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  1. VR6
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    Default John Chen's the man

    I found this old article written before JC was CEO of BlackBerry and I have to admit, he IS the man.

    2003 Honoree - John Chen | Asian Pacific Fund

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  2. LostOnThePianoRoll's Avatar
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    2003 Honoree - John Chen

    When I interviewed John Chen in the gleaming new Sybase headquarters in Dublin, I detected two hints from his life story that would foretell his rise to fortune.

    First, he has an unflagging upbeat attitude, even when life deals him a blow. And as a teenager, he was a master bridge player.

    But back to John's childhood. John Chen described himself as merely a "reasonable" student because he was in the top 10% of his class, not the top 1%.

    But that's because everything he truly enjoyed doing was team-oriented? being on the student council, playing guitar in a band? and being on the bridge team. His team represented Hong Kong in the intra Asia tournament. It was not just a matter of playing cards, he said. You had to develop crucial communication skills with your partner, as well as a keen sense of memory, strategy and discipline. It required being able to quickly determine probability and knowing how to play a sequence backwards.

    Tough but valuable training, he said. Little did he know how handy those strategic skills would become one day.

    While he was going to school, John's father took odd jobs at factories and shipping companies, working two jobs at a time, while going to night school to learn English. The family lived in a one-bedroom apartment. And when John was 7, his five-year-old brother developed a high fever, went to a hospital and died on the bus ride home in his mother's arms.

    It's hard to imagine how a family overcomes such a tragedy, but John managed somehow to keep an optimistic outlook on life. He said those early years of being poor stayed with him and taught him a valuable lesson--- that anything can happen? either way. When you're up on top, he says, you have to work hard to stay up there. It's a long way down? and it could happen. Same thing when you're at the bottom looking up. If you put your wits to it, with hard work and some luck, you have a shot at making it.

    Coming to America for school, John was barely able to converse in English, but he graduated from Brown University with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering with Magna *** Laude honors. The next year, he received his Master of Science degree in electrical engineering from California Institute of Technology.

    That year, 1979, he began his 13-year career at Unisys/Burroughs in Pasadena where he held a variety of engineering and management positions. It was here he would have one of those defining moments in his career that told everything about his character and attitude. For it was here that he encountered prejudice.

    As an engineer, and a very good one, he never saw Asians being promoted to management? even though, he said, "we were the ones in the lab, designing, creating, de-bugging, doing the work." When he asked a manager why Asians in the company were being passed over for promotions, he was shocked when the manager told him point blank that Asians just aren't presentable. This was in the mid 80's.

    The manager told John that these higher positions required negotiating, interacting and making presentations before the big guys and that Asians would not present themselves well. Hearing this answer, John fought the temptation to go back to Hong Kong. Instead, he decided to overcome this stereotype, so on his own nickel, he took public speaking, paying consultants thousands of dollars--- not a small sum of money for an engineer.

    He was horrified when he first saw himself on tape, but he worked at his style and then showed his results to that manager, who suggested he join Toastmasters next. He did, and shortly after, started getting promotions, and became a plant manager. Among those who ended up working for him was that manager who first told him Asians weren't "presentable."

    Rather than harbor bitterness toward that man or the situation, John credits the incident for the beginnings of his rise to success. "Had I not been passed over, I wouldn't have taken it on as a challenge," he said.

    John went on to hold several key positions at Unisys/Burroughs including VP and general manager of the $500 million Unisys Convergent UNIX Systems Group.

    John then joined Pyramid Technology Corporation, a high-end UNIX-based operating system company, in 1991 as its executive vice president. Two years later, John became its president, chief operating officer and board member. When Pyramid was sold to Siemens Nixdorf Informationsysteme, John became one of the first Asian Americans on its executive board of directors and then was elevated to president and CEO of Siemens Nixdorf's $3 billion dollar Open Enterprise Computing Division. This job took him to Munich.

    Then came a career move that (brought him back to this country and) established his reputation as an engineer of a different kind - the engineer of a dazzling turnaround. We're talking about Sybase now. The publisher of Forbes wrote, "Speaking of tough rescues - how would you like to jump in and go mouth-to-mouth on this dog?"

