Kai-Fu Lee is a Taiwanese computer scientist, IT venture capitalist, micro-blogger and executive. His most well-known title is “Information Technology Venture Capitalist.” Lee is considered one of the most prominent and influential individuals in the Chinese internet sector, despite the fact that he is Taiwanese. Lee has worked for and with a number of major internet companies including Google, Microsoft, and Apple. He is among the most popular and most followed micro-bloggers in China. In addition to his numerous career activities, Lee also gives back to his community by providing mentorship and advice to young Chinese individuals. He has millions of followers on social media and even started a venture capital fund in an effort to inspire internet and computing startups
Childhood & Early Life
Kai-Fu Lee was born on December 3, 1961 in Taipei, Taiwan, to Li Tianmin, a historian and legislator from Sichuan, China.
Lee immigrated to the United States in 1973. While there, he attended high school in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
After high school, he went to Columbia University to study computer science. In 1983 he graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree.
In 1988, he earned a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University.
While working on his doctorate, he designed and developed the first speaker-independent, continuous speech recognition system. Sphinx, the name of the system, was used by Lee as his thesis.
In 1986, he co-founded a Bayesian learning-based system called “Bill.” “Bill” was used to help win the US national tournament of computer players. The program was used on the board game Othello.
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After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, he became a faculty member at the University.
In 1990, he became a principal research scientist at Apple. At Apple, he headed R&D groups that were in charge of programs including Plain Talk, Casper, Apple Bandai Pippin, and Gala Text (used for Mac Computers). He remained at Apple from 1990-1996.
In 1996, he left Apple and joined Silicon Graphics as the Vice President of the Web Products Division. A year later, Lee became president of the multimedia software division which is known as Cosmo Software.
Two years later, in 1998, he took a job with Microsoft that required him to move to Beijing, China. While there, he helped establish the Microsoft Research (MSR) division. Initially called MSR China, it is considered one of the best computer science research labs in the entire world. Eventually, the name was changed to MSR Asia.
In 2005, Lee was wooed away from Microsoft with an unprecedented offer from Google. They offered him a compensation package upwards of $10 million, with a $2.5 million cash sign-on bonus, and another $1.5 million in cash after one year.
In 2009, he left Google to begin his venture capital fund “Innovation Works.” The $115 million program’s objective is to create five successful Chinese start-ups annually. These startups will be in internet and mobile internet, or vast hosting services (Cloud Computing).
While in college, he co-founded the Othello program “Bill.” At the US championship, “Bill” beat a human champion.
In 1998, he established the Microsoft Research Division in Beijing China.
In 2005, he established Google China.
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In 2009, he established “Innovation Works,” a venture capital fund designed to help Chinese individuals begin their technology companies.
Later in 2009, he co-founded LightInTheBox Holding Co., Ltd., an online retail company offering a wide variety of products.
Awards & Achievements
He was inducted into the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2002.
In 2010, he received an honorary Doctorate Degree from the City University of Hong Kong.
In 2012, Sina Weibo named him China’s Most Influential Micro-Blogger
In 2013, TIME named him as one of the most 100 influential people in the world.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Shen-Ling in 1983 and they had two children: Jennifer and Cynthia.
In 2005, Lee, along with Google, was sued by Microsoft. Microsoft claimed that he violated his non-compete agreement since he began working at Google less than a year after leaving Microsoft. A Washington Superior Court Judge gave Microsoft a temporary restraining order. This prevented Lee from working on any Google products that could potentially compete with Microsoft.
In 2005, Google and Microsoft reached an undisclosed settlement.
In 2013, he was banned from Weibo for three days after using the site to complain about China’s strict internet controls.
In September 2013, he announced via social media, specifically, Weibo, that he was diagnosed with lymphoma.
Lee was denied admission into Harvard and was placed on a waiting list for Stanford, Yale, and Princeton.
He had never had a girlfriend until his sisters set him up on a blind date with Shen-Ling. A year later, in 1983, they were wed.
After 17 months of treatment for lymphoma in Taiwan, Lee returned to China to continue working