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BEND AND NOT BREAK
“Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance. It suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back from even the most difficult times.”
Excerpted from Bend and Not Break: A Life In Two Worlds
Pages 10 – 11.
On December 31, 2012 Portfolio of Penguin Press published Ping Fu’s business memoir Bend and Not Break: A Life In Two Worlds, in which she tells of her life during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, which include being gang raped at the age of 10 as well as years in a dormitory, forced to live apart from her family. She also writes of her rise to become co-founder (with Herbert Edelsbrunner) and CEO of Geomagic, a software development company. Since its publication a group of netizens has gone repeatedly to Amazon and other book review pages giving her book one star and scathing reviews. Some of the reviews have been accusatory, hateful, and ugly.
“These people who attack me have gone from smear to hate – most who have never even read the book. They don’t understand and don’t care I wrote a business memoir with a cross section of my life. This is not a history of the Cultural Revolution or biography of my entire life. They really don't care about the truth; they simply want to discredit me and to damage my reputation and my private life. It’s cyber bullying. I saw that there would be some disagreement and I never thought I would be subject to this kind of attack. It brings back unnecessary emotional trauma to my life.”
Despite false accusations of her being a communist and a liar, she refuses to respond in kind; and instead chooses to respond the way she was taught as a child: with love, compassion, and hard work.
“I see the pain in people’s voices when they attack me. In some ways I empathize with those people because they are probably angry in life. I don’t want to be in a place of hatred but only a place of love. That’s what made me survive my childhood and I’m not going to change that.”
This love, compassion and hard work is how she was reared by her aunt and uncle who treated her as their own – in the three-floor home on a road that was curtained by trees in Shanghai which was also known as the “Paris of the East.”
Ping Fu was born in May 30, 1958 in Nanjing. As a newborn she was sent to live with her uncle and aunt.
She described her family life as peaceful, her parents never fought, being surrounded by books which she read voraciously as a child, and given the nicknames Little Apple and Pearl In The Hand because of how delicate and precious she was to her family.
But in 1966, at the age of eight, that all changed when she was taken from her family and became ward of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution and sent to live in a dormitory in Nanjing, with her four-year-old sister Hong as her roommate.
“After Mao’s death in 1976, reformers led by Deng Xiaoping gained prominence. Most of the Maoist reforms associated with the Cultural Revolution were abandoned by 1978. The Cultural Revolution has been treated officially as a negative phenomenon ever since.”
Fu was freed from the dormitory and passed the national exam in 1978, which allowed her to attend Suzhou University (then called Jiangsu Teacher’s College) where she studied Chinese language and literature. For her senior year thesis she travelled to the countryside to research the effects of China’s newly implemented one-child policy.
“I eye-witnessed and documented the practice of female infanticide which was widespread.”
When the authorities learned of this they briefly imprisoned her.
“It was the research material that got me into trouble. A teacher gave the material to friends and then to more prominent people. They took my material and never gave it back to me.”
“In 1982, the world was watching the implementation of China’s one-child policy. A Shanghai newspaper called for an end to gender discrimination. Later that year and in the following year, the Chinese Communist Party made strong statements opposing female infanticide. China’s national paper, The People’s Daily, in Beijing, acknowledged that peasants were killing baby girls. The news spread to the International Press, which used this acknowledgment as evidence of China’s violations of human rights. Theodore W Shultz, a Nobel Laureate in Economics and advisor to the United Nations, denounced a proposed UN award to the Chinese Minister of Family Planning, Qian Xinzhong. Schultz said China’s one-child policy had caused a large increase in female infanticide.”
As a result of her research material on the one-child policy and female infanticide, Fu was told to leave the country and to never come back. On January 14, 1984, after a long struggle to obtain a passport and visa, she departed to the United States, a place that was totally foreign to her including the language: she knew how to speak three English words: hello, thank you, and help.
During her early days in America she worked as a waitress and a-live-in-nanny.
