Survival instincts at Vizio

That's the Irvine-based distributor of flat-screen TVs, and founder William Wang has quite a story to tell. Of course, there's the company, which he started in 2003 with $600,000 and is expected to generate revenues this year of more than $2 billion (much of it coming from sales at Costco). But then there's the other thing - how he was one of of 96 survivors aboard a Singapore Airlines 747 that took off on the wrong runway in Taiwan (83 passengers and crew members were killed). It was late 2000 and Wang, who had found earlier success with a computer monitor company, was now struggling with several dot-com businesses. "It was probably the most difficult time in my life," he recalls. Then he got on the L.A.-bound plane. My full interview with Wang is in the June issue of Inc. magazine.

The captain took the wrong runway. Instead of 5-L, he took 5-R. The runway was under construction. So we took off and half the plane was in the air, 180 miles per hour, and on its way to lifting off when it hit some of the construction equipment and the plane blew up. It was a 747 ready for a transpacific flight, so it was full of fuel. The plane came back down on the unfinished runway and it kept on going because of the speed at which it was traveling. I was in the front. Fortunately, it went straight forward and just skidded. It was just the front of the plane—the back was gone already. It was like a silent movie. I don’t even remember any noise. I assume people were screaming. When the plane stopped moving, I just got out. I couldn’t breathe anymore because of the fumes. I was running for air, I was running for an exit. Half the passengers died. I wasn’t really injured physically—I did have carbon monoxide poisoning. I guess several things went through my mind when the plane blew up. One thing was my family. The second thing was that all my headaches were suddenly gone. I was still stuck with all these bad businesses, but I had a better attitude. I mean, at the end of the day, we’re all going to die, right? So after the plane crash, it took a year or two to clean everything up.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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