John Chen, leader executive officer of BlackBerry Ltd, at the 2016 customer Electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, US, on January 6, 2016.
PLEASANTON, CALIFORNIA: John Chen is a turnaround man. The Hong Kong native turned into hired in November 2013 to do just that via BlackBerry, a Canada-based totally generation company – oncereferred to as studies in movement – that helped pioneer mass cellular communications before Apple’s iPhone took over.
Chen, 60, is a large deal in American enterprise, sitting on two of the nation‘s maximum prestigiousboards of administrators: the Walt Disney Co. and Wells Fargo. he’s best recognised in Silicon Valley for reinventing an ailing agency known as Sybase and turning it into a monetary juggernaut – fifty fiveconsecutive quarters of profitability and an growth in marketplace cap from $362 millon to $five.eight billion – that turned into acquired with the aid of SAP in 2010.
The Washington submit interviewed Chen in a quiet Bay region conference room on a wet afternoon forabout an hour. He mentioned everything from the have an effect on of his Catholic high college to whyalmost no task is under a person to how he plans to rescue BlackBerry. This become edited for durationand clarity:
Q: What become your first activity?
A: My first job was in excessive faculty in Hong Kong after I labored for a travel organisation doing odds and ends. within the starting, they did not provide me whatever to do. Then someday, my father said, ‘How’s your task?’ I informed him.
He said, ‘move returned to the office very early within the morning earlier than anyone suggests up. i would such as you to sharpen absolutely everyone‘s pencil.’
It turns out to be the fine recommendation I ever had. people came in early, checked out me sharpeningthe pencil and stated, ‘What inside the global are you doing?’
Then I started out getting actual activities. That taught me loads.
a number of instances in our expert lives, you consider jobs being routinely underneath you. And you are sitting there searching out any individual to provide you a without a doubt thrilling, exchange-the-international job.
You simply should earn it. You can’t assume which you confirmed up at some point like a hotshot.
Q: How did you emerge as going to high school within the U.S.?
A: sooner or later I ran into my college counselor at the high college I attended in Hong Kong. He wasasking me what I wanted to look at. I stated, ‘i really like math and i really like science.’
He stated Hong Kong university is a surely first-rate school, but ‘you would possibly need to considergoing remote places.’ I had this weigh down on Ivy League faculties. simply only from pics.
Brother Michael stated i was an affordable scholar, but no longer top sufficient to head at once from Hong Kong to the Ivy League.
but he stated, ‘there is some other way. You undergo prep faculties.’
I carried out to Andover, Exeter, Northfield Mount Herman, Deerfield Academy and Choate or something. Idid not get inside the first two. So I went to Northfield Mount Herman.
Then I went to Brown college.
That changed into superb. those first years have been more than just have a look at. it’s approximatelybeing a part of the society. I failed to talk a whole lot of English on the time. I understood it and that ishould examine most of it. I should write a number of it. however I couldn’t speak like we are doing now.
Q: What are you true at?
A: i am very good at bridge. I do not do it anymore. I used to play at the high school level and alsointercollegiate – till it commenced to intrude with my everyday student life.
Q: How did you get at the management tune?
A: almost completely due to the race issue. i was an engineer, helped to design chip sets, circuit forums. I cherished it. The corporation turned into Burroughs. We made mainframes.
i discovered out that a number of promotions in the company went to Caucasians, despite the fact that we knew from working day in and day trip that some of the minorities have been higher geared up to do that task.
I notion it was ordinary.
I went to my section head, who happened to be a middle–elderly Caucasian gentleman (they were allmiddle–elderly Caucasian gents) and asked, ‘Why is that?’
He told me something that turned into very impactful. He stated, and this is stereotyping, ‘You men areexcellent at engineering, math and technology and stuff.’ exceptional personnel and stuff like that. ‘buti’m now not so sure which you men are very presentable.’
this is the overdue ’70s, early ’80s. i used to be now not quite certain what he supposed. I concept hesupposed presentation competencies.
