Patrick Soon-Shiong - CEO of Abraxis BioScience Wealthiest Asian American Forbes 400 2011 JadeLuckClub Jade Luck Club Asian Americans disempowered? cloutless?

Do Asian Americans Have Real Clout in America? How many Asian American CEOs, Politicians and Billionaires?

Asian in America

Patrick Soon-Shiong - CEO of Abraxis BioScience Wealthiest Asian American Forbes 400 2011 JadeLuckClub Jade Luck Club Asian Americans disempowered? cloutless?Do you this man? He is Patrick Soon-Shiong, the weathiest Asian American according to Forbes. He clocks in at #46 with a net worth of $5.6 billion.

“The doctor added $200 million to his fortune over the last year as he sold Abraxis BioScience to Celgene for $2.9 billion in October 2010. He’s pledged half of his fortune to charity, joining the Bill Gates-Warren Buffett Giving Pledge initiative: “Growing up in South Africa … we had direct experience of inequality.” His father was a village doctor in China; family immigrated to South Africa during WWII. Finished high school at 16; doctor by 23. Took American Pharmaceutical Partners public 2001. Launched cancer treatment Abraxane 2005; drug more potent, with fewer side effects than treatments then available.”

This is how to be doctor with clout!

I digress, this is actually want I wanted to talk about:


The NY Magazine has a really excellent series of posts called Paper Tigers. This particular post grabbed my attention:

What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?

This was the paragraph that got me thinking:

“Earlier this year, the publication of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother incited a collective airing out of many varieties of race-based hysteria. But absent from the millions of words written in response to the book was any serious consideration of whether Asian-Americans were in fact taking over this country. If it is true that they are collectively dominating in elite high schools and universities, is it also true that Asian-Americans are dominating in the real world? My strong suspicion was that this was not so, and that the reasons would not be hard to find. If we are a collective juggernaut that inspires such awe and fear, why does it seem that so many Asians are so readily perceived to be, as I myself have felt most of my life, the products of a timid culture, easily pushed around by more assertive people, and thus basically invisible?”


Are we successful in the real sense? Powerful? In charge? Possessing political clout?

I thought I would do a little digging around …

Asian American CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies

This is from Diversity, Inc.

Seven Fortune 500 CEOs are Asian, including two women of color. They are:

7/500= .014 or 1.4% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.

What is the takeaway here? If you are an Asian American MALE and not of Indian descent, you pretty much have no role model in corporate America. Don’t waste your time climbing the ladder, start your own company. See below for inspiration, Forbes 400 Wealthiest Americans.

Asian Americans in Politics

I located 48 Asian Americans of Chinese descent in politics. 48 of Japanese descent. 16 recent Korean American politicians with recent wins (which seems correct because I found 15 here).  13 of Vietnamese descent. 38 of Indian descent.

OK. I did not look up every Asian American ethnicity, but I think you see a pattern here?! Not so much, right?

So many the would-be Asian American politicians need to hook up with the Asian American Über Wealthy. No, seriously. Political clout = financial backing.


Asian American Über Wealthy

So here’s another measure of power: big money. How are we faring? I’m using Forbes 400 Wealthiest for this.

Patrick Soon-Shiong clocks in at #46 with $5.2 billion

Roger Wang at #69 with $4.2 billion

David Sun at #136 with $2.6 billion

John Tu at #136 with $2.6 billion

Barat Desai #252 with$1.6 billion

Min Kao #269 with $1.5 billion

Romesh Wadhwani #290 with $1.4 billion

James Kim #308 with $1.3 billion

Vinod Khosla #308 at $1.3 billion

Jerry Yang #356 with $1.15 billion

10/400= .025 or 2.5%. Actually, this was more than I expected. I guess many of these billionaires keep a low profile.

 My takeaway from this little sleuthing exercise is this: you best and brightest Asian Americans out there, Fortune 500 is no place for you. True, it could be a good training ground and there are promises of fast tracking to upper management, but you will have better odds of becoming a billionaire than becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Seriously, do the math. It’s true. Take action and start your own company instead or work for a start up that perhaps has a chance to go super nova. When an Asian American becomes President of the United States, that is probably when it’s safe to pursue the Fortune 500 CEO route here in the U.S.A.

What do YOU think? Do Asian Americans have real clout? Why or why not? Please chime in!

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12 thoughts on “Do Asian Americans Have Real Clout in America? How many Asian American CEOs, Politicians and Billionaires?”

  1. I do not understand what your basis is on the business world. I know a LOT of successful Asian-Americans who take technical routes through engineering/medical/technical routes through academia or are content to remain where they are.

    Part of the reasoning as to why there aren’t many API CEOs at Fortune 500s is that those companies have a culture of self-promotion to get to the top. If you don’t adapt to the culture, it’s difficult to get recognized for the good work that you do.

    I don’t think that this relatively small sample says that people should avoid the Fortune 500 and start their own business. It’s flawed logic.