Her superiors were English-speaking Americans, and this helped her learn the English language in six months.
Once she mastered the English language, she enrolled as a matriculated student at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where she majored in English as a second language and in computer science.
She then moved to San Diego, and attended the University of California San Diego computer science program. It was here that she got her foot in the door of the career field of computer science and started working for Lane Sharman, founder and CEO of Resource Systems Group. She eventually earned her BA in Computer Science and a minor in Economics and continued to excel in her job at Resource Systems Group.
She then moved to Illinois where she worked at Bell Labs, and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she received her MS degree in May of 1990. It was here that she met her husband former Geomagic-co-founder Herbert Edelsbrunner, (the couple are now divorced), and gave birth to their daughter.
In 1997 Fu co-founded (with Edelsbrunner) Geomagic, a software development company focused on 3D software and technology for design and manufacturing. Geomagic’s 3D imaging software affords precise replication of complex shapes from custom cranial plate (benefiting ABC’s Bob Woodruff), to heat tiles for the space shuttle, and Invisalign braces, making the exact match to an individual’s tooth in every stage of the movement, and to prosthetic limbs with fashionable faring and human shape.
“The design starts with you, the person. We wanted to combine thousands of years of handcraftsmanship with the Internet. We are a technology company that focuses on the human aspect of things.”
Geomagic is now located in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina where Fu resides with her daughter and her mother.
For a few years, Fu spent time researching her own story by coming up with 300 pages worth of material – though she never though of actually publishing a book but rather writing a legacy for her daughter.
“Friends and people who heard about my story and know me wanted me to write a book. I majored in literature in China and I wrote in a journal that was burned so I was writing the book as a way to confront my own fear and continue the process of healing.”
She finally decided to make it official and in 2012, started writing the book with co-author MeiMei Fox. The book took nine months to write.
“I didn’t want to write a self-help book. I wanted to write a business memoir. I have quite unconventional attitudes on leadership – that’s shown through in the book and I wrote this book – in a small way – to illustrate a better way to conduct business, a better way of who you are and what you are and how I came to be who I am today.”
Many successes have come and continue to come for Geomagic. In 2003, Geomagic opened Geomagic GmbH, its first wholly owned subsidiary based in Germany, and completed its first acquisition of Cadmus Consulting in Hungary.
In 2005, Ping Fu was selected Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine.
In 2008, for President Barack Obama’s first Inaugural Speech as President, she was invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to attend the speech in her own special box – making Fu one of 15 guests.
In 2010, she served on President Barack Obama’s National Advisory Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She also sits on the board of the Long Now Foundation. Along with her great success, Fu sometimes finds herself in great isolation.
“I’m one of few female entrepreneurs in the country in the high technological field and it is sometimes lonely.”
Presently Geomagic consists of 100 employees and due to a merger with 3D Systems the employee count exceeds 1200 employees. Fu will become the Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of the 3D Systems, a leading public company in 3D printing.
The majority of Fu’s time is not in her office or on any board but on airplanes traveling the globe.
“I am not in the office enough – my job as CEO is to understand what are the big issues in the outside world and bring those problems inside the company for solutions. On the road – I go talk to customers and analysts and we want to democratize that in the community – kind of bridge the real world problems and issues and come back to help and reform those problems.”
Despite being known as the cream-of-the-crop CEO, the one question that people ask her is how she endured the atrocities she endured and still became such a success not only in business but also in her well-being.
“We know from psychology that half of how we feel is inborn. I was born to have a healthy mental attitude. The mental metaphor of the glass half full and never half empty helps me to think through things. The other half is a healthy mental metaphor. I like to think life is a mountain range – at different peaks, the views are different. However, you can’t reach another peak without going down. In American education we like to use going up as a metaphor “glass ceiling” and corporate ladders are about going up, which is really hard. I like to think of going forward, traveling up and down on the mountain range. There are much more opportunities if we continue progressing forward.”