Steve Chu - of ethics and binding ties

Having worked with an establishment that was credited with setting up the world's first Internet bank, Steve Chu, president and chief operating officer of XA Alliance, has accumulated over 20 years of IT experience focused on financial transaction networks.In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Steve talks about his contributions to the IT industry, the hazards of email, and his answer to the meaning of life.

Steve Chu

Having worked with an establishment that was credited with setting up the world's first Internet bank, Steve Chu, president and chief operating officer of XA Alliance, has accumulated over 20 years of IT experience focused on financial transaction networks.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Steve talks about his contributions to the IT industry, the hazards of email, and his answer to the meaning of life.

Can you share with us the contributions you have made to the IT industry?
I actually grew up in the US, and I thought that I would come back to Asia as a tourist. But as it turned out, the company that I was working for in the US saw a great expanding market in Asia.

So I came back to Asia in 1987 to open up their operations. Back then, the company was what I would consider as one of the regional e-commerce providers, but that name hadn't been invented yet. It was installing Automated Teller Machine (ATM) systems in Asia.

I was the first guy to put the online ATM system in China. And that was the first time that Chinese consumers were able to get cash out of, [say] branch B when their cash is in branch A [of a certain bank].

What helps you to sustain your passion for your job?
When you wake up in the morning, [there] has got to be something that drives you to be at your office.

You really need to like your job and like what you are creating. That is important. You must have the ability to sit [down] and craft [out] a strategy, take it out to market [and] see what happens. If you think from that perspective, that creates passion.

If you do a good job building the company, then you build a very stable environment for the rest of the people to grow.

That is where I derive most of my passion! It is about people, [it is about being] able being to create creative programes that you can take out to market.

These few things just make me [want] to jump out of bed every morning.

How do you define success and do you consider yourself to be successful?
I define success really through my family life. My relationship with my family. And also, my relationship with my friends and other people. Integrity, family relationships and relationships with friends - that's my definition of success.

Expanding on that point, Chu narrated a story of how he was given just 15 minutes to think about the meaning of life. The 15 minutes started when the pilot of a plane which he was in, announced that the plane might crash. Amidst the chaos, the first thing he thought about was an argument with his mother. "It was a stupid, stupid argument," he described. "I should have said sorry to my mother."

The next thought was on his young niece and nephew whom he considers his own. The notion of not being able to watch them grow into adulthood disturbed him.

His third and final thoughts were on his friends. "Are there any friends out there, my friends, [when] worse comes to worse, what are they going to say, that Steve was a bad guy?" he said. "That goes back to integrity. [So], did I have integrity? So success is about the family relationship and integrity. That is one thing that you can take with you."

What is your proudest achievement to date?
Achievement, [to me], would be classified as [something] which [I have done, that] actually impacts the way people work, the way people live and the services that they get.

In terms of the biggest impact, [it is] the ATM world because I had worked for two US companies that dominate the ATM business.

At some point in time, I managed roughly about 80 percent of all non-Japanese ATMs installed in Asia. I thought that that was a pretty tremendous achievement because the ATM is really a technology that created the whole concept of remote banking.

So, in that aspect, I touched a lot of people's [lives] from behind the scenes. That remains my greatest achievement.

What would you not compromise on when it comes to doing business?
Ethics and integrity. In Singapore, [whenever] I go to the airport, I expect to meet at least one person that I know. My colleague has been talking to quite a few companies, and she is bumping into people that I've have met 10 years ago, and if you compromised on your integrity and your ethics then, and you go back to these people, they won't talk to you.

In Asia, especially if you are in the financial services industries, or telco industries, where people within these industries know one another well, if you mess up one time in terms of ethics, that's it! [And] if you don't have integrity, that's it [too]!

Which aspect of the Asian culture do you think makes a good or bad business edge in the international IT market?
That is a very difficult one to answer because since 1987, I've always had a regional role. And as a regional manager, I find it very difficult to be an expert on the business culture of every country.

So I adopt [a] neutral culture in terms of dealing with people.

One of the difficulties in Asia is, from a cultural perspective, people are less willing to speak their mind.

[And] because people are less willing to be impolite, sometimes it makes things move a little bit slower.

Is there anything that you would have done differently if given the choice?
In terms of my professional career, I would say no. I usually don't look back on the things that I could have done or could not have done because the world is not just about yourself and what you do. There is a combination of factors that affect the outcome of any situation.

[The factors are] luck, market situation, market opportunities [and] the knowledge that you have at that time. I'd rather look forward to see what the opportunities that I can exploit are, take advantage [of them] and see how can I add to that new opportunity. I never look back. Good or bad, I never look back.

How do you think technology isolates people?
I think email is a good (example), if [it is] not [used] properly, [it] can isolate people. We may see a whole generation of managers who will manage by email. And they will lose their personal touch in interacting with people. I see that as a potential hazard.

Email is one of those applications that leverages [upon] technology [which] could be potentially very bad. Miscommunication [is very common]. [However], I like email as information can be disseminated very fast. I think though that people rely on it too much nowadays.

What kind of mindset do you think is needed to survive in this digitial age?
The mindset is the same as that of the first stone age. There is nothing different about the business.

The mindset has got to be about creativity, about passion, about drive. So, if you can combine it with things in the digital age, I really don't see anything different between the stone age and the digital age as far as we need to conduct business.

It goes back to ethics, it goes back to integrity and it goes back to relationships.