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From Experimental Physics to Internet Entrepreneurship: One Scientist's Journey

10/07/2010 4:45 PM 10"250
Dr. Charles C"Y Zhang, Ph.D. 94, Founder, Chairman CEO SOHU.COM

Description: Few better personify the vitality and ambition fueling China's economic surge than Charles C"Y Zhang. In this energetic and revelatory talk, Zhang relates his personal evolution from MIT physicist to leading Chinese entrepreneur.

An industrious student from a poor family, Zhang was one of the fortunate few in his university to qualify for an education in the U.S. "In terms of IQ, I'm OK. Everywhere, smart kids were studying physics and math," he says. While completing a Ph.D. at MIT in the early '90s, Zhang discovered "the wonderland of computers." During post"doctoral research, he became involved in a program fostering MIT/China cooperation, and decided to make a career of the "two big trends of the time": an emerging China and the internet.

"For a Chinese student in 1995, returning to China was considered crazy," says Zhang. He joined an internet company opening offices in emerging markets, and set off for China on his 31st birthday, committed to making "major changes in my life." With his MIT background, Zhang found he was well situated to "crack open the wall" in Chinese society and forge a path for this new company. But Zhang soon became restless, convinced that the internet could be more than just a means of communicating financial information. He set about raising money for his own startup, leveraging investment and help from such MIT friends as Ed Roberts and Nick Negroponte. In 1996, Zhang's new company, Internet Technologies China, went online, using China's first internet backbone (a $1000 PC running Linux).

Zhang's directory of links as well as navigation assistance to sites on China's early internet, became SOHU.com in 1998 -- a company, Zhang proudly recounts, of many "firsts." It was China's first free and open website; the first Chinese company to use venture capital, and professional marketing. Says Zhang, "The first few years, I ran SOHU like a presidential campaign operation, and I became the digital power boy and messenger of China."

Many internet entrepreneurs followed hard on Zhang's heels, and a group of companies now jockey for dominance in China. So Zhang is intent on recreating his company in the next two years, to establish unassailable market share in online video content, microblogs, and gaming among China's 400 million+ internet users. To achieve this, Zhang says he must inject "more technology genes" into the company, broaden management talent, and continue pushing China for judicial relief from intellectual property "piracy." Says Zhang, "We either become an internet giantor we will shrink into history. There is no middle position -- winner takes all."

About the Speaker(s): Prior to founding SOHU.com, Charles Zhang worked for Internet Securities Inc. (ISI) and helped establish its China operations. Before that, he worked as MIT's liaison officer with China. Zhang has a Ph.D degree in experimental physics from MIT and a B.S. from Qinghua University in Beijing.

In October 1998, Zhang was named by Time Digital as one of the world's top 50 digital elite. He has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Global Leader of Tomorrow. Zhang regularly participates in leading international conferences, including the Fortune Global 500 Forum, Fortune Magazine roundtables, and World Economic Forum meetings.

In May 2003, Zhang joined the SOHU"sponsored China Mount Everest team to a height of 6,666 meters in an expedition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the tallest mountain's human conquest.

Host(s): School of Science, School of Science

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December 16, 2011 16:45
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