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The infrequently seen face of the Wang Dynasty

Cher Wang wanted to study music. Instead she chose economics, and now she’s one of the most powerful executives in technology

By Laura Holson  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

No one is ever going to call Cher Wang (王雪紅) “poor little rich girl.”

The daughter of one of the richest men in the world, she never made headlines as a profligate jetsetter sponging off her father’s wealth.

Indeed, she rarely makes headlines at all, although she started her own multibillion-dollar company and made her own fortune.

Wang is one of the most powerful female executives in technology whom you have never heard of. The company she founded, the High Tech Computer Corp (HTC, 宏達電), makes one out of every six smartphones sold in the US, most of which are marketed under brands like Palm and Verizon.

Last week the iPhone’s most likely rival, the T-Mobile G1, designed by HTC and powered by Google’s Android operating system, went on sale. The attention is something HTC has never sought. And the same can be said of Wang.

“I kind of like it that way,” she said in a rare interview last month as she tucked into a lunch of mahi mahi, spinach and mushrooms at the Faculty Club at the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated in 1981. “I don’t need to be the center of attention.”

In her native Taiwan, though, where she is called Wang Hsiueh-hong, Wang and her family are a technology dynasty. Her recently deceased father, Wang Yung-ching (王永慶), founded the plastics and petrochemicals conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group (台塑集團). According to Forbes magazine, he was the second-richest man in Taiwan. Two of his daughters serve on Formosa’s seven-member executive team.

Another daughter, Charlene Wang (王雪齡), helped found First International Computer Inc (大眾電腦), a maker of motherboards. And Cher Wang is chairwoman of not one, but two companies: HTC and VIA Technologies Inc (威盛科技), a developer of silicon chip technology, where her husband, Chen Wen-chi (陳文琦), has been chief executive since 1992.

Forbes estimates the couple’s wealth at US$3.5 billion. HTC’s revenue last year reached NT$118.6 billion (US$3.7 billion). But Cher Wang said she was not defined by wealth — either her own or her parents’.

Leisure time was spent playing tennis or basketball. And becoming a lady who lunches was not an option.

When she was a young girl, Cher Wang said, her father would take her on monthly visits to a local hospital he helped finance. And at her father’s behest, Cher Wang and her siblings studied abroad instead of staying in Taipei.

That is how she ended up in Silicon Valley. Cher Wang was born in Taipei in 1958, one of seven children raised by her father’s second wife. (Altogether Wang Yung-ching had nine children by three wives.) While some of the other children went to private schools in London, the US held more appeal for Cher Wang.

In 1974 she attended the exclusive College Preparatory School in Oakland, California. After graduating from high school, she went to Berkeley, where she was admitted as a music major; she wanted to be a pianist. But after three weeks she switched to economics, in which she later earned a master’s degree.

“This is the building I ran away from,” she said on a walk around campus, pointing to a room at the music school where she had auditioned, playing a piece by Chopin. “I had the dream, but I am also very realistic.”

After graduating from Berkeley, she took a job in 1982 at First International Computer, where she sold motherboards and later oversaw the PC division.

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