Wang, Charles B.
Wang, Charles B.
As the Chief Executive Officer of Computer Associates (CA), Charles B. Wang is one of the leaders in the computer software industry. Wang (pronounced "Wong"), however, does not believe that establishing a place in the public eye is the way to get ahead in the software industry. Therefore, CA focuses all of its attention on just two things: developing new technology and marketing those new products.
Wang was born in Shanghai, China, on August 19, 1944. The country, then occupied by the Japanese in World War II, soon fell to the Communists under Mao Zedong, and when Wang was eight years old, his family fled their native land. They settled in Queens, New York, and his father—a well-educated lawyer who had served on the supreme court of China—began his career again with virtually nothing. The difficulties of those early years in the United States undoubtedly inspired Wang with the burning desire for success that fueled him in his later career.
Wang's father instilled in his three sons a high value for education, especially that of a technical nature due to the act that language would not pose the problem that it would in the study of history or literature. So Charles Wang went to Brooklyn Technical High School, and in 1967 earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Queens College in New York.
After leaving college, Wang began working as a programming trainee at the Riverside Research Institute ofColumbia University. He later moved to a job at Standard Data Corporation in New York, and became vice president of sales, in which capacity he inaugurated a software division for the company. During this time, his boss was offered a franchise for a Swiss software company by the name of Computer Associates International Ltd. The boss turned down the opportunity, but Wang took it instead, and at the age of 32, Wang began his true career as an entrepreneur.
Besides his business interests, Wang is fond of cooking, and has published a Chinese cookbook with the title Wok Like a Man. He is married to Nancy Li, his second wife, who is chief technology officer of his company.
Wang began working with three associates, one of them a friend from college named Russell Artzt, as a distributor of CAI's CA-SORT data management software in 1976. He also founded his own company as a CAI subsidiary. Wang worked as the "marketing department," while the other three filled in the other functions of the fledgling enterprise. By 1977, Computer Associates was selling the first of its own products, CA-DYNAM/D, which was used for disk space management. In 1980, Wang and Artzt were able to purchase the Swiss parent company, and Wang hired his older brother Anthony—who had followed their father into the legal profession—as his company's legal counsel. The company expanded greatly in Europe, and began to buy up rivals such as UCCELL Corporation, a $780 million purchase in 1987.
Wang has spoken of making the work place fun. One day when the air conditioning at his company offices failed on a hot day, he personally pushed a cart through the building, passing out ice cream cones and sandwiches to his employees. Wang is characterized as impulsive and enthusiastic, in contrast to the cooler heads with which he surrounds himself. He believes in rewarding his employees, and has built an outstanding corporate facility (which includes a health club, free breakfast, and day care for children) in Islandia, New York. To maintain employee flexibility, he has taken the highly unusual step of encouraging people to periodically change positions within the company, for instance allowing a technical expert to work in the marketing department for a while.
Yet Wang is also a no-nonsense manager. He is far from extravagant in his lifestyle, or with his company's finances. He is also well known for the severe limitations he places on employee use of company e-mail, which he has suggested is good for little more than office politics. Therefore, every day from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and again from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. the e-mail system at CA is shut down.
Wang's extremely high salary is also noteworthy: in 1997, he was making more than $6 million in base pay and bonuses, according to Computer Reseller News. However, his total compensation for 1996, according to the same source, was $11 million—making him the highest-paid executive in the computer industry. Wang works closely with Sanjay Kumar, his chief operating officer. Kumar's total compensation package in 1996 was more than $7 million.
Charles Wang did not build his business by imitating others. For starters, his Islandia, New York, company is far from the computer industry's nerve center in California's Silicon Valley. He has foregone glamour in favor of establishing a solid niche for his more than 500 software products, which are generally used in network management for large companies. Business Week magazine characterized the function of CA software as "plumbing products"—equipment that helps to maintain large computer infrastructures, as proper plumbing helps a large city to survive. As a result, this has put CA software in great demand.
