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[COMMUNITY] Ming Hsieh (CEO of Cogent) Gives $35M to USC

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  • madchinaman
    A billionaire alumnus gives back to USC Ming Hsieh s path has taken him from stark privation to vast wealth. He makes a $35-million donation to the school that
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 24, 2006
      A billionaire alumnus gives back to USC
      Ming Hsieh's path has taken him from stark privation to vast wealth.
      He makes a $35-million donation to the school that helped his climb.
      By Peter Y. Hong, Times Staff Writer
      http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-finger24oct24,1,6841047.story


      -

      "I wondered why an American company, like Hewlett Packard or IBM,
      could not do it. I was very, very surprised," he said. That memory
      helped him decide it was time for an American company to move
      forward. So he started one.

      -


      Pasadena businessman Ming Hsieh learned the value of education
      through some very tough lessons.

      As a child in China, he missed school for 10 years during the
      Cultural Revolution, when his family was sent to a remote village to
      work on a rice farm. His parents, both college graduates, improvised
      with scavenged textbooks, teaching Ming and his brother by
      candlelight in their one-room shanty.

      By the time the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, he was able to
      pass the university entrance exams and enroll in the electrical
      engineering department of the South China University of Technology,
      before his transfer to USC in 1980, where he earned bachelor's and
      master's degrees in electrical engineering.

      Hsieh, 50, became a billionaire when Cogent Inc., which makes
      fingerprint identification systems, went public in 2004. Now that he
      has become wealthy in a way he could not have imagined as a boy,
      Hsieh said, he wants to back the hopes of others through his alma
      mater. Thus his $35-million gift to USC's electrical engineering
      department, which was announced in a ceremony on campus Monday.

      USC "definitely helped me reach the American dream," Hsieh said. "I
      want to help SC educate others, to let them build their dreams."

      The donation is part of a $300-million fundraising campaign by USC's
      engineering school intended to propel it to the top tier of
      engineering schools, with such institutions as Caltech, MIT,
      Stanford and UC Berkeley.

      USC President Steven B. Sample, himself an electrical engineer, said
      Hsieh's gift "adds luster to a department that is already highly
      distinguished."

      Hsieh's interest in things electrical began in the dark days of the
      Cultural Revolution, when his family lacked electricity. They had
      enjoyed a relatively comfortable urban life in Guangzhou before they
      were banished to the farm. Hsieh's father had been an electrical
      engineer for the power authority and his mother was a high school
      literature teacher.

      Once they overcame the shock of their primitive life in the village,
      Hsieh's father persuaded authorities to permit him to work on
      bringing electricity to their village of 100 families.

      As an adolescent, Hsieh helped his father erect makeshift utility
      poles, which he climbed and strung with transmission lines. When
      they finished, he saw how electric power, which he had taken for
      granted in the city, transformed the lives of villagers who had
      never had it. Hsieh began to tinker with simple radios and built
      amplifiers for fun.

      With the end of the Cultural Revolution and some easing of China's
      authoritarian atmosphere in the late 1970s, Hsieh reestablished
      contact with his uncle, P.Y. Hsieh, who had left China before the
      1949 revolution.

      In 1980, P.Y. Hsieh visited his family in China. He was a USC
      alumnus and an engineer at TRW.

      With his uncle's encouragement, Ming Hsieh transferred to USC as a
      junior. A small inheritance from his grandfather in Taiwan helped
      cover his costs.

      Hsieh said he chose USC because it did not require a standardized
      English test not offered in his part of China.

      "I might have applied to Caltech for years and not gotten in," he
      said. I appreciate SC for the opportunity to come here."

      Entering as an undergraduate was fortuitous, because he befriended
      undergraduates with a wide range of goals instead of just doctoral
      students headed for research careers. "A lot of the undergraduates
      wanted to be entrepreneurs," he said. Some of those business-savvy
      college friends later became Hsieh's partners.

      After graduating in 1984, Hsieh worked as an engineer at an El
      Segundo chip manufacturing firm.

      In 1990, he founded Cogent in South Pasadena with Archie Yew,
      another USC graduate. A USC friend who had gone back to China
      approached Hsieh with the idea of storing thousands of fingerprints
      on a computer chip. That discussion inspired him to design a system
      to quickly read and identify fingerprints.

      They won their first contract, from the Los Angeles County
      Department of Social Services, to create a fingerprint ID system to
      prevent welfare fraud.

      The company has contracts with numerous police departments and
      federal agencies as well as Venezuelan authorities, who use the
      system to verify voters' identities at polling places.

      Hsieh said Richard Ramirez, the infamous Night Stalker convicted of
      murdering 13 people in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, was a strange
      inspiration for his success. Hsieh said he recalled reading that
      computerized fingerprint data processed by Japanese equipment helped
      authorities track Ramirez.

      "I wondered why an American company, like Hewlett Packard or IBM,
      could not do it. I was very, very surprised," he said. That memory
      helped him decide it was time for an American company to move
      forward. So he started one.
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