John Chen is a turnaround guy. The Hong Kong native become hired in November 2013 to do just that with the aid of BlackBerry, a Canada-based technology agency – as soon as referred to as Studies in Motion– that helped pioneer mass cellular communications before Apple’s iPhone took over.
Chen, 60, is a big deal in American commercial enterprise, sitting on two of the state‘s maximumprestigious forums of administrators: the Walt Disney Co. And Wells Fargo. He’s high-quality known in Silicon Valley for reinventing an in poor health employer referred to as Sybase and turning it into afinancial juggernaut – fifty five consecutive quarters of profitability and an increase in marketplace cap from $362 millon to $five.8 billion – that turned into acquired by using SAP in 2010.
The Washington Put up interviewed Chen in a quiet Bay Place convention room on a wet afternoon forabout an hour. He mentioned the entirety from the have an effect on of his Catholic high school to whyalmost no job is underneath a person to how he plans to rescue BlackBerry. This was edited for durationand clarity:
Q: What turned into your first job?
A: My first job was in excessive faculty in Hong Kong after I worked for a journey employer doing odds and ends. Within the beginning, they failed to deliver me whatever to do. Then at some point, my fathersaid, ‘How’s your job?’ I told him.
He stated, ‘Move returned to the office very early Inside the morning earlier than every person suggestsup. I might such as you to sharpen each person‘s pencil.’
It seems to be the great advice I ever had. Humans came in early, looked at me polishing the pencil andsaid, ‘What Within the global are you doing?’
Then I commenced getting real activities. That taught me plenty.
A number of times in our professional lives, you reflect onconsideration on jobs being roboticallybeneath you. And you’re sitting there looking for anyone to present you a certainly interesting, change-the-world task.
You simply should earn it. You can not assume which you confirmed up in the future like a hotshot.
Q: How did you become going to high school In the U.S.?
A: one day I ran into my college counselor at the excessive school I attended in Hong Kong. He turned into asking me what I desired to look at. I said, ‘I like math and I really like technology.’
He stated Hong Kong University is a in reality awesome school, but ‘you may need to reflect onconsideration on going foreign places.’ I had this crush on Ivy League faculties. simply in simple terms from pix.
Brother Michael said I used to be an affordable scholar, but now not appropriate enough to moveimmediately from Hong Kong to the Ivy League.
but he stated, ‘There’s any other way. You undergo prep colleges.’
I carried out to Andover, Exeter, Northfield Mount Herman, Deerfield Academy and Choate or some thing. Ididn’t get Inside the first two. So I went to Northfield Mount Herman.
Then I went to Brown College.
That became exceptional. The ones first years have been extra than simply look at. It is about being a part of the society. I failed to talk Numerous English at the time. I understood it and that i ought to studymaximum of it. I ought to write a number of it. however I couldn’t converse like we’re doing now.
Q: What are you desirable at?
A: I am excellent at bridge. I don’t do it anymore. I used to play at the excessive faculty stage and alsointercollegiate – till it started to intrude with my ordinary pupil existence.
Q: How did you get on the control song?
A: almost totally due to the race problem. I was an engineer, helped to layout chip units, circuit forums. Iloved it. The enterprise became Burroughs. We made mainframes.
I found out that some of promotions Inside the company went to Caucasians, regardless of the fact that we knew from operating day in and day out that some of the minorities were better equipped to try thisprocess.
I concept it was abnormal.
I went to my segment head, who took place to be a center–aged Caucasian gentleman (they had been allmiddle–elderly Caucasian gents) and requested, ‘Why is that?’
He instructed me something that changed into very impactful. He said, and that is stereotyping, ‘Youguys are excellent at engineering, math and technology and stuff.’ extremely good employees and stuff like that. ‘but I’m not so sure which you men are very presentable.’
that is the late ’70s, early ’80s. I was now not pretty positive what he supposed. I notion he supposedpresentation talents.
