Growing up in Taiwan before it became more globalized made Robert Chiu wonder 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 technology 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 very 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 Interactive Entertaiment Limited, a pioneer in the online games industry in China. Though it was a young company, Shanda was growing rapidly and its founder and CEO, Tianqiao Chen, enlisted Chiu to help with its U.S. IPO.
In 2004, Shanda became the first online game company listed on NASDAQ and soon became 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 capital markets and strategic advisory transaction for Shanda for the next several years.
“I met Chairman Chen way before he became successful, so I got to witness how he conquered all the challenges, not just for his own business, but for the entire industry,” reflects Chiu. He was especially impressed that Chen had completely revolutionized online games industry by changing the-then prevailing pay-to-play model to the freemium model which increased playership and addressable market dramatically by introducing in-game purchases. So, in 2012, when Chen asked his long-time trusted 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.”
As Shanda’s group president, Chiu was put in charge of several innovative businesses, such as Cloudary Corporation, the-then world’s largest Chinese-language original content platform. An even more critical task Chen mandated Chiu with was to transform Shanda from a China focused internet services provider to become a global investor and a philanthropist.
“There are two ways to contribute to society,” he says. “First, you nurture good companies to support a lot of families. That is what we’re familiar with and will continue to do. The second should be philanthropy.”
After much soul searching, Chen and Chiu, along with Chen’s wife and vice-chairwoman, Chrissy Luo, determined that supporting fundamental research on brain science should be the right fit for Shanda. Chen committed to donating $1 billion to the initiative over the next seven years and Chiu recently oversaw the establishment of the Chen Institute for Neuroscience at CalTech, and the development of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Brain Disease (Shanghai) partnering with Fudan University-affiliated Huashan Hospital and Zhou Liangfu Foundation in China.
“We wanted to do something that is critically important for human beings yet few philanthropists would be willing to do,” says Chiu of Shanda’s choice to focus on fundamental research on neuroscience.
As he looks ahead, Chiu is enthusiastic about Shanda’s future and what new opportunities lay ahead of them. As he looks back, he gives a lot of credit to Kellogg.
“Kellogg trained me to become flexible, forever curious and courageous. It also taught me not to be easily satisfied with status quo. That is very consistent with the Shanda DNA.”