    1. To Boyie,
      Thanks for your comment. My logic assumes that Asian Americans for the past several decades have striven to reach CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies but are clearly not succeeding. My point is that statistically as of today, Asian Americans have a better chance of becoming billionaires than Fortune 500 CEOs. Will this change? I’m not sure when or if it will … so I am just suggesting that if you want to achieve real clout, going the entrepreneurial route has a better and bigger payoff. This is not to say that mid-level management jobs don’t exist at Fortune 500 companies for minorities; they certainly do. But it seems as if the glass ceiling is still there.

      I was actually quite shocked to discover that there are more Asian American billionaires than Fortune 500 CEOs. I would have guessed the opposite so this was eye opening for me. My point is to realize if you are Asian American that corporate America still has limitations at the highest echelons. And that if you have the talent, capital, risk taking stomach, etc. striking out on your own might be the only way to break the glass ceiling of true clout in America. That is not to say that you should not work at Fortune 500 companies as these are great training grounds. But if you aspire to be a CEO — you will be the Jackie Robinson of Asian American Males at Fortune 500 Companies. It’s not impossible, just very, very difficult.

      1. Oh, it will definitely be very difficult indeed. I still do not think going the entrepreneurial route is always the best, at least not without a good bit of experience.

        Still! Definitely hoping to be one of those later on!

        1. To Boyie,
          Interesting that the idea of multi priced cupcakes to depict racism at colleges is not a new idea but it does put it into an eye opening visual.

          At least your Alma mater didn’t shut down the bake sale. Sheesh, you’d think the colleges would applaud the right to free expression in their students!

        2. To Boyie,
          I applaud your entrepreneurial spirit! I don’t actually feel that Fortune 500 company work experience translates well into learning to start your own business and would counsel you to work for a smaller company even a start up if you can get the opportunity (as an entrepreneur myself).

  2. There is a basic flaw using the Fortune 500 as the basis to quantify the “successful” rate. A significant portion of the Fortune 500 belong to “traditional” industries where the company officials and share holders are predominantly White or European decendants. These industries include energy/oil, heavy industry, utility, chemistry, traditional manufacturing. The companies that Eastern Asians can get in and awarded a top position in the past 20 years are very limited.

    It is very tough for Asians to climb up to the top position of a traditional company. In most cases, a senior vice president is the limit. If you count most the the Asian Americans on your wealthy list, you will find that most of them are the founders of their own companies.

    Asians may hold a better competitive edge in newer technology industries. Another way to look at this is by looking how many Asian companies occupy the top 5 positions in the world, like PC, TV, etc. I guess the top 5 (just my guess) could be Acer, HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus. Three are Asian brands. The top five for TV could include Vizio, Sharp, Samsung, SONY, LG. All Asians. (Vizio is arguably the selling brand of Taiwan’s Amtran Technologies).

    1. To James,
      You bring up a very good point! Let me research those companies to see if CEO is an Asian American versus Asian National. The companies based in Asia are not ever going to have an Asian American as CEO; I’m not even sure if President of North America Division… but I could be wrong. My brother worked for a number of these: Acer, LG, Intel and my conversations with him seemed to indicate that LG (Korean based) is going to keep the top positions for their own Korean Nationals.

  3. Very interesting discussion. Point is that statistics show that Asian Americans in top leadership positions have more likely formed their own companies, i.e., been entrepreneurial, than risen to the top in “traditional companiess. Issue is probably more complex. The starking contrast is how Asian Americans are “overrepresented” in college enrollments, education level, in the Ivy League schools, etc., yet, are underrepresented in higher ranks of leadership. Noone mentioned racism, although implied, Stereotyped images do not favor Asian Americans as leaders, more as worker bees. Asian cultural values, moreover, favor entrepreneurialism, hard work, modesty, Bottom line is a combination of: how to adapt without compromising one’s core essence and values in order to succeed and rise to the top, as well as how to change the system to enable greater equity and acknowledgment of differences in selecting Asian Americans for top leadership positions.

    1. To Jean,
      I think there is a real contrast between Asian cultural values which encourage entrepreneurism and Tiger Mom parenting which discourages risk taking and failure. Both exhibit Asian values but are so different.

      I wonder if Asian Americans need to regain their entrepreneurial roots which may have been from lack of choice when first immigrating to America. There was a big push for the second generation to get a moderately successful “safe” job like a doctor, engineer, professor or accountant. Maybe now is as good a time as any to stop trying to swim upstream in corporate America.

      In soccer, the big lesson is avoid pressure, ie go where the field is empty. Why dribble the ball into a cluster of defenders? Best to avoid even if it means retreating your position. It seems to me that if there is a fork in the road between a middle management corporate job or a start up opportunity, the startup has a bigger potential payoff which kinda neutralizes the start up’s inherent risk.

      I wonder when Asian Americans will have real clout and if I will be alive to see it.

      I wonder when Asian Americans will be able to have real power as a group.

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