Steve Westly: He wants to change the world BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By QI­DONG ZHANG in San Fran­cisco kel­lyzhang@chi­nadai­

Steve Westly, for­mer Cal­i­for­nia State con­troller and founder of the Westly Group, one of US’ largest clean-tech ven­ture cap­i­tal firms, uses Chi­nese I-Ching phi­los­o­phy Yin & Yang to de­scribes his par­al­lel ca­reer in pol­i­tics and busi­ness.

A for­mer ex­ec­u­tive at eBay, Westly de­vel­oped mar­ket­ing and busi­ness strate­gies to guide the com­pany to its IPO. As one of the ear­li­est in­vestors and board mem­bers at Tesla Mo­tors, he helped pioneer the rapid de­vel­op­ment of the elec­tric-ve­hi­cle gi­ant.

Also known as a po­lit­i­cal power player in Sil­i­con Val­ley, Westly raised more than $500,000 for then-Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Barack Obama’s 2008 cam­paign and $1.5 mil­lion for his re-elec­tion as pres­i­dent, and he has been a gen­er­ous host for Obama and other ma­jor Democrats, in­clud­ing Vice-Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton.

When he and his wife were in­vited to a White House state din­ner by Obama to meet with for­mer Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao dur­ing his state visit in 2011, Westly had a chance to chat with Hu on the im­por­tance of the US-China re­la­tion­ship. To­day he has high re­gards for Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

“I am very bullish on Xi (Jin­ping), and be­lieve he is a strong leader who seeks pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with the US; I think the time he spent in the US when he was young helps him un­der­stand our cul­ture, our goals, and who we are as people.”

His ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist firm the Westly Group has man­aged a $300 mil­lion port­fo­lio that has in­vested in more than 20 com­pa­nies look­ing to solve press­ing world prob­lems with a fo­cus on the clean-tech in­dus­try. He looks to ex­pand his in­vest­ment in the Chi­nese clean-tech mar­ket, es­pe­cially af­ter re­cently tak­ing a Chi­nese waste-en­ergy firm pub­lic on the Nas­daq ex­change.

“I be­lieve there will be tremen­dous op­por­tu­ni­ties in China in the clean-tech in­dus­try, and I have been watch­ing China very care­fully. As a busi­ness per­son and as an Amer­i­can, I want to see closer ties with China, more in­vest­ment go­ing both di­rec­tions, more stu­dents study­ing across the borders. I am par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in see­ing more Amer­i­cans learn­ing Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture,” Westly said.

With his fa­ther grow­ing up in the Philip­pines, Westly be­came in­ter­ested in in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics at a young age. He stud­ied his­tory and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs at Stan­ford Univer­sity as an un­der­grad­u­ate, and he did some­thing most stu­dents did not do, take the For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cers exam.

Known for its com­pet­i­tive­ness, the exam and in­cludes an ex­ten­sive three-hour writ­ten test and then — for those who pass — a highly com­pet­i­tive eight-hour oral exam. He was even­tu­ally selected, but chose to con­tinue his MBA stud­ies at Stan­ford Busi­ness School.

His in­ter­est in Chi­nese cul­ture and his­tory also was de­vel­oped at an early age, partly be­cause his mother was an ex­pert in Asian art and Bud­dhism cul­ture, and was a mu­seum guide and ex­pert on Asian cul­ture at Stan­ford’s Art Mu­seum.

“I watched China go­ing through ex­tra­or­di­nary eco­nomic growth in the past few decades, with many of China’s1.3 bil­lion pop­u­la­tion be­ing lifted from poverty. When I be­came Cal­i­for­nia State con­troller and CFO in 2003, we were the world’s fifth­largest econ­omy, and China was the ninth. I am glad I had taken a lead­er­ship role in help­ing to in­crease the in­vest­ments of Cal­i­for­nia’s two pub­lic in­vest­ment funds in Asia and specif­i­cally in China. These in­vest­ments have per­formed very well,” he said. See­ing both op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges be­tween China and US, Westly said both coun­tries need to learn to com­mu­ni­cate and ad­dress mu­tual con­cerns.

“The is­sue of air pol­lu­tion and global air pol­lu­tion is go­ing to be big­ger and big­ger for pol­icy mak­ers of ev­ery coun­try in the world. In the past, we think if one coun­try has pol­lu­tion it’s their prob­lem. But pol­lu­tion to­day is a prob­lem with­out borders,” he said.

“Cal­i­for­nia had a great pol­lu­tion prob­lem when I was grow­ing up, largely caused by cars. So we did some­thing very for­ward­look­ing in Los Angeles and San Fran­cisco. We es­tab­lished cat­alytic con­verter leg­is­la­tion and cleaned up our cars. So for the next 25 years (early 1970s to early 2000), the air in our state is a lot cleaner. Af­ter 2000, how­ever, we be­gan to get more and more pol­lu­tion from Asia.