    The database software company was in deep trouble. Its books had been fudged and instead of its first annual profit since 1994, it posted a $55 million dollar loss. Workers started abandoning the company like a sinking ship. Revenues plunged for four straight years. The influential Gartner Group put Sybase's probability of death at 70 percent. "The vultures were flying over to buy the company cheap. It was an ugly situation," as John put it.

    That was in 1997. Why would a successful CEO leave his position to take over such a "dog"? (as Forbes described it). For one thing, John wanted to bring his family home from Europe. His wife was pregnant with their fourth child, and, by now, they had the whole getting-to-the-hospital routine and line-up of doctors all set up in the East Bay.

    Also, he saw this as a no-lose situation. Everyone knew how broken Sybase was, so expectations were low. If he failed, the thought would be, well, even John couldn't fix it. At first, no one returned his calls, the media ignored his views and opinions, and investors nearly threw him out the room.

    But John pulled it off. Sybase re-invented itself and posted 19 consecutive profitable quarters, made significant acquisitions and launched successful subsidiaries.

    When I interviewed John a few weeks ago, Sybase's stock just hit a 52-week high and the company had more than tripled its worth over the last six years.

    Forbes magazine was now saying, ""John Chen brought Sybase back from the dead." As part of its second life, Sybase is doing business in China, accounting for 45% of China's telecom database market. 58% of all securities companies on Wall Street run on Sybase. It has 70 offices in 33 countries and revenues were $830 million dollars in 2002.

    John Chen's principle guidelines can be summed up this way, work hard, be analytical, but decisive, be upbeat and seek greater challenges, and be loyal to your fellow workers. He has people who've been working for him for 18 years. They've followed him from company to company. Two of his engineering heads have been with him since they came out of grad school together 24 years ago.

    John's educational experience has had an impact on him in several ways. For one thing, it is reflected in his giving. John has been a supporter of the Dragon Fund, which raises money to improve education for women and girls in rural China. Its goal is to provide scholarships for 1000 girls in China. He says he especially wants to help poor children in China go to school. "A lot of where I am today came from my schooling," he said.

    He also likes to help poor and abused children in general. Last year, Sybase sponsored the Sybase Big Apple Classic LPGA golf tournament in New York to raise money for Save the Children programs in more than 40 countries as well as 19 states in this country.

    John is a leading contributor and fund-raiser for a $40 million campaign for the Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. He is also Vice Chairman of the Committee of 100, an organization co-founded by I.M. Pei, Yo-yo Ma and 40 other distinguished Chinese-Americans to foster better understanding between U.S. and China and Chinese-Americans with the American people.

    As for his job at Sybase, his task not complete. While he re-established and stabilized the company, John does not consider this a complete win. The company's only 50% of where he wants it to be. He feels the best is yet to come.

    Looking back at obstacles he's faced, including prejudice, his matter-of-fact view is that it's everywhere. It's how you deal with it. So yes, I'm different, he says, but I'm proud of it. And that explains the confidence behind this comment he made to Oracle's Larry Ellison. "You can't be better at the Art of War because you read the translation. I read the original."

    A truly amazing article! Thanks for finding that.

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  3. BBUniq01's Avatar
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    Inspiring story.

    Loving my Zed 10!!
  4. WWBlondieDo's Avatar
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    What a bada**. Love it!

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    Chen + BB = Awesome. But he has a up hill battle in front of him. If he can turn this company around to make it number one again he is truly a God. I hope he can.. the thought of not having a BB phone makes me sick.
    my Z30.

    Can't wait to see what the future holds. Guess i'm going along for the ride.
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  6. app_Developer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by newfie1974 View Post
    Chen + BB = Awesome. But he has a up hill battle in front of him. If he can turn this company around to make it number one again he is truly a God. I hope he can.. the thought of not having a BB phone makes me sick.
    That's the opportunity in front of him here. If he turns this company around, business schools will talk about him for decades.

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  7. VR6
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    Quote Originally Posted by app_Developer View Post
    That's the opportunity in front of him here. If he turns this company around, business schools will talk about him for decades.

    Sent from my Nexus 5 using Tapatalk
    I know I'm pulling for him (and BBRY too!)
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    Quote Originally Posted by app_Developer View Post
    That's the opportunity in front of him here. If he turns this company around, business schools will talk about him for decades.

