Peter Fan is a Michigan Engineering alum, both for his bachelor and doctoral degrees. He got his bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering in 1977 and then his doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1982. Peter has now returned to his home country of Taiwan, but now as the President of Wytte International Ltd.
It has been said that language is the source of all misunderstandings. Fortunately, misunderstandings often work out just fine, as one did in the late 1970s when a simple phrase, “big ten,” was lost in translation.
Peter Fan has told the story many times, but it never gets old because this particular misunderstanding changed his life. “I wanted to attend a top-ten school in America and I saw that Michigan was in a group of schools called the Big Ten. In the Chinese language, ‘top ten’ and ‘big ten’ mean the same thing. So I applied to Michigan and Northwestern. I never visited either campus. Michigan simply responded first. It was a happy accident because Michigan Engineering really did change my life. It was magic.”
Far from Taiwan, Fan (MSE ChE ’77, ME PhD ’82) found what he describes as a new world with wonders such as Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s and milkshakes. “We didn’t have these things in Taiwan. So during my first semester when I needed to treat myself, I went to McDonald’s. They were simple pleasures that, like many simple things, have been among my most vivid memories of Michigan Engineering. The East Engineering building, the Diag, the University tower, the grad school library and the Asian library (‘my favorite place on campus’) and football Saturdays – I still see them clearly, too, no matter where I am. And the cold weather – I can still feel it. I had no idea how cold it would be in Michigan. But the College was warm and welcoming. It took me in; it was my family.”
“I was fortunate enough to make my way to Michigan Engineering. It’s a wonderland – I would not be the person I am if it hadn’t been for the College.” -Peter Fan
He found people in all corners of the University who made him feel that he could succeed. Two particular helping hands were John Powers (“a very wise man”) and Scott Fogler (“one of the kindest people I’ve ever met”). His life broadened. He learned to ski and drive. He gathered with other students for potluck meals. “We Asian students weren’t financially secure, so we got together in married housing to eat very basic foods. But we did go to the China Gate restaurant. It was run by Mr. Chan – he was the chef and owner. He let us eat whatever we wanted, often for free.”
Following those formative Michigan Engineering years, he carved out one success after another. Along the way he helped several companies meet and then exceed their potential. In 2009, Fan decided it was time to do the same for a company of his own. He founded Wytte International Ltd, a small business that sold over-the-counter drugs such as cough medications – first to the Taiwan market and, after success there, to an international market. Wytte was a homerun.
“I was very surprised at my success,” Fan said. “It happened so quickly. And it happened because I believed in myself. I never felt defeated. The good fortune that I had with Wytte confirmed my belief that life is full of magic and you should never be afraid to try. If you don’t try, you’ll never know how strong you are or how successful you can be. Risk is not something to fear; it’s something to overcome.”
His education and business have taken Fan from one side of the world to the other, and then back – a long journey for the shy boy who liked to sit in his room, stacking cans like LEGOS.
“I did what was expected as in some kind of a Chinese myth, in which men go into engineering and women go into commerce. That’s the way things were. I was fortunate enough to make my way to Michigan Engineering. It’s a wonderland – I would not be the person I am if it hadn’t been for the College. Now I want to do something, large or small, to make things easier for students, today. It’s the right thing to do. Not just at the University in Ann Arbor but also in Taiwan.”
True to his word, Fan served for six years as president of the Alumni Club of Taiwan and worked tirelessly to get people there engaged with the University and College. As a demonstration of his personal engagement, Fan organized a special trip to Ann Arbor for 28 Taiwanese to present a $100,000 gift to the University in the name of the Alumni Club of Taiwan for scholarship support.
“I want to convince other people in Asia to do the same thing – to encourage the spirit of the University of Michigan in Asia. We want to raise eyebrows about the University. Right now there’s not enough exposure. But there will be. That’s part of my mission and, as I said, I never give up; I never feel defeated. That’s something I learned at Michigan.”