THN: Charles Wang - Genie oder Verrückter?
“As Charles has told me many times in
his own inimitable fashion, ‘I’m too old and too rich to give a blank
what other people think of me.’ ”
Former Islanders GM Mike Milbury
Charles Wang - Genius or madman?
It was a couple of days before the Olympic break and the entire eastern
seaboard had been hit by the mother of all snowstorms. But that wasn’t
near enough to keep Dean Lombardi from his task at hand.
Lombardi arrived at the airport in San Francisco only to find out
almost every flight going anywhere near New York had been canceled. The
closest he could get was Rochester, so he jumped on a flight, then
rented a car and drove through the blinding snow to Cooperstown, where
he stopped for the night.
He woke the next morning and drove all day through the blizzard to get
to Long Island. As he was making his way through the city, Lombardi
called Milbury to update him on his progress. Milbury assumed Lombardi
wouldn’t be coming and Lombardi responded with: “Like hell I’m not.”
That’s how badly Lombardi wanted the job of running the New York
Islanders and that’s how painfully close the Islanders came to getting
it right. Meanwhile, Islanders owner Charles B. Wang continued to
waffle on the prospect of hiring Lombardi, all the while worried he was
too conventional and too ingrained in the hockey establishment.
Lombardi later interviewed with the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings
and by the time Wang called him for a third interview, Lombardi had
already made up his mind to take the Kings job.
And we all know how things have turned out since then. Wang first hired
Ted Nolan to coach, despite the fact Nolan hadn’t coached in the league
in nine years. He then allowed Nolan to hire two assistants who have
zero NHL experience. Wang hired Neil Smith as GM, fired him 40 days
later and replaced him with the backup goalie. Then, not satisfied
after signing career underachiever Alexei Yashin to a disastrous
10-year deal worth $87.5 million, Wang sent shock waves through the
hockey world by giving goalie Rick DiPietro a 15-year deal worth $67.5
million that had NHL executives howling with a mixture of laughter and
When told THN was doing a profile on Wang, one NHL executive responded
by saying: “Have you called Barnum & Bailey and the Ringling
Brothers to find out how they feel about him competing with them in the
circus business? I wonder how the Shriners feel.”
Those who know Wang well portray him as an undyingly faithful employer
– at least with his hockey team – and a good-hearted man who snubs his
nose at conventional thinking and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Which is all well and good if you want to play the part of eccentric
billionaire, but Wang is one of 30 partners in a $2 billion industry
where his actions affect those of the other 29.
For his part, Wang does not dispute that he often tries to jam the
square peg into the round hole, but isn’t about to make apologies for
“There are a lot of franchises in our league who haven’t won a Cup in a
long time doing things the conventional way,” Wang said in an email.
“The only things that haven’t changed in our league over the last few
decades are the puck and the ice. Rules have changed significantly, the
equipment is different, the business is different. Can’t franchises try
To understand where the 62-year-old Wang (pronounced Wong) gets his
outside-the-box ideas, you first have to understand how he got to be
one of the most powerful and influential individuals in the computer
Born Wang Jialian in Shanghai in 1944, Wang and his family moved to
Queen’s, N.Y., when he was eight, three years after the Communist
takeover. Wang’s father, who was a lawyer, then a judge, in Shanghai,
got his degree in American law and went on to teach international law
at St. John’s University in New York. He then founded the Wang &
Wang law firm with his son, France, and it became one of the more
successful firms in the New York area.
Charles was a middling student who forged a reputation as a hard worker
rather than a scholar. As a teenage grocery store clerk, he memorized
the prices of the most popular items so he wouldn’t have to search for
the price tag. He would also open and double all his bags prior to his
shift so he could get people through the line more quickly.
A couple of months before graduating from Queen’s College, without even
knowing what a computer was, Wang saw more than two pages of classified
ads in the New York Times for computer programmers and decided that’s
what he would do. By the time he was 32, he had founded Computer
Associates, a software company that began with a net profit of $5,000
its first year and 12 years later recorded a profit of $1.2 billion.
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