Rob figured out the joys of virtual companies back in 1999. Today, he runs a 65-person virtual company that makes $20 million in revenue. Wonderful story.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Rob Cheng: I was born in New York City. When I was two years old, I moved to the Washington DC area. My father is a statistician and my mother is a computer programmer.
I grew up in Bowie, Maryland and graduated from Bowie Senior High School. I did very well. At that time, there were a thousand kids in my senior class. I think I graduated at number four. I had always been very good at mathematics.
From there, I went to Cornell University. I got a degree in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering. I had an internship with Xerox. That was my first working experience. I also worked for the Federal Government for one summer. Then I left.
It was a really good time to be an engineer. I had five or six job offers. The one that I chose was in Austin, Texas with Texas Instruments’ Data Systems Group. I have always loved computers.
Sramana Mitra: What year was this?
Rob Cheng: This was 1981.
Sramana Mitra: I did a summer job in Texas Instruments in 1991 in Dallas.
Rob Cheng: That was right when I left Texas Instruments for the next part of my career. I started in 1981. My first job was in Material Requirements Planning.
My job was international. It was really great. My job was to forecast all the parts that were required by all our international subsidiaries. I was dealing with all these people in Japan, Europe, Middle East, and Latin America. I was trying to figure out what their parts requirements would be so that when they needed it, the parts would be there.
Because I had a degree, they automatically put me into management. I was 22 at that time. I had five 30-year-old women reporting to me. I learned very quickly how to manage people. Then, I decided to get my MBA. I got my MBA at the University of Texas. I did leave Texas Instruments for one semester.
This was a really cool period of time for me because I was working full time. I wanted to compete against all the other students who were a lot younger than me. I got my degree. I got a 3.8 GPA. I was working full time at Texas Instruments.
Then I got promoted. I was responsible for Latin America and all of their printers, computers, and calculators that were sold in that entire region. By that time, I had about 50 people reporting to me. A lot of them were in Buenos Aires.
I traveled throughout that entire region. I learned how to speak Spanish. One of our distributors started making peripherals and add-on products for the Texas Instruments PC. I bought one and started meeting some other people.
I met this guy in South Dakota. His name is Ted Waitt. Ted had a company that was selling into the aftermarket for TI PC’s. He called the company TI PC Network.