Riding the Runaway Horse

An Wang, the founder of Wang Laboratories, was an intensely private man. Even his autobiography, LESSONS, contained little insight into his thoughts and motivation. Kenney summarizes what little is known about Wang’s early life in a few pages. After compiling a brilliant academic record, Wang arrived in the United States in 1945 as part of a training program for young Chinese engineers. In the next four years, he earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Harvard, went to work at Harvard’s Computation Laboratory, and made a significant contribution to the history of computers through his work on magnetic core memory. He decided to start his own company.

Wang Laboratories started out quietly, designing and building digital machines to customer’s specifications. Business grew slowly but surely through the 1950’s and 1960’s. Then in 1964 Wang created a product the company could call its own: the LOCI, a forerunner to the modern calculator. Wang Labs was now a genuine manufacturing company. Its next product, the 300 calculator, initiated a rapid growth phase, a tenfold increase in just five years. But it was the 1976 introduction of the Wang Word Processing System that transformed the company from a little-known calculator manufacturer to the darling of Wall Street. The resulting explosive expansion was the “runaway horse” of the title.

It seemed the company could do no wrong. But as it grew—without the management control necessary...

(The entire section is 414 words.)