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Exile/entrepreneur’s survival mode

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Ping Fu’s first 23 years were marked by imprisonment and torture in China, first as a child and later for dutifully researching, as assigned, the country’s epidemic of infanticide. Locked for days alone in utter darkness, she hoped her execution would be quick.

Instead, officials exiled her to America.

The second half of Ping’s life has been as much a dream as the first half was a nightmare. Earning degrees in computer science, she made her way to the National Center for Supercomputing and wound up starting Geomagic, a company that specializes in 3-D graphics and has grown more than 2,000 percent in the past five years, to annual revenues of about $30 million.

Among its clients: NASCAR teams, which use its software for parts inspection and production, and the Cleveland Clinic, which used it to model and test an artificial heart.

How did Ping manage this? She feels it’s her destiny to create something of value. It’s the only way she can justify her long, strange trip.

And now that she seems to have her company’s fundamentals in line— R&D, products and markets—she’s focusing on becoming a leader.

Not that she ever lacked in that department. Hard work and fearlessness more than offset her cultural tendencies toward reticence and submission. In the dark days after the tech bubble burst, she mortgaged her house to pay severance and asked the employees who were left to give her three months to complete a turnaround.

“If it had been any other boss but Ping, I probably would have bailed,” says one employee. “But she communicated such a sense of resolve that I just couldn’t help believing in her.”

Ping herself says: “In a crisis mode, you lose all self-doubt. I couldn’t afford the luxury of doubt. I had too many people depending on me.”

—Adapted from “The Dimensions of Ping Fu,” John Brant, Inc.

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