So I went and, on my own nickel, hired a neighborhood television producer and his spouse who ran acommunique and presentation class.
They desired $2,000 for 6 hours or some thing. I made $2,100 in line with month before tax as an engineer.
I did it. They positioned me at the VHS tape recorder. They placed me on this set and gave me a lectern and said, ‘read this.’
It changed into terrible. the entirety that would go incorrect went incorrect. i was swaying on thelectern. I got dizzy watching myself. i used to be not clear. i used to be not looking at them. i used to be looking down.
I wasn’t communicating. And that is what I discovered. it is no longer about the English. notapproximately the pronunciation or the diction. it’s definitely approximately could you communicate.
So I labored a lot on it.
The organization found out i used to be doing all of this and promoted me and then paid me lower backthe $2,000.
After that, the employer placed me on the fast track. They come up with an assignment for six months ineach branch. by the point I finished it, I found out accounting. I discovered cloth requisition. I learnedabout how a plant runs. I found out approximately software program. I discovered about income. Idiscovered about advertising, software control.
After or three years, i finished up the plant manager. The very character who advised me approximatelythe presentation aspect truely labored for me later on.
Q: How did you become at Sybase?
A: I got recruited to run Sybase in 1997 through multiple board contributors.
Sybase became a company that used to be fantastic and didn’t do that well. So I went in. It took me along time, however we did thoroughly.
i’m quite good at finding expertise. I prepare a group that has a positive feature, is inclined to strivenew matters which are information driven, may not thoughts the u.s.a.and downs, could chuckle on the failure but may want to celebrate success.
it is a little distinct sort of personality this is able to do that. the majority, when things go down, have a tendency to want to run away, attach themselves to winners.
I need to attach myself to something that we’ve got accomplished, now not something someone else did.
We lost quite a few humans at BlackBerry. Very proficient humans. i’d rather not have them gone, but if their minds aren’t in it, or if their attitudes aren’t there, then it is no longer the right blend.
Q: Why did you receive the BlackBerry job?
A: this is a very vital employer. An iconic organization. this is wherein and the way smartphones started out.
It form of lost its manner.
considered one of the larger investors within the enterprise, Prem Watsa, approached me. he’s a verycontinual fellow. I stated no the first couple of instances. He sort of fooled me with the aid ofannouncing, ‘Why do not you just type of are available in and build a management team and set themethod and be the govt chairman?’
You can not truly set the approach and build the management group without being hands-on.
This organisation turned into based 30 years ago. It started with a pager, actual-time –mannercommunications at the time. Then it evolved right into a cellphone.
At one time, the business enterprise owned about 49 percent of the marketplace proportion in smartphones. It was a status image.
The marketplace modified, and the company didn’t alternate with the market. The purchaser shifted from a closed surroundings, in which everything capabilities together, and worked nicely and all that stuff to, ‘hey, they need programs.’ Then the iPhone got here at the scene.
What the iPhone represented we overlooked. to give humans the selection. It was to integrate it intoincreasingly more part of their life. music. iTunes. snap shots.
At one point in time, we even had an internal debate that placing a digital camera on a cellphone is asource of a security leak. So we’ve long past thru loads.
nicely, you recognize the rest of the history.
Q: how can you restoration this agency?
A: I want to move lower back to the individuals who really need protection. So what we’re going to be coming lower back on are safety, encryption, privacy, organization and lots greater on cease-to-ceasesolutions.
The real cusp of what we are focusing on is the software. Our software runs on everything now. no longer handiest on BlackBerry, it runs on iPhone, IOS, Google gadgets, Microsoft gadgets. We need tomanage some of these gadgets in a very cozy way.
all of the acquisitions we make, relaxed voice, relaxed document transfers, these are all to make certainwe should offer the ones answers to our customers.
Q: What about other traces of enterprise?
