2010 NAAAP National Convention – Keynote by John Chen, Chairman, CEO & President of Sybase

On Friday night, I had the great pleasure to hear John Chen, Chairman, CEO & President of database company Sybase, give the keynote for that evening for the 2010 NAAAP National Convention in San Francisco. John emigrated from Hong Kong, graduating from Brown University in 1978 with a BS degree in electrical engineering and in 1979 from Caltech with a Masters degree.

John started to preface his comments that discrimination does still exist in America. Discrimination is a fact of life, but there is discrimination everywhere in the world, and you can decide what to do about it. After grad school, John went on to industry. That is when he began to notice that when engineers got promoted, it was always the “caucasian” engineers, an effect of the “bamboo ceiling.”  After this happened for a while, he asked his boss about this phenomena and was straight out told that he was”not presentable.” At first, he was shocked and wondered what that meant. The more he thought about what his boss said, he got pissed; he began to understand that this not about about how to make presentations, but about “what you say it, when you say it and how you say it.”

John went on to spend his own money to improve his “presentability.” Eventually, HR and his boss understood his interest, seriousness and effort in his interest in rising through the management ranks, gave him a chance and promoted him – and as they say, the rest of history. I think a lot of Asian Americans think that being smart, working hard and knowing the right answers will get you ahead. Except for a few professions — especially where Asian Americans are overly represented — gaining corporate success by working hard is more perception than reality; thus, being more presentable will further in your career more than simply being smart and hard working.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear John’s personal experience dealing with his professional challenges to reach the top of his profession.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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