Karl Weaver: Boston-Taiwan-Seattle, Now International Wireless Executive in Beijing (Jan. 2013)
I first met Karl Weaver （魏卡尔）about six or seven years ago at an event of the Washington State China Relations Council. I was impressed with his Chinese language ability. We had a common interest: the China Council, which he had been an active member of and I had written a book about.
Around the time, Karl worked in the wireless business in Washington. Soon, I found that he was also teaching a course on globalization at Seattle University. A couple years later, he emailed from China to say he got really a great gig there. Now a Beijing resident of over four years, Karl is a busy executive for Gemalto Beijing working on contactless Mobile NFC SWP SIM card design-in wins for Greater Chinese OEM/ODM handset vendors and also mobile security for Trustonic, pitched to Chinese handset vendors, mobile operators, banks, and the entire payment ecosystem.
How did someone who grew up in the Boston area end up working in Beijing, and with a Taiwanese wife? Find out these and more in this interview with Karl Weaver, in three parts.
Part 1: Early life and education – From Boston to Taiwan
Wen:Tell us about boyhood years in Quincy, metropolitan Boston. Was there anything or event that had planted an international seed in the young Karl there?
Karl:I grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts to a loving mother, sharing my home with two nephews, one niece and my older sister. My sister had gotten sick. She contracted a rare blood and bone disorder. My mother took care of the children. My father, who was a U.S. Navy then Coast Guard Officer, was often on assignment on a ship traveling around the World, I didn't see much of him. We lived in a working class neighborhood in the Germantown area of Quincy. I went to Quincy High School, graduating in 1978.
I grew up poor because my father had passed away when I was 15 years old, and my mother had four mouths to feed. My mother instilled into me strong work ethic that would influence me to never give up on accomplishing your dreams. She didn't have a high education herself, hence, from an early age, I had a strong ambition to excel and achieve more, and I wanted to attend University.
Thus I set my sights on two things, playing Baseball and working to afford my way through College, like most people where I came from.
Wen: Why did you go to Salve Regina University in Newport, RI? What did you study there and why?
Karl: I enjoyed studying on the beautiful campus and historical city environment in Newport, RI, since I've always liked history and culture. It was far enough away from home yet I could drive back home in two plus hours time. I studied Business Management, but because my interests grew for the computers, thus, in 1980, I found a job on campus through the school teaching students how to make a simple sign on and use Apple Computers (there were no IBM compatibles at that time). I also played College Baseball for two years.
My best friend studied in Connecticut College in Connecticut and studied Chinese first and introduced me to his Chinese professors. I started to take lessons through my friend, was introduced to some Chinese language books, all Traditional Chinese characters. My thirst for language and cultural training started there. During semester breaks, summer holidays, I was lucky to live in Boston, which allowed me to walk into Harvard University's Asian studies department to do research. Harvard had the best history of China through the Fairbanks Center for Chinese Studies, the East-West Center and also the Yenching Institute.
Wen: How did you get a grant to go to Taiwan to study Mandarin Chinese, customs, and culture? What career were you thinking of with that study?
Karl: It was there at Salve Regina University I found out about the special scholarship opportunity for young scholars to go to Taiwan to learn Mandarin. I made a decision to challenge my life and to seek and expand my opportunities and applied for that scholarship. After graduation from Salve Regina University with a B.S. Degree in Business Management in1982, I was accepted by Taiwan's Ministry of Education for a Chinese language program at National Taiwan Normal University's Mandarin Testing and Training Center, in Taipei. It was the first time in my life I boarded an airplane (tickets were very expensive at that time). This plane ride which took me to Taiwan lasted 24 hours, with one stop over in San Francisco. It was summer of 1982.
I have always had a few different interests, not just business, also technology, and not just technology, also language, culture, and travel. In 1982, I had no tie downs, my mother was a little worried but was so proud of me as a new college graduate, she never tried to stop me, encouraged me to go learn Chinese, and said if I worked hard, good things would result.
