SHANGHAI, China – Shannon Gao, chief financial officer at Spreadtrum Communications, is a Chinese-born, U.S.-trained certified public accountant, who has worked for Spreadtrum since the company’s inception in 2001.
After working in the U.S. for several years, Gao returned to China when Leo Li took over Spreadtrum, based here, in 2009. Gao assumed the CFO's position in 2010.
Returning to China at that point in her career wasn’t exactly what Gao had in mind. She agreed to return mostly out of a sense of duty to Spreadtrum and loyalty to Li. Gao has stood by the company through thick and thin, including a rocky IPO.[Get a 10% discount on ARM TechCon 2012 conference passes by using promo code EDIT. Click here to learn about the show and register.]
The fabless company focused on baseband chips for mobile handsets went public in 2007 after being touted as China's top IC company. By the end of 2008, Spreadtrum’s Nasdaq stock price had tanked. Spreadtrum kept missing quarterly financial targets. By the first quarter of 2009, it was left with virtually no customers, and had only enough cash to “last only for the next two quarters,” Li told us in an interview.
Spreadtrum's roller coaster stock chart
How Leo Li led Spreadtrum's turnaround
is an oft-told and compelling story.
For Gao, who still spends late nights at company headquarters in Zhangjiang, Spreadtrum’s almost miraculous recovery has been a roller coaster ride.Soft skills
So-called "soft skills" like accounting and legal services aren’t a top priority for many startups trying to recruit talent. But as Chinese fabless companies gather momentum, an absence of soft skills is becoming a make-or-break proposition.
A case in point are Chinese companies that have been targeted recently by short sellers who allege fraud or irregularities, prompting investors to flee. Spreadtrum was hit hard by a short seller named Muddy Waters on June, 28, 2011.Reuters
reported that day: "Spreadtrum Communications Inc (SPRD.O) shares fell sharply on Tuesday, but later rebounded after noted short selling researcher Muddy Waters said it was shorting the stock, claiming a "high risk" of misstatements in the Chinese semiconductor maker's financials.
"Unlike other firms targeted by Muddy Waters, Spreadtrum's sell-off has been modest," the report continued.
"Spreadtrum shares slid more than 30 percent after Muddy Waters said in an e-mail that it was most concerned about the company's 2010 and 2011 numbers. But buyers emerged by midday and the shares recovered most of their losses to close at $12.49, down 3.5 percent on the day."