    Sent from my Nexus 5 using Tapatalk
    I really hope he can do it - both for BlackBerry and his sake. It's always awesome to see someone succeed at what others deemed impossible.

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  9. nhanken's Avatar
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    Hi jrohland,

    Even though the Z3 will be produced by Foxconn but I thought it's not going to be built in China but in Mexico or Indonesia? I hope the working conditions are at least better than in China.

    Quote Originally Posted by jrohland View Post
    OK. I've been an outspoken critic of Foxconn and their alleged human rights practices. It is clear Mr Chen cares deeply about the plight of Chinese youth. Yet he is willing to contract with Foxconn to build the Z3. What does that tell me? Has Foxconn changed? Is it better to employ these Chinese people even at what we here in the states would consider terrible conditions and wages? Does Mr Chen believe he can control the ethics of Foxconn factory managers? To be honest, I don't know the answers to those questions. However, I know Apple has mostly moved it's contracts from Foxconn. Some say because the cost got too high and they found an even cheaper builder. For the moment, I'm willing to give Mr Chen, and by extension, Foxconn the benefit of the doubt and hope they treat the people building BlackBerrys well.


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  10. VR6
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrohland View Post
    OK. I've been an outspoken critic of Foxconn and their alleged human rights practices. It is clear Mr Chen cares deeply about the plight of Chinese youth. Yet he is willing to contract with Foxconn to build the Z3. What does that tell me? Has Foxconn changed? Is it better to employ these Chinese people even at what we here in the states would consider terrible conditions and wages? Does Mr Chen believe he can control the ethics of Foxconn factory managers? To be honest, I don't know the answers to those questions. However, I know Apple has mostly moved it's contracts from Foxconn. Some say because the cost got too high and they found an even cheaper builder. For the moment, I'm willing to give Mr Chen, and by extension, Foxconn the benefit of the doubt and hope they treat the people building BlackBerrys well.
    Well Apple does it to make money. BlackBerry is in desperation mode here so it's a move really to save the company. But you're right, working conditions in those factories are inhumane. Then again no one forces ppl to work there do they?

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  11. Troy Tiscareno's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by VR6 View Post
    Well Apple does it to make money. BlackBerry is in desperation mode here so it's a move really to save the company. But you're right, working conditions in those factories are inhumane. Then again no one forces ppl to work there do they?
    Foxconn accepts millions of applications a year from people who can't wait to work in these "inhumane conditions." Most people don't realize the conditions people who DON'T have a job there live in...
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  12. LostOnThePianoRoll's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Troy Tiscareno View Post
    Foxconn accepts millions of applications a year from people who can't wait to work in these "inhumane conditions." Most people don't realize the conditions people who DON'T have a job there live in...
    Coming from a relatively poor country myself, I don't believe in this inhuman conditions thing, And the people themselves don't. it works by the moto of "any job is better than no job" we're not in a position with that much options to decide where we want to work.. that's a luxury..

    Posted via CB10 on my Z10STL100-10.2.1.2102
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrohland View Post
    Just because the politicians of those countries pursue terrible policies which keep the people poor and desperate doesn't give Apple the moral excuse to make outrageous profits at the cost of the people in some far off place.
    I would agree with that. If Apple has no excuse, then do we agree BlackBerry doesn't either?


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    Quote Originally Posted by jrohland View Post
    Yet you proudly post here from an iPad. I don't think we can know how BlackBerry will attempt to have Foxconn treat workers until it is reported. Foxconn is going to act the way their customers demand. If the customer says make the stuff cheap and I don't care how you do it, Foxconn will do that. If the customer says treat employees fairly. Foxconn might do that.
    You're making an interesting assumption that Foxconn alters its practices from factory to factory based on what brand of devices they are making. Do you really, honestly, believe that??

    Or are you trying to find some way to absolve BlackBerry now that they have signed a deal with the very same company you vilified when they were just making iPhones and iPads and other things you don't own?


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    Nice story. Hope JC is the man!
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    Quote Originally Posted by app_Developer View Post
    You're making an interesting assumption that Foxconn alters its practices from factory to factory based on what brand of devices they are making. Do you really, honestly, believe that??

    Or are you trying to find some way to absolve BlackBerry now that they have signed a deal with the very same company you vilified when they were just making iPhones and iPads and other things you don't own?


