Everyone's talking about women in tech these days, but for the most part, the focus has been the all-stars Stateside — from the Lean In-advocating Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook to the forward-thinking Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!.
But, we think the women beyond Silicon Valley deserve some time in the spotlight, too. At HTC's new product launch last month, we caught up with the company's co-founder and chairwoman, Cher Wang — the most powerful woman in wireless technology you've never heard of, according to the New York Times — and asked her to share some of the life lessons she's learned over the years. At 56, the once-richest woman of Taiwan is going head-to-head with the likes of Apple and Samsung through the new HTC Desire Eye, a "selfie phone." As an exec who pioneered the handheld device and once convinced Bill Gates to partner with her company, she has serious wisdom to share.
A huge setback in the early days of your career can make or break your business. For Wang, that came in the form of a $700,000 credit she had given to a Spanish merchant, that he hadn't repaid. Rather than admitting to failure, Wang took on the challenge with aplomb. To get her money back, Wang moved to Barcelona with a bodyguard and relentlessly chased after him for six months. She also multitasked by taking the trans-European train whenever she could to pitch new businesses in England and Germany. It was on one of these train rides that she came up with the idea of a personal computer, wanting a working device she could hold in her hands when traveling. Later, she proposed the concept to Bill Gates, who had just came out with the Windows CE operating system.
When it comes to finding a career path, we've often been told to "follow our passion." But, Wang believes that may not always be the best route to success. Originally a composition major at UC Berkeley, she once dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. After struggling with coursework that her musically gifted classmates seemed to breeze right through, she realized that her passion might not be enough. Even when you have a "dream job" in mind, sometimes becoming the best of the best also requires some true, natural talent. After reevaluating her strengths, she decided to focus on her business acumen, and switched her major to economics.
In order to manage your finances well, Wang points out that you need to figure out your life direction, and make spending decisions accordingly. That doesn't necessarily mean depositing every paycheck into savings, but rather allocating your income in a way that yields maximum future benefits (like taking a class that brings a new skill set). And, Wang, who was raised in a rich — yet frugal — family, practices what she preaches. The billionaire doesn't own any private jets or sports cars, because she believes she can get around just as efficiently with taxis and commercial airlines, and invest the savings.
Women make up more than half of the population in the U.S., so what we think and believe and want should be embraced in the tech sector. It's important for an aspiring entrepreneur to understand female customers' strong purchasing power, because those consumers often make shopping decisions for others in their lives. Wang understands this, and it's the reason she doesn't aim to create gadgets that busy women will end up leaving at home, focusing instead on products that will help our lives run more smoothly. As women, we should understand — and own — our influential position in the consumer landscape.
Wang learned one of her most valuable life lessons from her father, Yung-ching Wang, a plastics tycoon: to always search for perfection, and to see it as a process of digging. When you delve continuously deeper in search of the best, you get closer to the roots of an idea, he often told her. That original concept will be what keeps you grounded. Gratitude is also important to the businesswoman. When she moved on her own to America at age 15, without speaking any English, her foster family took her under their wings. The kindness they showed assimilated her to life abroad; she now sees being able to help others as the ultimate blessing.