My View

By Don Sorchych | March 10, 2010

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Don SorchychJen San

The call from Shep, the human resource evaluator, a Ph.D. psychologist whose last name I have forgotten, was curt and angry. “If you think putting a nincompoop before me and expect a written evaluation is going to happen, it won’t. I wasn’t born yesterday.” His voice was strained and I asked, “What are you talking about?”

“That Chinese guy you sent to me, whose name I can’t pronounce as if you didn’t know. I know a set-up when I see one and it isn’t funny,” Shep said sternly.

canfield cartoon - jen san
The time was about 1986 and General Instrument still owned what is now called Microchip Technology in Chandler. They had a policy that Shep would evaluate any executive candidate that would make a salary of $80,000, or more.

I said, “Calm down Shep. First of all no one attempts his name, so he is known as Jen San. He is not Chinese, he is Manchurian and of royalty. His grandfather was exiled to Japan by the Japanese in the early 1900s and he was born and educated there. He can speak every oriental dialect, is honored by other Orientals and, yes, he speaks in pidgeon English, so what?”

“You are not getting an evaluation. Either you are putting me on or he is just stupid,” shouted Shep.

I said, “Shove your evaluation, you were only called because of corporate policy and I will hire him anyway.”

Thus began an adventure that I have relished to this day.

Jen San was hired for far-east marketing and sales and he was more than exceptional. He was credited with being the first Asian to be hired in the industry and that was with Fairchild Semiconductor.

Many times in airports other Asian men would see him, race over and embrace him saying, “Jen San, Jen San” and followed with rapid Asian dialect. He was honored and adored. He broke the glass ceiling for so many far-east salesmen, and they knew who was first.

Jen San was crafty with a guarded view of white people no doubt feeling the stigma many whites expressed during his career.

After spending a few hours with him it was impossible to not pick up his mangled English and emulate it. He would laughingly comment on it, saying, “You sound like me!” He wrote the same way.

He looked the part of a Manchurian and you would visualize him racing on a horse, saber in hand.

He was built like a sturdy tree, hard as wood, smoked to excess and could drink prodigiously. None of these habits affected his fantastic output of orders and his calls showed that he was here, there and everywhere.

I once flew to Taiwan to visit customers along with Sales Manager Kip Kokonakis. Jen San flew in from his office in Hong Kong. He met us at the airport and said, “Good you come, how about massage?”

I looked at Kokonakis, who shrugged his shoulders. “Is it necessary?” I said.

Jen San said, “Yes, you see.”

So he called a cab which took us to the “temple of delight” or some such thing.

About six hours was consumed with haircuts, massages, pedicures, massages, manicures and massages, Chinese food and so on. The pedicure and manicure were firsts for me, obviously not for them. I saw this as a company paid ritual and I wasn’t happy for being led into it.

They of course denied the expenses were on their expense account. Jen San said, “Ask Kokonakis he file expense account.” Kokonakis put on his best angelic smile.

Although I thoroughly looked over future expense accounts it would have taken a forensic accountant to dig it out. Salespeople are expert at fixing expense accounts and I have even overheard salespeople comparing notes and giving each other tips at sales meetings.
Chalk it up to American ingenuity and the cost of doing business.

The next few years were fruitful for us and when I left Microchip in early 1990 Jen San asked if I could get a position for him at Atmel, a competitor and one with which we still had an active lawsuit.

Calls to Atmel CEO George Perlegos yielded an offer and a position in the far-east for Jen San. His performance with them was outstanding.

Perlegos recognized Jen San had numerous irons in the fire and frequent phone calls kept Jen San hopping. In a phone conversation with me Jen San commented, “Perlegos slave driver,” chuckling about it. He valued Perlego’s strategy to keep most of his efforts directed toward the benefit of Atmel. And Jen San delivered, developing into a Perlegos confidant.

Later, in the early 90s Jen San and I collaborated on a plan to form a trading company to do business in mainland China. He and I spent three weeks traveling from town to town in a circle around Shanghai.

We were treated like royalty and town officials along with central communists met us at each town. We shared lavish meals and I have never seen the likes of here, or bigger lazy Susans.

Attempts to brainwash us were the rule of the day and Jen San, in whatever dialect they chose, would chastise them preaching an American sermon. I was provided a translator who traveled with us and over Saki in the evening he would tell me how the interpreter was spinning me.

Both interpreters, in spite of their pro communist speeches during dinners, asked me for support in U.S. university education. I received a packet months later from one of them with the requisite forms for supported university education.

I called Jen San and he said, “If you want to be fool, go ahead, but don’t send to me.”

The trading company idea died for numerous reasons and soon after Sonoran News was born.

I stopped getting semiconductor trade magazines years ago, but noticed Microchip was attempting to buy Atmel. Apparently Perlegos’ board, led by a “vulture” capitalist, dumped him and he was attempting to get back in as CEO.

Perlegos was not only a fantastic entrepreneur, while at Intel he had a lengthy variety of patents issued in his name. He was an early expert and inventor of EPROMs and EEPROMS.

I haven’t found Jen San yet, but I’ll keep looking. Like many old friends, I would love to have my wife meet him, as she has many.