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
    Well said. Posters around here used to lambast Apple for using Foxconn with its labor practices. Now BlackBerry is hailed for doing business with them.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Troy Tiscareno View Post
    Foxconn accepts millions of applications a year from people who can't wait to work in these "inhumane conditions." Most people don't realize the conditions people who DON'T have a job there live in...
    Still no excuse for exploiting their desperate situation to maximise profit. Apple especially, given their huge profits, are a disgrace in not improving pay and working conditions.
  18. dusdal's Avatar
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    If they couldn't make more money by opening a factory there, why would they do it?

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  19. VR6
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    These may be less pressure and quotas might be lower for BlackBerry units hehehee

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  20. Qurve's Avatar
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    Chinese and Mexican labour laws are probably much different...i don't believe Foxcon's factories in both countries offer the same conditions.

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    Default John Chen's the man

    Quote Originally Posted by dusdal View Post
    If they couldn't make more money by opening a factory there, why would they do it?
    In Indonesia domestically produced electronics have a sizable tariff advantage, I think. Similar to Brasil.


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    Quote Originally Posted by app_Developer View Post
    In Indonesia domestically produced electronics have a sizable tariff advantage, I think. Similar to Brasil.


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    This makes sense.

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  23. Omnitech's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrohland View Post
    OK. I've been an outspoken critic of Foxconn and their alleged human rights practices. It is clear Mr Chen cares deeply about the plight of Chinese youth. Yet he is willing to contract with Foxconn to build the Z3. What does that tell me? Has Foxconn changed? Is it better to employ these Chinese people even at what we here in the states would consider terrible conditions and wages? Does Mr Chen believe he can control the ethics of Foxconn factory managers? To be honest, I don't know the answers to those questions. However, I know Apple has mostly moved it's contracts from Foxconn. Some say because the cost got too high and they found an even cheaper builder.
    Quote Originally Posted by jrohland View Post
    Are you suggesting that excuses Apple and others from their human responsibility? Because I don't believe it does. Just because the politicians of those countries pursue terrible policies which keep the people poor and desperate doesn't give Apple the moral excuse to make outrageous profits at the cost of the people in some far off place.

    I've said these things here long before BlackBerry had any Foxconn relationship, but here we go again.

    Just curious: do you have much knowledge of the history of electronics manufacturing at all, particularly in Asia? Are you familiar with labor practices in China, and can you think of any major consumer technology manufacturer that does NOT do any manufacturing there?

    For example, do you know Foxconn is not a Chinese company, but a Taiwanese company - ie headquartered in a democratic country that is a close US ally?

    Do you know that somewhere around 50% of ALL electronics manufacturing on Earth today is done by Hon Hai Precision dba Foxconn? It's probably much harder to NOT use Foxconn as a manufacturer than it is to use them. You've probably got TONS of devices in your house already that were made in a Foxconn factory.

    Do you know that Foxconn operates factories all over the world, including in North America and Europe?

    Global Presence

    Do you know that the widely-publicized labor issues at the Foxconn factory complex in Shenzhen China - the largest manufacturing facility ever built in the history of mankind with, by some accounts, close to half a million workers - are not only common in China, but ie in the case of suicide rate, actually lower than the nationwide average?

    I also have noticed a very consistent pattern in China specifically: the authorities there crush local dissent against local companies bitterly and news of such things rarely gets to the outside world - but when it comes to labor or consumer disputes with a foreign-owned company, whether it be Foxconn, Apple, Toyota or any other foreign company - all the sudden we see articles and social-media outrage and videos about angry protests and so on that would NEVER be allowed to occur in the first place if the target were local officials or companies. So of course the foreign lemmings go right along with that and all start thinking that some company like Foxconn is the AntiChrist, conveniently forgetting about all the local companies there that are twice as bad.

    Personally, I think Hon Hai/Foxconn - now that some so-called do-gooders "discovered" them and made them the whipping-boy-du-jour - has become a metaphorical Satan for people who desperately need to find some simplistic "boogey man" to salve their conscience and rationalize their personal products consumption - a convenient target when they don't really understand the big picture. (And apparently, don't really want to.)

