WAYNE TSOU (BSE EE '89) understands the concept of turning humble beginnings into remarkable success. He did it for himself. And these days, he does it for a living.
Born in Shanghai, Tsou landed in Ann Arbor in 1981 during one of the worst recessions in United States history, unable to speak a word of English but thrust into ninth grade and the challenges of being different in high school. Today, he's managing director of The Carlyle Group, and managing partner of the Carlyle Asia Venture and Growth Capital Group, investing in private companies worldwide and turning them into powerhouse ventures.
"I basically learned English from looking at a dictionary," Tsou said, referring to his high school experience. "The environment was so cruel, and I wanted to speak without being laughed at." He learned well enough to score high marks in English Literature classes. His performance was a sign of things to come.
When Tsou began undergraduate studies at Michigan Engineering, he discovered an "eye- opening and enriching experience": Here, diversity and being different was the norm. He admits that it still wasn't easy, but he graduated summa cum laude. Next, he took on electrical engineering at California Institute of Technology and earned his master's degree in just nine months. In 1997, Tsou earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School, and a juris doctor from the Harvard Law School.
He was poised to take on the world. Little did he know that his work would take him around it, many times over - recently, he circled the globe tl1ree and a half times in just four weeks to get a job done.
Tsou got to this point by calling on the real nature of an engineering education - the ability to analyze and solve problems, whether they're technical or not.
He began his career as a technical advisor in the telecommunications industry in the early 1990s, focusing his efforts and talents on the planning and development of high- speed data communications networks.
With each subsequent position, his role became less technical and more financial, and his focus turned to mergers, acquisitions and private equity financing. Prior to joining The Carlyle Group nearly two years ago, Tsou spent seven years at Warburg Pincus as managing director and head of technology investments for Asia.
In his current position with The Carlyle Group, Tsou is based in the company's Hong Kong headquarters, though he doesn’t believe that's completely accurate. "About 90 percent of my time is spent traveling," he said, "so I'm really based in planes and hotels." Often confined to airplanes, hotel rooms and board- rooms, Tsou enjoys the freedom of jazz music, and the welcome breather it provides in an otherwise frantically paced life.
When he does make it home to Hong Kong, Tsou cherishes the days spent with his "very under- standing" wife and two young children. His time is their time, during those rare days at home - he spends every possible moment with them, at the beach or enjoying water sports. And when he catches a moment or two to read, he likes to lose himself in a good Asian history book.
Those moments are few and far between. In addition to managing six offices across China, India, Japan and Korea, Tsou also is director of the board for Target Media and Huaya Microelectronics in China, Epivalley in Korea and Newgen in India.
Tsou doesn't spend much time looking back on his accomplishments and career path. He's far more interested in what lies ahead in his native country. "It's very exciting to be part of the fastest-growing economy," he said, "and building a business that's right for China." Yet he remembers his humble beginnings and recognizes how remarkable his success has been.
"It's drive," he said, "and not being afraid to try things. Basically, moving from nowhere to creating something."
Originally printed in the Spring 2005 Michigan Engineer, by Connie Coon