So I went and, on my own nickel, hired a local Tv producer and his spouse who ran a conversation and presentation elegance.
They wanted $2,000 for six hours or something. I made $2,100 in step with month earlier than tax as an engineer.
I did it. They put me at the VHS tape recorder. They put me on this set and gave me a lectern and said, ‘read this.’
It turned into horrible. the whole lot that would Move wrong went wrong. I used to be swaying at thelectern. I were given dizzy watching myself. I was not clean. I was not searching at them. I used to besearching down.
I wasn’t communicating. And that is what I found out. It’s no longer approximately the English. notapproximately the pronunciation or the diction. It’s absolutely about should you communicate.
So I labored lots on it.
The business enterprise found out I was doing all of this and promoted me and then paid me lower backthe $2,000.
After that, the business enterprise placed me on the quick song. They provide you with an task for 6months in every department. By the time I finished it, I discovered accounting. I learned cloth requisition. I discovered about how a plant runs. I learned about software. I learned approximately income. Idiscovered about advertising and marketing, program control.
After or 3 years, I finished up the plant manager. The very person who instructed me approximately the presentation component virtually worked for me in a while.
Q: How did you end up at Sybase?
A: I were given recruited to run Sybase in 1997 thru more than one board individuals.
Sybase was a business enterprise that used to be awesome and didn’t do that well. So I went in. It took me a long term, but we did thoroughly.
I am quite right at finding skills. I prepare a team that has a certain function, is inclined to strive newmatters which might be data pushed, won’t mind the united states of americaand downs, shouldchortle on the failure but could have fun achievement.
It’s a touch different kind of personality that is able to try this. Most of the people, whilst things Godown, generally tend to want to run away, attach themselves to winners.
I want to attach myself to something that we’ve accomplished, no longer something anyone else did.
We lost A number of Humans at BlackBerry. Very proficient Human beings. I would as a substitute now not have them long past, but if their minds aren’t in it, or if their attitudes aren’t there, then It’s not theproper blend.
Q: Why did you receive the BlackBerry task?
A: this is a very crucial agency. An iconic corporation. that is wherein and how smartphonescommenced.
It form of lost its manner.
One among the larger investors Within the agency, Prem Watsa, approached me. He is a totally chronicfellow. I stated no the primary couple of instances. He form of fooled me by way of announcing, ‘Why do not you simply type of come in and build a control crew and set the approach and be the govtchairman?’
You can not honestly set the strategy and construct the control crew without being palms-on.
This organization become founded 30 years in the past. It started with a pager, actual-time two–mannercommunications on the time. Then it developed right into a cellphone.
At one time, the organization owned approximately 49 percentage of the marketplace proportion in smartphones. It became a standing image.
The marketplace changed, and the company failed to exchange with the market. The client shifted from a closed environment, in which the entirety functions collectively, and worked properly and all that stuff to, ‘Whats up, they need applications.’ Then the iPhone got here on the scene.
What the iPhone represented we missed. to provide Human beings the selection. It become to combine it into an increasing number of a part of their life. Track. ITunes. photographs.
At one factor in time, we even had an inner debate that setting a digicam on a telephone is a source of asecurity leak. So we’ve long past thru a lot.
properly, you understand the rest of the records.
Q: How will you restore this company?
A: I need to move returned to the those who really want security. So what we are going to be comingreturned on are protection, encryption, privateness, company and lots more on give up-to-stopsolutions.
The actual cusp of what we’re focusing on is the software program. Our software runs on the entiretynow. now not best on BlackBerry, it runs on iPhone, IOS, Google devices, Microsoft gadgets. We want tomanipulate some of these gadgets in a very at ease manner.
All of the acquisitions we make, comfy voice, comfy report transfers, these are all to make certain wecould provide Those answers to our clients.
Q: What approximately other lines of commercial enterprise?
A: There are 60 million cars walking accessible the usage of BlackBerry software – telematic software, infotainment software program, radio and all that. We brought a lot more capabilities, like superiordriver‘s help, communications among vehicles.
