kusuda-Schmick, Jin-Long Wang, Gary Locke, and Scott Oki.
There are hundreds of small businesses in the export-import businesses here. There is no shortage of companies aiming to expand to markets across the Pacific, and you don’t necessarily need to be completely fluent or immersed in the culture.
Take Chris Lee, for example. He grew up and was educated in the Seattle area, and is now CEO of America’s largest independently owned video games company, EnMasse Entertainment, located in downtown Seattle. As an American of Korean descent, “I don’t speak Korean but I have a sense of Korean culture from my family upbringing, and I bring American business know-how” to his Korean company.
Few models for bridge building across the Pacific are better represented than the career path of Zhang.
Zhang is fluent in both Chinese and American business practices and languages, which means he is uniquely able to navigate the nuances of both business cultures. Among the most unassuming and humble CEOs/business persons, Zhang followed the hard-working ethic of Americans of Asian descent. He started his professional career in Seattle. He also has the confidence and initiative to make things happen.
Since he was young, “I believed that if others can do it, I can do it too,” he said.
Zhang has built himself a niche as a bridge builder across the Pacific going the other direction as well, such as representing U.S. phone manufacturer, Motorola, in China. Following a brief stint at Nextlink, another McCaw company, Zhang was invited to join a young Motorola team in Beijing where he ran its applications division as managing director. He helped lead a group which eventually captured 25 percent of the total market share in China, one of the largest ever market shares achieved by an American or foreign-owned company in China.
He then founded Vogins, which evolved into the applications company of Taiwan’s Mediatek.
Mediatek is the world’s largest chipset manufacturer, the piece that runs all cell phones. “In some ways, I consider myself to be lucky. You do need luck,” said Zhang. That said, you can’t only be lucky at doing business with the likes of Mediatek, Motorola, and China Unicom. Facilitating strategic partnerships like these are quite involved and detailed. Large market access can be achieved with the above partners, agreed Zhang.
“I look at the big market trends and pursue an early entry to hot markets, but you don’t have to be first to the market.” This contrasts with Jain belief in pursuing uncharted areas, what he calls “disruptive innovation.”
As much as the two are different business leaders, a key take-away from the Jain–Zhang meeting is their similar views. They believe that as a young aspiring entrepreneur, you have to find your own comfort zone, your passion, and the style that works for you. Find joy in the work you do. All entrepreneurs seem to agree on this point. “Find something that gets you excited,” said Zhang.
Both are constant and deep thinkers, both are hardworking, neither take anything or anyone for granted, both believe in having fun, and having fun within their careers. Zhang aligns with Jain and so many other entrepreneurs in his parting advice to young aspiring entrepreneurs to “keep your mind open; create yourself in the most efficient way.”
Have fun doing your job. (end)
Weihua Zhang will be an honoree at the Northwest Asian Weekly’s Technology and Innovation Awards. The event is Oct. 7 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Online tickets at http://visionary.bpt.me.
Chris Kenji Beer can be reached at email@example.com.