Magazine article Management Today

Books: The Long March from Mao to Silicon Valley

Magazine article Management Today

Books: The Long March from Mao to Silicon Valley

Article excerpt

Exiled from Communist China, Ping Fu became a tech boom entrepreneur. Linda Yueh is fascinated by her life story.

Bend, Not Break: A life in two worlds

Ping Fu

Portfolio Penguin, pounds 12.99

I have for some time admired the resilience of those who left China during the early part of the reform period in the 1980s. Despite the disruptions to their education caused by the Cultural Revolution, when academic study was shut down for a decade until 1976, and the dislocation of being 'sent down to the countryside', where some toiled in manual labour for up to 10 years, they managed to enter or resume their studies and establish themselves as successful academics and business leaders, and in other significant roles. Ping Fu, the CEO of the Fortune 500 company, Geomagic, certainly fits the bill.

Bend, Not Break is essentially her memoirs. She had an idyllic childhood in Shanghai, then endured the abuses of the Cultural Revolution, which shaped her formative years from ages eight to 18, and finally went into exile in the States where she founded a tech start-up that led to her being named Inc's Entrepreneur of the Year.

The book cleverly juxtaposes her early experiences with her journey as a successful programmer during the 1990s, so the reader can follow how she learned that showing vulnerability can lead to effective outcomes, and how sometimes retreat is the successful strategy. The most prominent theme in the book is how Ping Fu integrates her Chinese values into her American working life. Specifically, she focuses on how the Chinese tolerate, accept and even idealise contradictions, such as those outlined above. The sub-title of the book, A Life in Two Worlds, captures this well.

But, it's the vivid narration of her life experiences that draws the reader in. She was wrenched from her home by Mao's Red Guards and thrust into a dormitory to fend for not only herself but her four-year-old sister. She suffered abuse and humiliation. Fu sardonically comments that years of public self-confessions of her worthlessness mean that she doesn't fear speaking on stage. Finding herself exiled after college, she left for the US and has lived the quintessential American Dream.

Fu did a number of odd jobs to put herself through college and then became a programmer caught up in the tech boom and bust. …

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