Part 2. China market career – From Taiwan to Seattle to Beijing
Wen: You said your China market career started in Taiwan where you worked seven years at Digicom. Why that particular company and what did you do?
Karl: In January, 1985, I decided I had had enough of Mandarin Chinese Language training, actually I felt in 1984 (after a one month visit to China sightseeing in July, 1984) it was time to apply all this knowledge of speaking Chinese in working world (plus I had college loans I had to pay back too), thus I returned to the USA in 1985. The same friend who helped me with Chinese said “the world has changed an you need to re-invent yourself learning this new OS called Microsoft OS, using an IBM PC/XT Computer. It was all new to me, but my friend was going to school at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Cambridge, MA. He showed me how this new technology worked, I practiced. I was pioneering the concept of a China market business career at that time. Few people in America even understood the changes that were going on in Taiwan, as Taiwan joined the Information technology manufacturing revolution with these new "IBM" Compatible computers. I remember I wasn't going to convince anyone I had enough experience to be sent to China for employment, so I went back to Taiwan after 2-3 months and landed my first job as Marketing Manager for Digicom a fledging Microcomputer startup, manufacturing computer, motherboards, add-on cards. It was there I cut my teeth working in the Chinese world, learned Chinese business style.
Eventually, I became Export Sales Manager by 1990, I had amassed at least 5-7 years of global work and travel experience throughout Europe, Asia, and meetings with technology firms in Silicon Valley. However, one of the things I am good at is predicting future technology trends. I saw that one day Taiwanese factory owners would move Taiwan factories and build and supply their goods from factories via China. I had seen the trend early on how it would move from a high level labor setting (Taiwan, by the time I left) to a lower cost developing country (Shenzhen, Dongguan). I decided in 1992 the tide would change and Taiwan would not have the same value as a base to sell from, and thus I decided to return to the USA to seek employment with all these business and Chinese language skills.
Wen: In 1993, you returned to the States and married your Taiwanese wife. But you didn't return to Boston, you settled down in Seattle. Why?
Karl: I returned to the USA in December, 1992. I had to figure out where the value would be for a Mandarin speaker, Boston was too far from the action in the technology sector on the West Coast and Silicon Valley. Eventually, my research results targeted the Northwest, via Portland or Seattle. I thought about California, but it was expensive and I didn't like living in Silicon Valley's technology environment. I did research on where Chinese investments and migration were heading. All roads pointed to Seattle because there were lots of Vancouver Chinese investments coming in and moving down and from Silicon Valley lots of Chinese technology companies were moving up to the Pacific Northwest, since it was cheaper than California and it had Microsoft and Boeing.
Wen: For the next 15 years, you worked at various wireless companies in Washington. Could you tell us about your jobs in those years?
Karl: I didn't know much about the land mobile radio communications field when I joined Zetron. They had been selling millions of dollars of radio trunking equipment to Chinese Ministries for radio to landline phone interconnect feature. The CEO was impressed with my experience and they needed more Mandarin speakers anyway. So the CEO brought me in, provided the first wireless training on the product. I dove into learning as much as I could about land mobile communications. This was all before the digital cellular handset rage took off. I worked there from 1993-1998.
I jumped into the digital cellular field after that with other companies, eventually working for Protura Wireless specifically in the mobile handset embedded antenna field that had captured a project for the first Smartphone software project in North America at Microsoft in 2002.
At each of these wireless and telecom companies my job was to export, sell and market products, to Greater China, and other Asian countries. I would help companies jump shoot Asian markets, using my Mandarin Chinese language skills, negotiation skills, and understanding of how to do business in those cultures. I also participated in many Washington State Governmental events with China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, through the Washington State China Relations Council. I was the Liaison Officer to the Hong Kong Government during the 3rd Round of WTO Ministerial Sessions in Seattle, December, 1999.
