China's Wang Xuan

Wang Xuan is a 61-year-old former Beijing University math professor with a flair for software. In 1987, he helped create Founder Electronics, now China's most formidable software company, boasting an 80% share in both the Chinese and Hong Kong markets for electronic publishing systems. By yearend, Founder's Hong Kong-listed company plans to issue stock options, which Wang says will turn many of his managers into millionaires--"just like Microsoft."

Founder may have annual sales of only $255 million, but no one in China takes Wang's claims lightly. He has big plans, especially in Japan. "We will become a very famous and powerful company in the world market in the future," he promises. Founder software is the standard for Chinese-language newspapers in the U.S. and is even used by the one owned by Taiwan's ruling party. On June 2, it announced a $20 million venture with Digital Equipment Corp. to do systems integration for banking, retail, and telecommunications. In 1997, sales rose 33%, and profits were up 13%.

In 1958, while he was teaching math, the gangly professor with thick glasses helped develop China's first computer. He learned English mainly by listening to the BBC. Labeled a rightist in the mid-'60s, during the Cultural Revolution, he was barred from his job at Beijing University until 1975. He then developed a method that did away with the manual typesetting of Chinese, a language encumbered by thousands of ideograms. That innovation paved the way for Founder.

Wang puts a premium on R&D. Founder has 600 engineers and plans to add a further 400 by 2000. Betting on young talent, Wang carries around a small black book filled with notes from interviews with prospective candidates, including "bright prospects now in the U.S." The way Founder is growing, those young people with the good fortune of joining him could end up millionaires, too.

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