Charles B. Wang, Software Entrepreneur and New York Islanders Owner, Dies at 74

By Steve Lohr

Charles Wang addressed the media during a news conference at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2012, home of the New York Islanders. Mr. Wang, a founder of Computer Associates, was majority holder of the NHL team.CreditCreditKathy Willens/Associated Press

Charles B. Wang, an entrepreneur and deal-maker who built a multibillion-dollar software business and became a majority owner of the New York Islanders, died on Sunday at his home in Oyster Bay, N.Y. He was 74.

The cause was lung cancer, said John McEntee, a lawyer representing Mr. Wang and his family.

Mr. Wang (pronounced Wong) was a contentious figure in the software industry. He was a Chinese immigrant who built a successful company. But he also became a symbol of lavish executive pay and was embroiled in an accounting scandal, though he was never formally charged.

By the end of the 1990s, Computer Associates, which Mr. Wang co-founded and led, was the world’s third-largest software maker, trailing only Microsoft and IBM in sales. Yet the business, focusing on behind-the-scenes software programs, was not widely known outside the industry. Many of the programs managed digital operations in corporate computer centers.

Mr. Wang, the chairman and chief executive, was fond of calling Computer Associates “the biggest software company nobody ever heard of.”

Computer Associates, founded in 1976, was an agglomeration of some 200 acquisitions, a testimony to Mr. Wang’s deal-making fervor. He often looked for older companies with valuable rosters of customers and a business that seemed ripe for an overhaul. He would then fire executives and staff members while sharply cutting costs.

In March 2000, Mr. Wang appeared on the cover of Business Week magazine, under the headline “Software’s Tough Guy.”

Mr. Wang in Islandia, Long Island in 1992. His company, Computer Associates, was at one point the world’s third-largest computer software maker.CreditVic DeLucia/The New York Times

The magazine called his management style “harsh but effective,” delivering hefty profit margins. The workers who remained were treated well. The company’s headquarters in Islandia, on Long Island, included a child-care center and other amenities. Fortune magazine included Computer Associates on its list of the best companies to work for in America.

The corporate generosity started at the top, as Mr. Wang was one of the nation’s highest-paid executives. In 1998, he received a $670 million stock grant.

Criticism and scrutiny followed, eventually prompting a long-running federal investigation into the company’s accounting practices.

Mr. Wang stepped aside as chief executive in 2000, handing the job to his handpicked successor, Sanjay Kumar. In 2002, Mr. Kumar replaced Mr. Wang as chairman as well.

In 2004, after a four-year investigation that focused on backdated contracts and whether they artificially inflated profits, Computer Associates reached an agreement with the Justice Department to avoid prosecution, which included paying $225 million in restitution to shareholders.

In 2006, Mr. Kumar was sentenced to 12 years in prison for orchestrating a $2.2 billion accounting fraud, mainly in 1999 and 2000. Mr. Wang was never charged with wrongdoing in the case.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell shook hands with the New York Islanders’ Bill Guerin after dropping the ceremonial first puck as the Philadelphia Flyers’ Mike Richards and the Islanders owner Charles Wang looked on before an NHL hockey game at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., in 2008.CreditEd Betz/Associated Press

But a year later, a 390-page report by the Computer Associates board, assisted by an outside law firm, found Mr. Wang culpable as well. “No significant decisions were made without his participation and approval,” the report said.

Mr. Wang dismissed the report as “fallacious.”

By then, Computer Associates had replaced its senior management team and most of its board members. The business had shrunk by 40 percent from 2000 to 2006.

The company, which later changed its name to CA Technologies, would never be a highflier again. But new managers streamlined and stabilized the old business, and moved into new fields like software tools for internet-style computing. This year, Broadcom, a big chip maker, bought CA Technologies for nearly $19 billion.

Charles B. Wang was born on Aug. 19, 1944, in Shanghai. When he was 8, his family moved to New York, where his father, a former judge in pre-revolutionary China, taught international law at St. John’s University, and his mother, Mary, studied and worked as a librarian.

Mr. Wang is survived by his mother; two brothers, Anthony and Francis; his wife, Nancy Li; and three children — Kimberly Dey, with his first wife, Ingrid S. Wang, and Jasmine and Cameron, with Ms. Li. He is also survived by three grandchildren.

Mr. Wang graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School and then Queens College, majoring in math and physics. After graduation, he answered a help-wanted ad for a computer programmer at Columbia University. Mr. Wang had never used a computer, but he talked his way into the job, taught himself to code and had a knack for it.

After a series of programming and sales jobs, Mr. Wang and a few colleagues founded Computer Associates International.

Mr. Wang’s philanthropy included founding Smile Train, which provides cleft-palate surgeries free to children in developing countries. He also created a program to develop ice hockey in China.

Mr. Wang contributed to various organizations in his adopted home of Long Island, including Stony Brook University, where a $25 million Asian-American center bears his name.

Local loyalty, more than a sports passion, seemed to have led to his participation in the National Hockey League. Mr. Wang’s favorite sport was basketball, and he had attended only one pro hockey game when he was sought out in 2000 to become a major investor in the New York Islanders.

At the time, the team was struggling, both financially and on the rink. But Mr. Wang was won over and he became the majority owner from 2001 to 2016. He then scaled back to a minority stake.

While in control, he unsuccessfully sought to have a new arena built in Uniondale, N.Y., but eventually moved the team to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. In the end, his wish came true — the Islanders are moving back to the island, to the newly built Belmont Park arena, expected to open in 2021. They will play at the Nassau Coliseum, their old home, for part of the next three seasons.

As a nonexpert, Mr. Wang had some unconventional suggestions, like trying out sumo wrestlers for goalies. “He assumed nobody could put a goal past a sumo wrestler,” Mike Milbury, a former general manager of the Islanders, told The New York Times.

Still, his enthusiasm was not in doubt. Mr. Wang, Mr. Milbury said, “desperately wanted to keep the team on the Island.”

Follow Steve Lohr on Twitter: @SteveLohr

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B13 of the New York edition with the headline: Charles B. Wang, Entrepreneur and New York Islanders Owner, Dies at 74. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe