Threading A Needle Through Coat Hangers


A business turnaround is akin to threading a needle through 1,000 tangled coat hangers – sometimes with little time, resource, or belief left on the clock. Iomega is one example.

In the early 1990s, Iomega had a dominant IBM PC removable disk drive business, but a failing Apple Mac business despite the company’s various attempts. Iomega’s disk drives were heavy and single sourced, while dozens of brands using a competitor’s drives were all compatible with each other. After two months of analysis upon joining, I decided to see Iomega’s stagnant business as a PR challenge instead of a product shortcoming, much to the executive team’s dismay and the sales team’s disappointment.

The PR campaign emphasized Iomega’s reliability and its competitors’ lack thereof. I also conceived the “Iomega Inside” advertising campaign and persuaded the company to launch the video at Comdex. The “Inside Iomega” animation would go on to win the NCGA award and was later rebranded by Intel as “Intel Inside.” Within a year, Iomega’s market share in the most critical and lucrative major accounts nearly tripled – as tracked by the publication MacWeek – and the PR campaign eventually became a key contributor to the collapse of its direct competitor, Syquest.

More recently, I joined Kilopass as the turnaround CEO. Kilopass was the technology leader in a niche memory business, but was losing to its competitor in products and customer engagement. With a dysfunctional organization, staggering negative cash-flow, and the world in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis, time was running out for Kilopass. Like Iomega, the Kilopass turnaround had to be threaded through a needle, this time technology licensing – a risky, time consuming, and uncharted path. Through three rounds of lay-offs and a complete management team change-over, Kilopass persevered and won Samsung as a technology licensee within one year from first meeting to cash in hand.

In these and other turnaround examples, the proverbial coat hangers will fall – often – and some business decisions will invariably be wrong. But seeing the shortest path to safety and having conviction and courage despite the noise of falling hangers ultimately results in rejuvenated businesses.

“Turnaround is akin to threading a needle through 1,000 tangled coat hangers – with little time, resource, or belief left on the clock.”

– Charlie Cheng


Select Track Record


Turnaround Consultant of Stagnant US Business

Reset client’s strategy to focus on major accounts and differentiated solutions. Grew business 5X within one year by winning the largest licensing customer of the company’s history. Accelerated the roadmap one whole year by simplifying and aligning product requirements with customers.

One Year Business Growth


Leverage Buy-out CEO of NEC Semiconductor Fab

During the most complex and confusing period of the Hitachi-Mitsubishi-NEC semiconductor consolidation process, convinced the financial acquirer and NEC’s major customer to jointly sponsor the LBO effort that had a pre-paid break-up fee, was cross-border, and was 40X the company’s revenue.

With Pre-paid Break-up Fee


Turnaround CEO During the 2008 Recession

Quadrupled Kilopass business during 2009 by closing an IP licensing deal with Samsung in six weeks to save the company from bankruptcy and position it for growth. Completely overhauled the management team, reduced headcount by 3X, and negotiated resolution to prior contract disputes with Intel and TSMC all within one year. Business in 2010 was 25% over business plan and three times that of 2008.

Increased Revenue


Turnaround Product Manager for Apple Market

Grew Iomega’s corporate-buyer market share in the Mac business as tracked by MacWeek from 8% – 25%, and ultimately contributed to its competitor’s bankruptcy. Conceived and developed Iomega’s advertising strategy which became the famous “Intel Inside” campaign.


Market Share Increase


The Journey

  • CEO in M&A, asset sale, and LBO projects with financial sponsors
  • Executive member of two publicly held companies
  • CEO and GM in management changes and reductions in force (RIF)
  • Plaintiff and defendant in patent litigations
  • Creator of two brand new products in networking chips and 3D DRAM
  • Primary inventor in two patents, co-inventor in 30+ other patents
  • Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) in a venture capital partner
  • Founding CEO to raise series-A financing
  • Product manager in 10+ technology products
  • Microprocessor architecture and design
  • Semiconductor memory technology research and development
  • Software technology and development
  • Corporate culture indoctrination at GE and IBM