Monday, June 24, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Early Years as CEO of Geomagic

The Original Story
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping spends many pages telling the story how she co-founded Geomagic with her then husband. She describes some of the difficulties and triumphs in those years when she served as the company's CEO.

On Page 170:
In the spring of 1999, after establishing Boeing and Mattel as launch partners, Geomagic had raised $6.5 million in venture capital funding from Franklin Street Partner's Paul Rizzo, the legendary CFO and vice chairman of IBM. At that time we already had an additional private placement of $1 million from a friends-and-families round in 1997, the year Herbert and I founded the company...
She then described how she was slighted at the Phoenician hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona, while "attending a prestigious technology conference," where she found her name tag read "Mr. Ping Fu."
"Excuse me," I said, clearing my throat. "My badge should read 'Ms.'" 
"Only the CEO of Geomagic is registered for the conference," she replied politely, glancing up from her paperwork, "Spouses are not invited to the meeting, though you are welcome for the social hour, of course." 
"I am the CEO," I corrected her. "I am Ms. Ping Fu."
Her situation was quickly rectified. But she learned a lesson (Page 173):
Clearly, I was the wrong person to run a company. I needed a tall, smart, charming white guy to take charge of Geomagic...
She found such a person in Jon Fjeld [misprinted as Jon Field in the book]:
Impressed with his qualifications and personality, the board and I hired Jon to serve as president and CEO of Geomagic in the spring of 2000. With a sigh of relief, I stepped down to assume to role of chief technology officer while still serving as chairman of the board.
Jon Fjeld's tenure was a disaster and he left Geomagic in December, 2000. Fu Ping had to step in and make a heroic effort to save the company. Later, she had a heart-to-heart conversation with Jon that included this verbal dress-down (Page 195):
Over lunch, I told Jon, "At the time you left, I was really disappointed and scared. I and the other members of the board of directors couldn't believe that you'd abandon our sinking ship. I felt trapped because we had $6.5 million in cash and no debt when I handed you the company, and you returned it to me with $4 million in losses, no new revenue, and little cash to survive on...
The Debunking
Co-founding Geomagic is one of most significant events in Fu Ping's life. But just as several other such events in her book, she could not help to falsify facts to her advantage. In this case, all we have to do is to look at an official record.

On September 1, 1998, Geomagic published a press release titled "Geomagic, Inc. Appoints Jon Fjeld President and CEO," which announced:
Champaign, I.L., September 1, 1998 - Geomagic, Inc., a privately held supplier of 3D physical modeling technology founded in Champaign, Illinois, today announced the appointment of Jon Fjeld, 46, to the position of president and chief executive officer. Fjeld, highly regarded in technology circles for his vision and leadership, will be responsible for managing all aspects of the business operation. Focusing on building a solid and fast-growing software company, Fjeld will run the company from its soon-to-be-opened worldwide headquarters at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.
The appointment was also reported in local media at the time. In his own LinkedIn profile, Jon Fjeld also listed his experience as President & CEO at Geomagic from 1998 to 2000.

So, if Jon Fjeld was the CEO from September, 1998, why did Fu Ping state his hiring as "in the spring of 2000," a year and half later? Just so that she could still claim herself as the CEO at the Arizona conference in 2000?

Geomagic was founded in 1997. It was barely one year old when Jon Fjeld came on board. According to her own story, the major breakthroughs with their initial clients, Boeing and Mattel, which led to the venture capital funding, all happened in 1999. After Jon Fjeld had well established his leadership position in the company.

Of course outsiders could not know exactly who played what role in these accomplishments in a private company. Maybe Fu Ping still did all the work while Jon Fjeld was just a puppet. But even if that was the case, how could Fu Ping speak to Jon Fjeld in their lunch as "...when I handed you the company..."?

Fu Ping has misstated Jon Fjeld's hiring date and most likely omitted his positive contribution. That whole lunch meeting scene, which was written extensively in direct quotes, is probably entirely made up.

Fu Ping's Explanation
On May 27, 2013, Fu Ping responded to a question in Amazon forum by posting the following correction:
Good catch on our mistakes on the timeline. Unfortunately I caught them only after the hardcover was out. These have been corrected and they will show up in paperback print. 
Jon was CEO of Geomagic from 9/1998 to 12/2000, I was the CTO during these years. Otherwise I was the CEO. 
I think this correction covers all of the references you found.  
The conference I described, which you didn't find the reference, happened on Jan 5, 2008 (not Jan. 2000). It has been corrected also in paperback.
As we saw above, this is clearly not a simple case of misstated timeline, as Fu Ping's belated correction purported. The stories she told in Bend, Not Break are organically dependent of it. Reshuffling this timeline would render her decision of hiring Jon Fjeld as well as her later lunch meeting meaningless. So, it will be very interesting to see how the stories are reshaped in the upcoming paperback edition.

1 comment:

  1. Eddie,
    Well written. I felt this broken fact should be listed prominently so that readers can know who Ping Fu really is.