Daniel Tseng, President of Corning Display Technologies Taiwan, is constantly looking for new, creative ways of approaching problem-solving and decision-making. In his 17 years at the U.S. tech multinational, Daniel has developed a distinct appreciation for the company’s core values, which he incorporates into his management style.
Daniel sat down with Taiwan Business TOPICS Deputy Editor Jeremy Olivier in July to discuss career development, mentorship, and the challenges of taking on brand-new roles at a company.
You hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering, as well as an EMBA from NTU. How did your education prepare you for your eventual career?
One of the major lessons I took away from studying industrial engineering was that there is always a better way of doing things. I always found this philosophy very insightful and it provided me with the foundation for my core competencies in business.
This major also provided me with the skills to approach work with initiative and creativity. Working at Corning, I’ve found that the company encourages this kind of thinking, so this was another concept that helped me in my career.
Another important skill I developed through my bachelor’s and master’s programs is systematic thinking. Usually, when we solve problems, we try to find the fastest, easiest solution. But industrial engineering taught me how to approach problem solving in a more systematic way, which leads to more effective solutions.
Several years into my career, I decided to study for my EMBA. While at NTU, I met leaders and managers from a wide variety of different industries, which introduced me to a diversity of views and ideas. These people also stood out as role models for me, particularly in the high standards they set for themselves and their emphasis on creating a good work-life balance. They provided a great benchmark for me to work up to and really motivated me.
You’ve now been at Corning for almost two decades. What about the company initially attracted you and why did you decide to stay?
When I started at Corning, I had just come back from China after a two-year stint there. At that time, I already had both high-tech industry and cross-border working experience. What I didn’t have was experience working in a foreign company. So, I took the job, knowing it would make my career more comprehensive.
After I joined Corning, three main things made me want to stay. For one, there is a close-knit, family-like working environment at the company. At Corning, employees really help and look after each other.
Second is Corning’s culture of innovation. We are always hearing from corporate about new products, new technology, and new initiatives. This makes life at the company more exciting, and encourages us to keep working to maintain Corning’s position as a global leader in different industries.
Lastly, Corning offers great job-rotation opportunities. This has been the launchpad for many success stories, including my own. I actually started in the manufacturing side at Corning, but when I asked if I could move over to the commercial operation, the company took a risk and agreed to it. This really inspired and encouraged me.
You recently took on an additional role as Chief Marketing Officer for the whole of Corning Display, working closely with regional presidents and commercial function leaders to implement customer-management best practices. How are you adjusting to this transition? Did it come with any unique challenges?
I’m still the president of Corning Taiwan and am finding the additional role of CMO to be a good fit. Taiwan is a mature market for us, and we have a very experienced team here. The company saw this and wanted to leverage our accumulated skills, strategies, and know-how to recreate our success story in other regions, to share our insights globally.
Of course, it will not be easy. Different regions have different backgrounds, cultures, and behaviors. We are not always exactly sure how to apply Taiwan’s experience in each situation. So, I am constantly researching and developing in my new role. I have to really apply those skills of initiative and creativity that I learned during my industrial engineering education. Luckily, the company has been offering great support and guidance as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on supply chains in China. Can you describe Corning’s experience throughout the pandemic? How has the company dealt with the effects of this disruption?
In Taiwan, we have thankfully experienced very little impact on our operations. There are some key factors for this. One is our government’s outstanding virus management, transparency of information, and rapid response. That seriously helped us with making good decisions efficiently. For example, many Taiwanese employees became stuck in Wuhan when the virus began spreading. Through the government’s excellent help and dialogue with the other side, we were able to ensure their safe return. We are very thankful for that.
Corning has an amazing team of experts, who gave the company very good advice. We implemented our virus control protocols and decision-making based on sound scientific data. The procedures used in our Taichung plant – separating the team there into three different groups – became a model for corporate HQ to reference.
We also have very high-quality employees. They have really shown up for each other throughout this pandemic.
Doing well is not enough for us, though; we also need to do good for others. So, we are now producing face coverings at our Tainan plant, which are sent to Corning employees around the world.
What do you see as your main strengths as a manager? Is there any area where you’d like to improve?
I would say that firstly, I want to hear the truth, even when it’s a difficult truth to hear. Without that, I might misjudge a situation. So, I encourage all my employees to speak frankly.
I also challenge my team to think creatively and to discover new ways of doing things. A healthy company is one that constantly strives to think outside of the box.
In addition, I try give credit to my team every chance I get – I can’t and don’t do everything myself. I need a strong team, and a strong team needs to receive their fair share of the credit in order to grow.
All that being said, I do think I need to improve on prioritization. We have so many tasks to do these days and want to try new things, but our time and resources are limited. Sometimes my team has to remind me that we might not have time for certain projects or need to save them for later.
Did you have a mentor during the early stages of your career? How did their guidance shape you as a professional?
Corning has always been great about providing us with mentors, and has a program to develop talent step-by-step.
While working at the company, I have been lucky to be assigned several different mentors. Through this experience, I learned that the first step in a person’s career is improving their performance. Once I began doing this, my career prospects really started opening up and I began rising in the company.
The second step is to work on networking. One mentor gave me a month-long homework assignment to go speak to all of the company’s senior executives, even if just for a couple of minutes each. I was hesitant at first. Why would these big shots want to talk to a small fry like me? I soon discovered that they were all very happy to get to know me. It increased my visibility at the company.
To round out my career, my mentors taught me that unique leadership is essential. Up to that point, I had been using other leaders as benchmarks for myself, but former AmCham Taipei Chair and Corning Taiwan President Alan Eusden pushed me to develop my own leadership style. That was very significant for me.
If you had one piece of advice for young professionals in your industry, what would it be?
If I had to choose just one, it would be something one of my former mentors told me. He said that there are two ways that talented people might fail in their careers: some get phased out and some get burned out.
In order to avoid getting phased out, you need to keep up with a constantly changing market and determine how to adjust and match your skills to the company’s needs. If you don’t want to get burned out, you need to find time to take care of your health and not become too overburdened with work.
How do you like to spend your leisure time? What do you find is the best way to get “recharged?”
I sometimes find it hard to separate work and life because many times the two mix together. However, one thing I took away from the EMBA program at NTU is that I can integrate work and life and enjoy the time I spend with my team and my customers.
For the times I’m not fully “at work,” I like to exercise, listen to educational lectures, go to art exhibitions, or enjoy good food and quality time with friends and family. It gives me a chance to relax, and sometimes when I’m doing these activities, I come up with good ideas for my job!