Get Adobe Flash player

Wang Zhidong: Millionaire mirror of a hi-tech China

by Joelle Garrus*

Wang Zhidong, a Chinese millionaire and serial entrepreneur, embodies the hi-tech and innovative side of China — areas that he embarked on just as the nation launched its economic reforms.
In the middle of the 1980s, the 41-year-old's native Guangdong province in the south of China had been chosen as the launch-pad for the reforms ratified by the Communist Party in 1978.
It became China's centre of manufacturing and trade with the outside world, propelling the country into 30 years of spectacular growth.
But Wang, a teenager at the time, was looking even further into the future.
In 1984, when he was 17, he started studying the then brand-new subjects of electronics and computer science in Beijing — areas that fascinated him.
Twenty-four years later, the Hurun list of the 1,000 richest people in China has credited the man who helped create the country's popular infotainment web portal sina.com with a fortune of 190 million dollars.
Sitting in the cramped office of his latest venture — the software development company Dianji Technologies — Wang, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved polo shirt, does not look like the archetypal golden boy.
Far from the extravagance displayed by some of his fellow millionaires in China, this father of eight-year-old twins professes a love for work and family life rather than luxury and sports cars.
However, he clearly takes pleasure in talking about a career path that has gone hand-in-hand with China's march towards modernity.
"I created my first businesses without (big) investments or guarantees," he said.
"At the time, one was not a shareholder, the law did not rule on who owned the business. If you left, you just didn't own it anymore."
After graduating from Peking University, he started as a salesman in an electronics company.
A customer told him about a problem he had — adapting two different, apparently incompatible, IT systems on the same computer, including one developed by Peking University's Founder firm.
In his spare time, Wang studied the problem and resolved it. His customer subsequently rushed to tell Founder, which had earlier deemed the task to be impossible.
A few months later, when Founder was asked a similar question, it turned to Wang to resolve the problem.
Shortly after, Wang, then 22, launched into a new challenge of his own volition — to translate Windows, Microsoft's flagship computer operating system, into Chinese.
At the time, China was not a market for the US multinational, and computer users only had access to Windows in English.
So "a kind of game" began, he said.
"If I succeeded, good. If I failed, nobody would think I was stupid as no one had succeeded before me," he said.
After two months, Wang completed a first Chinese version of Windows, then translated the next version of the operating system. "I was working at home, quickly — I'm a bit of a workaholic," he said.
In 1990, he published a third Chinese version of Windows that was technologically more advanced than the others, with "very new methods."
Founder was initially uninterested, but later backed him to present his work at the first Microsoft congress in China in 1991. "I had the feeling I had crossed a threshold," he said.
By the age of 23, Wang had gained industry-wide recognition and was receiving job offers from abroad.
"I admired Silicon Valley, stories of business start-ups, like (the story of Apple co-founder) Steve Jobs," he said.
So he co-founded a software company, then a second, and finally discovered the Internet on a trip to the United States in 1995.
"It was the first time that I'd ever used the Internet, and I became hooked."
This new-found passion first inspired Wang to generate a simple web forum for the tens of thousands of Chinese people using the Internet at the time.
Then he created the famous sina.com web portal in 1999 with Taiwanese partners who lived in the United States, and who had already launched a small website called sina.net.
The deal was sealed in less than a month, and hailed as a success for Sino-Taiwanese ties.
Sina.com immediately gained the lion's share of Chinese Internet space, and shortly afterwards, it was floated on the New York-based Nasdaq stock market.
Wang remained head of sina.com for two years, but stepped down following disagreements with the board on development strategies.
He said he was optimistic about his latest venture Dianji Technologies, which has been around for seven years and employs more than 100 people.
"There will be more and more need for services for the Internet, which will become indispensable, like electricity," he said.

    

*AFP

Archives