RIDING THE RUNAWAY HORSE: The Rise and Decline of Wang Laboratories by Charles C. Kenney

RIDING THE RUNAWAY HORSE: The Rise and Decline of Wang Laboratories

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The cautionary tale of a world-class high-tech enterprise that hit the skids faster than it reached the heights. Drawing on interviews with key principals, disclosure documents, and allied sources, Boston Globe correspondent Kenney recounts what, save for hubris, could have been a classic American success story. His protagonist is the late An Wang, an inventive genius who left China for the US after WW II. After earning a Ph.D. from Harvard and working on several of the university's pioneering computer projects, Wang went into business for himself in 1951, at age 29. Profitable from the outset, Wang Laboratories rode the crest of the electronic calculator boom and transformed itself into a leading supplier of minicomputers during the early 1970'S. The subsequent addition of user-friendly word-processing systems to its product lines helped make the company a multinational colossus with annual revenues topping $3 billion--and a Wall Street favorite. Notwithstanding more than a decade of spectacular growth, however, Wang Labs proved vulnerable on several counts. Its high command, for example, failed to appreciate the potential of personal computers, losing this lucrative market to archrival IBM, which went on to set the industry's standards. As Kenney makes clear, moreover, the vaulting dynastic ambitions of the firm's patriarchal founder (described by one close associate as ""a humble egomaniac"") led to operational and morale problems. Indeed, the reversal in the company's fortunes was so pronounced that by 1989 Wang (who died a year later) felt obliged to fire his son Fred from the presidency (for which, by all accounts, he was unqualified) and bring in a professional management team. Back from the brink of bankruptcy, Wang Labs, Kenney says, will survive as a going concern, albeit in neither the generation-spanning nor cutting-edge form envisioned by its creator. A corporate history bearing vivid witness to the warning that pride goeth before a fall.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
Page count: 328pp
Publisher: "Little, Brown"