State-of-the-art car, if you go to the auto producer, they’re sincerely building a software platform. they are not building a vehicle.
Whilst you communicate to them, they may be no longer speakme approximately horsepower. they’renow not talking about zero to 60 in three.five seconds. They communicate extra about the linkedautomobiles, the motors have intelligence. the auto detects your using situations, preventing you from getting harm. Internet service getting news, the personalization you need. Infotainment device. we areincreasing unexpectedly in that.
Q: Another recreation-changers?
A: cellular is a part of all and sundry‘s life. And it’s going to be a larger and larger element. We’re going to transact banking data on devices. We are going to consume clinical information on devices. There may be going to be your private Identity on those gadgets. The mobile security goes to be even a whole lot extra wished than today.
all and sundry‘s going to be hacked.
You could not sense as threatened nowadays due to the fact they simplest study it. but if I exchangeyour scientific records, you will be very threatened. And you’re going to come going for walks to me and you will purchase my stuff.
Q: So how’s commercial enterprise?
A: In the final 8 quarters, we’re producing coins from operations. EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] is getting effective. we are getting there. We still have A lot of paintings to do. I might not idiot anyone.
I would like to be worthwhile, truely with the aid of the stop of the 12 months. however I’m hoping it willbe a bit sooner.
Q: What’s First Tee?
A: they are taking internal–town children of poor families and teaching them values via golfing.Persistence. Honesty. Difficult paintings. Sportsmanship. The way you address life.
You integrate training with something this is really a laugh and has the benefit of taking them off the street and giving them something significant to do. Quite a few them are the primary era going to aCollege.
I got here from Hong Kong.whilst I was developing up, People have been notably terrible. In Hong Kong,There may be now not enough libraries. You may by no means borrow a ebook because there are notbooks to borrow.
once I first came to this u . S . and going into a library I could not believe how excellent and delightfuland the zillions of books and nobody there. My friends from Hong Kong would be in heaven.
A variety of People, inclusive of my mother and father, are refugees from China. So I saw Quite a fewheartbreaking conditions in lifestyles.
So one of the philanthropy choices my wife and i made, whilst we came into a bit bit of cash some timereturned, turned into to set up a fund that supports some thing that allows youngsters.
Q: Any commercial enterprise instructions you have got discovered to your profession or mentorswho’ve helped you?
A: I’m very lucky that I had A variety of bosses. I had my proportion of terrible bosses. however I had A number of properly Human beings. proper those who taught me lots about how I think about things, like if we’re doing something genuinely, virtually Difficult, then we’re doing it incorrect.
It sounds very trivial once in a while, however it clearly hit me and that i sat back and that i idea, ‘Why is this so Tough for us?’
The motive it is so Tough is because you’re going via a narrower and narrower corridor. So you would possibly need to figure out if it sincerely leads you everywhere.
don’t be one hundred percentage sure approximately the whole thing. Live centered. I got that.however There may be a restriction. I have found out from exceptional bosses which you‘ve were givento study problems a bit differently.
Stories that Humans proportion with me Shop A whole lot of Tough, meaningless work.
Q: Why do you serve on the boards of Walt Disney agency and Wells Fargo?
A: outstanding People. high-quality management. The complexity of the commercial enterprise of bothof them is implausible.
Every body around the sector knows Disney. It’s an leisure giant. It is in all forms of enterprise andextraordinarily nicely run.
Wells Fargo has $1 trillion in deposits. It truly is bigger than Lots of countries‘ GDP.
Being capable of sit across the table and examine what they do and how they do matters and how theythink about matters facilitates me fairly right here in my day job.
if you think my problem is big, a number of their problems are big.
Being an overseer, you understand what the institution truely needs and make certain Those are being addressed by using someone equipped.
This is all you do.
© 2016 The Washington Publish
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Tags: Android, Apps, BlackBerry, John Chen, Mobiles, SAP, Silicon Valley