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HOW I MADE IT: WILLIAM WANG

The founder of Vizio envisions a wide-screen, flat-panel TV in every home

October 11, 2009|David Colker

The job: Wang, 45, is the founder and chief executive of Vizio Inc., which has its headquarters in Irvine. The consumer electronics manufacturer is known for bargain pricing and puts more LCD HDTVs on the market in the U.S. than any other company, according to iSuppli research.

Background: He was born in Taiwan, and his parents moved to the U.S. when he was 12 to give him a better education. Wang fell in love with U.S. television.

"I learned English from television," he said. " 'Charlie's Angels,' 'Six Million Dollar Man' and 'The Bionic Woman.' "

Ambition: Wang dreamed of becoming an architect, but he gave that up. "My mother didn't think that architects make any money. She recommended highly that I go into engineering." He got a degree in electrical engineering from USC in 1986 and entered graduate school at Cal State Long Beach.

Day job: Wang worked for Tatung Co., which made electronic equipment.

"From 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I worked in technical support, then went to school at night," he said.

The company offered him a promotion. "I had the opportunity to become sales manager and I took it." That was the end of his graduate studies.

Computer monitors: Seeing the growing popularity of computers, Wang started a computer monitor manufacturing company in 1990. But after several profitable years, his company couldn't keep up with the downward spiral of prices.

"We were not strong enough to survive the commoditization process of the industry," he said.

Turning point: On Oct. 31, 2000, after meeting with investors in Taiwan, Wang boarded Singapore Airlines Flight 006 to return to Los Angeles.

The pilot took the wrong runway, and just as the 747 was leaving the ground it slammed into construction equipment. The crash and fire that followed killed 79 of 159 passengers and four crew members. Wang, who was seated near the front, escaped injury.

"I think when you face death, you realize that everyone's ending will be the same," Wang said. "I think I started to believe more in the life process, and enjoying the process."

Flat-panel TVs: In 2001, he was a consultant with Gateway Inc. as that computer company started bringing wide-screen, flat-panel televisions to market.

But when Gateway shut down its retail stores, Wang saw his opportunity to get into the manufacture of the large-screen TVs, especially because the established brands were charging high prices for them.

"Sony and Samsung had high margins," Wang said. "They still had the bulky CRT [picture tube] models to protect as their legacy brand. They didn't see the demand for low-cost flat-screens by everyday people. That was a mistake."

In 2002 he started V Inc. to make TVs. He later changed the company name to Vizio, which was a play on the word vision.

From the beginning, he undercut brand-name prices.

"They were selling TVs for $8,000," Wang said. "I was selling the same thing for $2,000."

Cost control: Wang outsourced manufacturing and held to tight margins. Even though the company says it has its TVs in 10 million households, Vizio has only 168 employees. About half of them are in customer service.

"From time to time there will be a problem with all electrical products," Wang said. "When it happens, we want to make sure the customer has the best service.

"Once you get a customer to buy your product, you want to keep them forever. The customer is king."

All of the Vizio call centers are in the U.S.

"We have new product launches all the time," he said. "It's much easier to train customer service . . . when they are here."

TV design: Wang never became an architect, but his love of design hasn't waned. He determines the look not only of Vizio TVs but also the remote controls.

"It's fun for me," Wang said. "It's the funnest part of my job."

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david.colker@latimes.com

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