Robert Chiu ’98 always has his view fixed on the horizon.
Growing up in Taiwan before it was very globalized made him long to know what else was out there. “Coming to Kellogg really opened my eyes and let me see a much, much bigger world,” says Chiu. “The greatest benefit was the diversity of the classmates — people coming from all sorts of different backgrounds and nationalities. It trained me to become open-minded.”
Kellogg also introduced him to several career possibilities he was unaware of before, including investment banking, which he ultimately chose after graduation. He took a position with Morgan Stanley in Menlo Park, California, and was then recruited by Goldman Sachs.
“When I was a banker in Silicon Valley, Goldman flew me back to Asia a lot to pitch to Asian internet players,” he recalls. “That was when the first wave of the Asian internet started to shine and to grow. To be one of the few Chinese internet bankers based in Silicon Valley meant that banks wanted to leverage my background when pitching to clients in Asia.”
One of the up-and-coming internet companies with which Chiu crossed paths was Shanghai-based Shanda, a pioneer in the online gaming industry. Though it was a young company, Shanda was growing rapidly and its founder and CEO, Tianqiao Chen, enlisted Chiu to help with its public offering.
In 2004, Shanda became the first online gaming company listed on NASDAQ and the largest internet company in China by market capitalization. Chen was so pleased with Chiu’s work that the two developed a fruitful professional relationship, through which Chiu managed every financial transaction for Shanda for the next several years.
“I met Chairman Chen after he became successful, so I got to witness how he conquered all these challenges, not just for his own business, but for the entire industry,” reflects Chiu. He was especially impressed that Chen had completely revolutionized online gaming when he waved the fee-to-play for online role-playing games Magical Land and The World of Legend, which increased playership and incentivized in-game purchases. So, in 2012, when Chen asked his trusted financial advisor to join Shanda on a full-time basis to help drive the company’s transformation, Chiu didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“Shanda is truly innovative and not afraid of being disruptive. We don’t care if anyone thinks we’re crazy or trying to move mountains,” laughs Chiu. “We always want to change things in a positive way and we’re not afraid to go against tradition.”
Now Shanda’s group president, Chiu has managed the development of several innovative projects, such as Cloudary Corporation, the world’s largest Chinese-language original content platform. Going forward, however, he and Chen feel strongly that philanthropy should play a role in Shanda’s legacy.
“There are two ways to contribute to society,” he says. “First, you nurture good business to feed a lot of families. That is what we’re familiar with and will continue to do. But the second should be philanthropy.”
After much soul searching, Chen and Chiu, along with Chen’s wife and vice-chairwoman, Chrissy Luo, determined that funding research on brain science was the right fit for Shanda. Chen committed to donating $1 billion to the initiative over the next seven years and Chiu recently oversaw the induction of the Chen Institute for Neuroscience at CalTech.
“We wanted to do something critically important for human beings and something few philanthropists would be willing to do,” says Chiu of Shanda’s choice to focus on neuroscience.
As he looks ahead, Chiu is enthusiastic about Shanda’s future and what new opportunities will certainly appear. As he looks back, he gives a lot of credit to Kellogg.
“Kellogg trained me to become flexible and much more curious and courageous. It also taught me not to be easily satisfied with where I am. That is very consistent with the Shanda DNA.”