“To­day the EPA (En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency) says we get 25 per­cent of our pol­lu­tion


Founder of the Westly Group Age: 58 MBA, pub­lic man­age­ment, Stan­ford Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness (1983) • BA , his­tory, Stan­ford

Univer­sity (1978)

• Tesla Mo­tors, mem­ber, board of di­rec­tors (2007) Cal­i­for­nia State Con­troller (2002) Ebay, vice pres­i­dent and se­nior vice-pres­i­dent for mar­ket­ing and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment (1997 – 2000) Net­com, di­rec­tor (1994) Stan­ford Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness, lec­turer, over the West Coast from Asia. So the point is, this is not a China prob­lem, or Mex­ico City prob­lem or Kuala Lumpar prob­lem; this is a global prob­lem. So we have the same in­ter­est as China to work to­gether and help each other on our en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies,” he said.

The key chal­lenge, Westly points out, is to limit the use of coal, an en­ergy so­lu­tion that he said seems to have cheap in­put but very ex­pen­sive out­put.

“Both the US and China de­velop coal mines and ob­tain coal for en­ergy use be­cause it is cheap. But we need to look at the cost of out­put, which is short­en­ing lives, giv­ing our chil­dren asthma, and killing people with lung cancer. We can’t keep fool­ing our­selves on this be­cause it is cheap, since the con­se­quence has to be cal­cu­lated,” he said.

Westly em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of clos­ing down dirty coal

(1991–1995) City of San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia, deputy di­rec­tor, of­fice of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment (1991) Codd & Date, pres­i­dent (1988) Valen­tine and Com­pany, in­vest­ment banker (1988) Vice Chair of the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party (1987) North­ern Chair of the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party (1985) • New Busi­ness Man­ager, Sprint Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions (1983) State Con­troller of the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party (1983) North­ern Trea­surer of the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party (1981) plants by both China and US for the in­ter­est of the gen­eral pub­lic, and he said quicker mea­sures have to be taken by the Chi­nese govern­ment for the use of so­lar and re­us­able en­ergy.

“China, like us, needs to ad­dress these prob­lems, that they must, just like the US, look at not only the low cost of the in­put, but also the pub­lic cost of the out­put and the cost their neigh­bors must bear as well. The good news is we be­lieve Xi (Jin­ping) of China un­der­stands this prob­lem very well and is mov­ing very de­cid­edly to build up in­no­va­tion ca­pac­ity,” said Westly.

Ac­cord­ing to him, China in­stalled 14GW of wind-power gen­er­a­tion and 12 GW of so­lar­power gen­er­a­tion last year, com­pared to 1GW of wind and 4.3 GW of so­lar in the US.

“China is the world’s largest pro­ducer of hy­dro-elec­tric power. Coal power still ac­counts for 65 per­cent of all en­ergy con­sumed in China. The Chi­nese govern­ment’s goal is to dou­ble wind­power ca­pac­ity by 2020 — that is a model the rest of the world would be smart to fol­low,” he said. Elec­tric ve­hi­cles are an­other so­lu­tion to pol­lu­tion, said the big pro­moter and in­vestor in Tesla Mo­tors. Westly be­lieves the com­pany’s busi­ness model is one of the big­gest clean-en­ergy in­no­va­tions in au­to­mo­bile his­tory.

“China must deal with the is­sue that many people want cars, and how the govern­ment will al­low that many people to have car own­er­ship, which will even­tu­ally lead to worse pol­lu­tion. The an­swer to that is to en­force higher stan­dards of fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles, and I be­lieve China will see a great leap for­ward in this area of de­vel­op­ment,” he said.

He said the big leap for­ward is pos­si­ble by look­ing at the US ex­am­ple. “Three or four years ago I spoke to people in the US about Tesla’s elec­tric ve­hi­cles; many thought I was crazy about cars run­ning on bat­ter­ies. Now people tell me they love Tesla, they want one and ask how soon they will get one. I be­lieve the same thing will hap­pen in China. To­day we are al­ready look­ing at our next great leap for­ward, which are driver­less cars, au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. This will be great news for China since a sub­stan­tial amount of the pop­u­la­tion has not grown up driv­ing a car,’’ he said.

Westly’s other con­nec­tion to China is his wife Anita Yu, who is orig­i­nally from Hong Kong and “is still very Chi­nese by keep­ing Chi­nese cus­tom and tra­di­tions.” Proudly stat­ing that both of their chil­dren — daugh­ter Christie 14 and son Matthew 12 — speak Man­darin, he said part of his life phi­los­o­phy is, “Happy wife, happy life.”


Steve Westly, for­mer Cal­i­for­nia State con­troller and founder of the Westly Group, one of US’ largest clean-tech ven­ture cap­i­tal firms, uses Chi­nese I-Ching phi­los­o­phy Yin & Yang to de­scribes his par­al­lel ca­reer in pol­i­tics and busi­ness.

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