Some women know the art of wearing their laurels well.
For Weili Dai, as the only female co-founder of a cutting-edge semiconductor company, Marvell, the laurels never came easy but she knows how to wear them well. In fact, too well.
Dai knows the art of blending the practical approach of the East with the West’s quest for knowledge and pushing boundaries.
She has also worked tirelessly to enhance and foster Sino-US relations, leveraging on the strategic partnerships she has developed towards ensuring more people of the developing world get access to technology. She firmly believes in ensuring that women have more opportunities in science and tech-related enterprises.
Among richest Americans
She relies on a philosophy of simplicity – and it has served her well, given that she was 17 years old when she came to the USA and spoke little English. She, along with her husband and her brother, co-founded Marvell, the third-largest semiconductor company, with a market capitalization of about US $ 10 billion. She remains down to earth and practical, as most Asian Americans do. She likes to think it has a lot to do with the values that came from her parents.
Dai, loved math and physics and was studying computer science when she met her husband, fellow student Sehat Sutardja. Her background was software and his was chip design.
She laughs when she recalls they were nerds but they wanted the freedom of owning their own company. Marvell was formed around a kitchen table – and the rest is history. Today, all three founders are individually named in the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.
“Today if you look at all the disk drives, the majority of silicon (chips) are made by us. We have 70 percent market share,” Dai says, “Not too many people know we are the leader for the print market –inside, the semiconductor is coming from Marvell.”
She doesn’t mind the competition from Intel – in fact, she feels it is healthy as long as the industry continues to grow.
And what she has given back is more; she promoted the One Laptop Per Child programme and sits on the disaster relief board of Give2Asia. She has been appointed to the Committee of 100 that represents influential Chinese Americans.
Her alma mater UC Berkeley has honoured their student with the Sutardja Dai Hall, which hosts the Centre for IT Research in the Interest of Society.
Caretaker instead of boss
Dai, a former basketball player, said she learnt her rudimentary skills from sports.
“Team sports are very key,” she said, “They help you learn the discipline. And playing sports, that gives you this passion for winning.” She has put up volleyball courts in her company premises for employees.
She does not see herself as a boss but a caretaker – she works alongside the others and thinks nothing of it. Rather, she says she believes in encouraging her employees, 3,000 in the USA and 3,000 more working around the world, to interact more often with their families.
She has had her share of challenges – there have been thorns along the way but by and large, the woman named as one of Newsweek’s 150 women to shake the world, is content with what she’s got. She has been kept busy with acquisitions and expansion – a recent one was a US $ 200 million investment in two research and development centres in Israel.
She sees herself as a very long-term and passionate techie who sees the unlimited possibilities technology can achieve. And she is right.
Featured on CNN”s Leading Women Innovator Series, Dai has the honour of being UC Berkeley College of Engineering’s first female commencement speaker in 143 years, when she addressed students in 2012.
Already on the Forbes list of ‘The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women’, Dai was awarded The Most Outstanding Leadership Award by Upwardly Global. Last year, she was awarded the Silicon Valley Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Established Corporation category by the Chinese Institute of Engineers/USA-San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. There are many other awards she has earned along the way.
“The world is going to be very different if we empower more female leaders,” is a philosophy she says she believes in. And she knows what she is talking about.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional,can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org)