    Oh the irony of Apple products that piously proclaim on their packaging that they are made out of recycled materials and "printed with soy inks" etc, but conveniently forget to mention those details are insignificant, "feel good" noise when the global consumer electronics industry in general - no matter WHO is assembling things - almost universally exports labor and pollution and environmental issues from the place of consumption to the place of raw materials acquisition and product production - and the latter usually lobby hard to get that manufacturing business. If you save 100 trees but turn around and dump a few hundred tons of Mercury and Lead into the groundwater in Vietnam, it's all good, right?

    If you have an issue with labor practices in China or anywhere else - the people to take it up with are the government and people there. Oh, and stop buying consumer electronic products.

    Instead, we have people who can't stop buying things and simultaneously complaining all the time that the prices are too high - yet who show little interest in actually changing that marketing and production dynamic outside of a few petty gestures of indignance towards companies that are probably doing more to help people rise out of poverty than the other way around.

    If you want to contribute, put your money where your mouth is and actually send money to China to help kids go to school, like John Chen does. Otherwise it's just a bunch of self-absorbed mental you-know-what, if you ask me.
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  24. bgregory@eastlink.ca's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Omnitech View Post
    I've said these things here long before BlackBerry had any Foxconn relationship, but here we go again.

    Just curious: do you have much knowledge of the history of electronics manufacturing at all, particularly in Asia? Are you familiar with labor practices in China, and can you think of any major consumer technology manufacturer that does NOT do any manufacturing there?

    For example, do you know Foxconn is not a Chinese company, but a Taiwanese company - ie headquartered in a democratic country that is a close US ally?

    Do you know that somewhere around 50% of ALL electronics manufacturing on Earth today is done by Hon Hai Precision dba Foxconn? It's probably much harder to NOT use Foxconn as a manufacturer than it is to use them. You've probably got TONS of devices in your house already that were made in a Foxconn factory.

    Do you know that Foxconn operates factories all over the world, including in North America and Europe?

    Global Presence

    Do you know that the widely-publicized labor issues at the Foxconn factory complex in Shenzhen China - the largest manufacturing facility ever built in the history of mankind with, by some accounts, close to half a million workers - are not only common in China, but ie in the case of suicide rate, actually lower than the nationwide average?

    I also have noticed a very consistent pattern in China specifically: the authorities there crush local dissent against local companies bitterly and news of such things rarely gets to the outside world - but when it comes to labor or consumer disputes with a foreign-owned company, whether it be Foxconn, Apple, Toyota or any other foreign company - all the sudden we see articles and social-media outrage and videos about angry protests and so on that would NEVER be allowed to occur in the first place if the target were local officials or companies. So of course the foreign lemmings go right along with that and all start thinking that some company like Foxconn is the AntiChrist, conveniently forgetting about all the local companies there that are twice as bad.

    Personally, I think Hon Hai/Foxconn - now that some so-called do-gooders "discovered" them and made them the whipping-boy-du-jour - has become a metaphorical Satan for people who desperately need to find some simplistic "boogey man" to salve their conscience and rationalize their personal products consumption - a convenient target when they don't really understand the big picture. (And apparently, don't really want to.)

    Oh the irony of Apple products that piously proclaim on their packaging that they are made out of recycled materials and "printed with soy inks" etc, but conveniently forget to mention those details are insignificant, "feel good" noise when the global consumer electronics industry in general - no matter WHO is assembling things - almost universally exports labor and pollution and environmental issues from the place of consumption to the place of raw materials acquisition and product production - and the latter usually lobby hard to get that manufacturing business. If you save 100 trees but turn around and dump a few hundred tons of Mercury and Lead into the groundwater in Vietnam, it's all good, right?

    If you have an issue with labor practices in China or anywhere else - the people to take it up with are the government and people there. Oh, and stop buying consumer electronic products.

    Instead, we have people who can't stop buying things and simultaneously complaining all the time that the prices are too high - yet who show little interest in actually changing that marketing and production dynamic outside of a few petty gestures of indignance towards companies that are probably doing more to help people rise out of poverty than the other way around.

    If you want to contribute, put your money where your mouth is and actually send money to China to help kids go to school, like John Chen does. Otherwise it's just a bunch of self-absorbed mental you-know-what, if you ask me.
    I think that about covers it. Well said!

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    Last Post: 04-11-2014, 07:08 AM

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