A: There are 60 million motors walking obtainable the use of BlackBerry software program – telematicsoftware, infotainment software, radio and all that. We introduced plenty more functions, like superiormotive force‘s assist, communications between vehicles.
trendy vehicle, if you go to the automobile manufacturer, they may be actually constructing asoftware platform. they’re not constructing a automobile.
while you speak to them, they may be not speaking about horsepower. they may be now not speakingabout zero to 60 in three.5 seconds. They talk greater approximately the related cars, the motors have intelligence. the automobile detects your using conditions, preventing you from getting harm. webservice getting news, the personalization you need. Infotainment machine. we are expanding rapidly in that.
Q: every other game-changers?
A: mobile is a part of everybody‘s lifestyles. And it’ll be a bigger and bigger component. we’re going totransact banking statistics on gadgets. we are going to devour medical data on devices. there may begoing to be your personal identity on those devices. The cellular security goes to be even plenty greaterneeded than nowadays.
every person‘s going to be hacked.
you can no longer sense as threatened these days due to the fact they best examine it. however if Iexchange your scientific facts, you will be very threatened. And you will come going for walks to meand you may purchase my stuff.
Q: So how’s business?
A: inside the last 8 quarters, we are producing coins from operations. EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] is getting wonderful. we’re getting there. We still have a variety ofpaintings to do. I won’t fool all and sundry.
I would really like to be worthwhile, surely with the aid of the end of the year. however i’m hoping it will be a touch quicker.
Q: what is First Tee?
A: they’re taking internal–city youngsters of negative families and teaching them values thru golfing.endurance. Honesty. hard work. Sportsmanship. the way you deal with lifestyles.
You integrate schooling with some thing that is without a doubt a laugh and has the gain of taking them off the road and giving them something meaningful to do. a number of them are the primary generationgoing to a university.
I got here from Hong Kong.while i was developing up, people have been noticeably terrible. In Hong Kong, there is not enough libraries. you can in no way borrow a book because there are not books to borrow.
after I first came to this united states of america and going right into a library I couldn’t agree with howsuper and exquisite and the zillions of books and no person there. My pals from Hong Kong could be in heaven.
a whole lot of human beings, inclusive of my parents, are refugees from China. So I saw numerousheartbreaking situations in life.
So one of the philanthropy decisions my wife and i made, whilst we came into a touch little bit of moneya while back, was to installation a fund that helps some thing that allows youngsters.
Q: Any enterprise lessons you have learned to your profession or mentors who have helped you?
A: i’m very lucky that I had lots of bosses. I had my proportion of bad bosses. however I had quite a fewappropriate people. appropriate folks who taught me lots approximately how I reflect onconsideration on matters, like if we are doing something certainly, without a doubt hard, then we’re doing it incorrect.
It sounds very trivial every so often, however it without a doubt hit me and that i sat returned and inotion, ‘Why is this so difficult for us?’
The cause it is so difficult is due to the fact you’re going thru a narrower and narrower corridor. so that you might need to discern out if it surely leads you anywhere.
don’t be one hundred percent sure about the whole thing. live targeted. I got that. but there may be arestriction. i’ve learned from distinct bosses that you‘ve got to have a look at troubles a bit differently.
studies that people percentage with me store a variety of difficult, meaningless paintings.
Q: Why do you serve on the forums of Walt Disney organisation and Wells Fargo?
A: excellent human beings. great management. The complexity of the commercial enterprise of both of them is implausible.
all and sundry around the world is aware of Disney. it’s an enjoyment giant. it’s in all kinds ofenterprise and extremely nicely run.
Wells Fargo has $1 trillion in deposits. it’s bigger than quite a few international locations‘ GDP.
Being capable of sit around the table and examine what they do and the way they do things and howthey consider things helps me distinctly here in my day job.
if you assume my hassle is huge, a number of their problems are significant.
Being an overseer, you recognize what the organization absolutely desires and make certain the onesare being addressed via any person capable.
it truly is all you do.
© 2016 The Washington submit
(This story has no longer been edited by NDTV workforce and is car-generated from a syndicated feed.)