What changed for the worse in Washington state was China's growth in manufacturing between 1993-2003. It was then that I predicted Smart Phones will become massive one day and decided to deliver my own views on the Chinese handset world and usage and trends in the Smart Phone world. I had become the first Smart Phone evangelist, with a new public speaking web site I called Newport Technologies In 2003, I became the first person to deliver Smartphone public speaking targeted to Greater China’s global cell phone manufacturing supply chain for the production of Smart phones. I became successful enough to promote Greater China Smartphone usage and trends at over 200 public speaking events globally, including North America, Europe and Asia on mobile technologies and Smartphone usage. I have continued doing that today, only, now it’s for mobile payment and security of Smart phones.
Wen: What made you decide to leave Washington for Beijing in 2008?
Karl: After China joined the WTO in 2001, there was mass exodus of manufacturing jobs, and programming jobs being transferred offshore to Asia. I watched with madness as sector after sector uprooted local factories in favor of Chinese and Asian low-cost, medium quality production. I realized that the world had shifted once again back to Asia resulting in something I term in my public speaking "The Pacific Century." Technology superiority had reached China, I had predicted it but few people believed it until Foxconn/Honhai started producing the iPhone in 2007.
By 2008, when I was offered the position by Gemalto to work back in Beijing, I was also teaching Globalization at Seattle University, and I recognized that if I wanted to expand my technology knowledge I would have to relocate again to China to learn Contactless Mobile NFC and mobile handset security technologies. I left the USA, kept my family in Washington state and began a new adventure working in Beijing. Since then China has become not only the largest cell phone market it is also the largest Smartphone market. I travel back 2-3 times per year to be with my family and we also meet up once in Taiwan, which is where I met my wife, Yvonne and I met in 1985. Therefore, my workplace may be Beijing but my residence and long-term home is still firmly rooted in Washington state.
Part 3. Smart move, Smart phone – Wireless technology and life in Beijing
Wen: As an executive for the Greater China market at a leading wireless technology company, could you describe what you do on a day-to-day basis in Beijing?
Karl: From 2008-2011 my job was Gemalto's Biz Dev Mgr in the Telecom Div, Handset Team, promoting usage of Contactless Mobile NFC to Taiwanese and Chinese OEM/ODM handset manufacturers; these duties also included a Rainmaker role to influence the wireless operators, banking, transportation, Smart phone OS, Smart card producer, POS card reader ecosystem players to adopt usage of mobile payment Smart phones. Since Gemalto is the leader in this industry, they had purchased a mobile handset security company called Trusted Logic in late 2009. While still working for Gemalto, I was invited to spend 50% of my time also learning then promoting embedded mobile security to the same channel (Our TEE – Trusted Execution Environment is a software security OS, combined with the mobile applications processor chip, using ARM core and Trustzone security firmware). I have been working for Trusted Logic Mobility (originally 100% Gemalto owned) from 2010 to the present. In late 2012, Trusted Logic merged into a three-way Joint Venture with ARM+Gemalto+G&D, recently to form a new mobile security company called Trustonic.
Wen: As we know, China has taken a big leap in mobile wallet services. Could you give us a big picture of the mobile payment technology and services in China?
Karl: Mobile wallets will be embedded into SWP NFC SIM cards from Chinese operators, China Mobile and China Unicom. These SIM cards need to include a secure element for the security provisioning storage of credentials. Consumers right now can only apply for this service in Shanghai, but as 2013 progresses, more wireless operator services in Beijing and other provinces should be deployed. Right now, if you have an account with China Merchants Bank you can simply apply for a mobile payment account and be provisioned through China Unicom’s Shanghai Office with an NFC handset and SIM card with your account, if however you are not an existing customer of China Merchants Bank, you need to apply for a debit or credit card through the bank first, then approach China Unicom.
Of course more banks will have this same service as they develop their own mobile wallet applications. More and more Smart phones will support Mobile NFC technology and be available on operator networks for mobile payment services in major Chinese cities, so far in Shanghai Samsung Galaxy Nexus S3, HTC's OneX are the two handsets supported, but other NFC handsets will become available after obtaining certification from China's Banking Card Services Center. Eventually, China Telecom should join the global standard SWP NFC SIM card usage. Operators most of the time will use SWP NFC SIM cards with NFC Smart Phones.
