Academic credentials are by no means the sole yardstick of success in the corporate arena. Try asking Taiwanese-born Billy Chen, currently director for telecommunications at Samsung Electronics Hong Kong.
During his student days, his spirit was anything but listless as he hopped every year from one high school to another. He capped a largely uneventful academic life with a graphic communications degree from one of Taipei's universities.
The lack of academic distinction, though, did not deter him from establishing a solid and distinguished career in technology, a daunting industry in which the high rate of obsolescence is more rule than exception.
Mr Chen's start was far from auspicious. His first job in 1991 was that of a technician in a DIY computer shop in Taipei. Unmindful of his lowly post, he pursued it with deep passion and enthusiasm, endearing qualities which unwittingly and unexpectedly opened doors to opportunities.
"I used to share my views and opinions on computing with my customers. One time, I never imagined that one of my customers was a top executive of Citibank Taiwan who was then in search of a personal assistant," he recalls.
Impressed by his knowledge of computing, as well as passion and dedication to his profession, that Citibank executive hired him to join a team of 10 senior staff, tasked with re-engineering the bank's consumer banking infrastructure.
"I started as a temporary employee, but I performed my tasks with great zeal, getting involved in every aspect of the project," he says. A year later, the bank's management amply recognised his good performance as he was made a permanent employee, earning for himself in the process the distinction of being the youngest permanent staff at his post.
Steep learning curve
Soon after, major tasks came in. He was tapped to integrate Microsoft's Windows NT into the bank's computer network and later, to set up the bank's call centre. Those assignments made him well acquainted with Microsoft's products.
"I proposed the launch of an internet banking service in 1994," Mr Chen says. His forays into technology gained momentum as he pioneered in 1996 the opening of one of the first internet restaurants in Taiwan.
"Different facets of modern technology, like internet browsing, video conferencing and even touch-screen panels were already available even during those days," he recalls. However, his restaurant's technology offerings did little in boosting its business. It closed shop after only one year.
"I learned a great deal from that venture, primarily my loss of focus. Selling IT services primarily and sidelining food and beverage were both fatal mistakes as I failed to recognise that I was then engaged in the restaurant business," he admits.
While his IT preoccupation failed him in his business venture, it proved beneficial when he served a two-year compulsory service with Taiwan's military forces. Given his IT background, he was assigned to maintain the army's computer system.
Mr Chen had no inkling that that stint would later serve as a ticket to fresh opportunities. When he left the army in 1998, a consultancy job at Microsoft awaited him.
His job there gave him a rare opportunity of taking a service provider's perspective and gain a broad and intimate view of the US company's multi-faceted technology offerings.
His stint with the technology giant only lasted two years. "I was not in the best terms with my supervisor then. I could have been more refined, but I was too proud then, given all the opportunities which came my way before," he says.
Moving on, he left for Hong Kong in 2000 to help Yes Mobile launch its services in China. But shortly thereafter, Microsoft tapped him as a sales manager of its mobile team in the Greater China market. He stayed on for this job and when he left last year, he was director of the mobile team.
"I've enjoyed the stimulating working environment and the challenges of exploring and stretching the potential of Windows mobile," he notes.
Mr Chen's career has gone a long way, evolving from a purely technical job into one that requires a more business development focus.
During his tenure, he raised the market share of Windows Mobile in the Greater China region by extending Microsoft's PC experience to mobile phones, and developed key strategic channel partners and expanded Windows Mobile Enterprise and Consumer businesses with mobile operators in the region.
Mr Chen was credited for introducing the first Windows Mobile Phone O2 XDA to Hong Kong in 2002, followed by the introduction of the revolutionary mPro mobile service to Taiwan in 2006. Last year, he led the team and forged partnership with Samsung to jointly develop the first customised terminal device for China Mobile.
At the moment, his principal focus and mission is to boost the market share of Samsung Anycall. "My varied exposure in the years past will help me complete my IT industry experience — initially from that of a user, into a service provider and now, a service operator," he says.