Chronology: Charles B. Wang
1952: Emigrated to the United States.
1967: Earned bachelor's degree in mathematics.
1976: Opened Computer Associates International franchise.
1977: Computer Associates marketed its first product.
1977: Computer Associates opened its first data center.
1980: Purchased Computer Associates International parent company.
1987: Purchased rival UCCEL.
1989: Computer Associates became the world's first software company to reach $1 billion in sales.
1995: Purchased Cheyenne Software.
There are many legends of the difficulties Wang and his associates at CA had to undergo in the early days of their business, when they operated with virtually no available capital. Wang himself bartered his consulting services for rent, and made most of the furniture for the first company office. He once drove all the way to Boston from upstate New York to collect a bill that he needed in order to be able to pay his employees.
Although it was eventually overtaken by Microsoft and Oracle, in 1989 CA was the largest software company in the world and the first independent software manufacturer to pass $1 billion in annual sales. By the mid-1990s, what had begun as a humble and undercapitalized enterprise had 7,000 employees making or selling 300 products in 27 countries. The company's annual revenues totaled more than $4 billion by 1997.
Whereas much of CA's growth in the 1980s and early 1990s can be attributed to buyouts—earning Wang the reputation of a "corporate scavenger"—in the mid-1990s he sought to sustain and augment that growth by increased product development. When he announced his intention to buy Cheyenne Software in October of 1995 at $1.2 billion, his biggest purchase yet, Wang was already turning his attention toward development of his products to meet new challenges. Particularly promising was Unicenter TNG ("The Next Generation"), which offered unique graphical capabilities for network management and the multimedia database program Jasmine.
In spite of his own technical learning, in giving advice to young Asian Americans, Wang has said that he wished he had studied English in college: "You [can] have the greatest idea in history . . . However, if you do not know how to communicate your idea clearly, it dies with you." He has also observed that because they tend to gravitate toward technical careers, Asian Americans miss out on other opportunities in business.
Social and Economic Impact
Charles Wang built a $4 billion dollar empire with no venture capital by taking risks and working hard. He demonstrated that the establishment's way isn't always the best way. His software company is located on Long Island, New York, 3,000 miles from Silicon Valley. He focused not just on product development, but also on aggressive marketing and market positioning. Over the years, he has acquired more than 50 software companies.
Wang's unorthodox employment skills have reaped him rewards as well. Wang's management style runs counter to models taught in business schools. At CA, there are reportedly no rules, no positional perks, no fixed roles and no memos. "It's just good people," according to Wang. Instead of shunning nepotism, Wang actively recruits family and friends of current employees, people he already knows and trusts. The bottom line for him is that performance and achievement should be richly rewarded. Wang believes that star performers should receive star salaries, regardless of their age. All employees have access to the health club, free breakfast and the corporation's child day care center. Wang keeps his employees challenged by changing their jobs frequently, which can prevent burnout and stagnation, according to Wang, and he personally administers the annual reorganization.
Sources of Information
Contact at: Computer Associates
1 Computer Associates Plz.
Islandia, NY 11788
Business Phone: (516) 342-5224
Baatz, E. B. "Mail Dominated Culture." CIO , 15 June 1996.
Cortese, Amy. "Sexy? No. Profitable? You Bet." Business Week, 11 November 1996.
Foster, Christine. "Couples." Forbes, 2 December 1996.
Hausman, Eric. "10 Years and Counting." Computer Reseller News, 12 May 1997.
Karlgaard, Rich. "Charles Wang." Forbes, 11 April 1994.
McCartney, Laton. "Will Computer Associates' Manners Improve?" Upside, June 1996.
Moltzen, Edward F. "CA Chief Bolsters Total '96 Earnings." Computer Reseller News, 22 July 1996.
"The Software Scavenger." Economist, 15 June 1996.
Who's Who in America 1998. New Providence, NJ: Marquis, 1997.
Zia, Helen and Susan B. Gall, eds. Notable Asian Americans. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.
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