However I also see Tablet PCs with Mobile NFC enabling mobile POS (point-of-sale) services right from the Tablet PCs for businesses. It's a natural evolution to be able to swipe a Tablet PC with a Smart Phone to transfer payment. Also NFC Smart Phones will eventually be swiping ATM machines for addition withdrawal or deposit services. All these services Chinese operators are tackling right now for customer services.
In China the payment wallet and payment standards are controlled by Banks, however in the West it is so called EMV, "European MasterCard & Visa." The real question is will both standards one day appear on credit cards and NFC SIM cards inside China?
Wen: Compared to China, where is the U.S., or Washington state, in terms of mobile payment technology and services?
Karl: If we discuss it in terms of wireless operators, T-Mobile in Bellevue, WA is a major player for mobile payment launch and deployment objectives in 2013, they are part of ISIS and will probably look to Mobile Payment to help finance some of their 4G deployments across the USA. Frequency bandwidth is most expensive to deploy with base stations, antennas, tower sites, cell planning, optimization, etc. Also HTC is a major player in Mobile NFC handsets. It was my first design-in wins for SWP Mobile NFC SIM card design for NFC handsets in 2010. I also worked with them for Trusted Logic Mobility TEE mobile security technology. HTC has been mentioned in various reports as wishing to play a major role not just in ISIS but probably also for Taiwan’s future mobile payment deployment plans.
As for other players, all major Seattle banks, wireless operators, handset manufactures, and software payment ecosystem players will play a role. Expect major service organizations like Starbucks, Microsoft to adopt this technology down the road. Well, Microsoft has adopted NFC technology in Windows 8, but how they plan to roll out future mobile wallet applications or plan to use Mobile NFC, that I am not sure about now. Maybe they see all the difficulties of Google in this area, and Apple still hasn’t deployed NFC technology on their iPhones either.
Wen: What is life like for you in Beijing compared to that in Seattle, or in the States in general?
Karl: I gave up driving a car in the USA to ride a bike in Beijing, and I enjoy riding my bike very much, it's faster to ride a bike around than sitting in rush hour traffic. I play on Beijing's slow-pitch Softball League here and enjoy that little bit of Americana with my teammates. Since I could already speak, read and write Mandarin before coming here, life managing Greater China business travel (between China, Hong Kong and Taiwan) has actually been part of my job for over two decades. If you keep yourself occupied, living and working here goes by surprising fast.
Wen: What advice would you give fellow Americans who might be seeking job opportunities in China?
Karl: My advice to other Americans who might consider coming to work in Beijing is to first come to visit before making the decision to work here, it's not for everyone, and it is much more difficult if they don't speak Mandarin. Expect to have a language emersion program in place to help navigate the road. If they are in the wireless industry it is a very exciting place to be because the change is not gradual, it's greatly accelerated and new product trials and roadmap launches are fast paced and embraced. In some ways, Beijing's Smart Phone market is more sophisticated that America's. Certainly new use cases about deployment of services are springing up weekly here without red tape. Operators are trying whatever they can to increase the user experience. I have a power point presentation I delivered in 2009 at Beijing Hutong School, a foreign language institute, titled "Building a Greater China Career." Anyone interested is welcome to take a look.
Wen: Last but not least, could you say a few words about the "Beijing cough?" Do you ride your bike on bad air days?
Karl: Okay, the locals still call it fog most of the time, but clearly it is pollution and I still ride my bike everyday. Lately I bought a mask that goes over the face for a little protection. I do not stay outside too long with these conditions.
So I likely not to have a cough but other friends I know do get this Beijing cough, also maybe one of the reasons I might not be as susceptible is because I travel outside Beijing a lot. When I exercise, it is always indoors inside a local gym called Ozone Fitness.
Wen: Thank you very much, Karl.