Taiwan's Steve Chang

Steve Chang, chairman and CEO of Trend Micro Inc., opens a series of high-security locks at his company's Taipei offices to show off one of his most important assets. The room is filled with computer systems holding millions of files contaminated with viruses. "It's just like the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] in Atlanta," he says, laughing. But the high-energyhost doesn't let visitors linger long. "Come on. I can't wait to show you our product."

The product is software designed to track down and kill pesky computer bugs before they ruin files. Written by hackers and high-tech pranksters, viruses are capable of anything from annoying mischief--such as repeatedly flashing a message on a screen--to erasing everything on a hard drive. There are some 15,000 computer viruses in the world, Chang estimates, and each day, five or six new ones are born. Viruses have been a problem for years, but they can spread with lightning speed these days because of the proliferation of E-mail.

THE DOCTOR IS IN. If Chang considers himself a kind of epidemiologist of the computer world, he has good reason. He has made Trend one of the world's top makers of antivirus software. It is No.1 in Asia and has a strong business in the U.S., where it makes software under contract for such companies as Netscape, Intel, and Sun Microsystems. Big-selling products include PC-cillin, ScanMail, and ChipAway Virus, programs that search for viruses in mail messages and on networks and hard drives. They give Trend hefty margins of 30% on its projected sales of $100 million for 1998. Chang's success in software points the way for other Asian companies that are trying to break into an industry long dominated by the U.S.

Chang, 43, grew up in southern Taiwan, where he picked up entrepreneurial skills and learned hard work in his parents' small bowling-alley business. The future millionaire earned spending money setting up pins by hand. As a student, he dreamed of a job that would enable him to travel--and he had a knack for computer programming, which, he realized early on, was rapidly turning into a major global industry. After picking up a Master's degree from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Chang eventually headed back to Taipei to work for Hewlett-Packard Co.

In 1984, he started his own company, which customized U.S. database software for the Taiwan market. Software pirates kept ripping him off, so Chang developed a special set of codes to thwart them. He sold the rights to his idea to a U.S. company for $125,000 and realized that there was a growing market for computer-security software. When an engineer later showed him a file that had been infected by computer viruses, Chang saw a golden opportunity to branch out.

Chang and his wife, Jenny, moved back to the U.S. and started Trend in a Los Angeles garage, where they had better access to software programmers as well as nasty viruses. Later on, they moved to Taipei again, but Chang has just opened a new headquarters in Tokyo, where the company makes nearly half its sales.

Trend's software prowess makes it an anomaly in Taiwan, where chipmakers and computer manufacturers have long ruled the roost. But Chang says there's no reason that more software companies can't be big successes in Asia. The key, he says, is hiring top engineering talent around the world. Trend Micro, for instance, keeps 120 software engineers busy in Japan, Taipei, and at a research and development facility in Utah. Says Chang: "To be a successful software company, you have to be global."

The irrepressible Chang has big plans for Trend. He wants to expand his virus doctoring to include an Internet-based virus-checking service that would offer users professional help 24 hours a day. Chang aims to have 50% of revenue come from Internet services in three years.

Chang, who has two children, ages 11 and 18, now travels as much as he ever wanted to as a young man, and a lot more than he would like. With his success growing, Chang says his next goal is to make his employees rich, too.