Charlie Zhang

Honorary Degrees

California State University, Fullerton

Xianghua “Charlie" Zhang was born in Shanghai, China, one of a family of nine siblings. When Charlie was two, his father, a successful business owner, was imprisoned for 20 years for political dissidence. At 17, Mr. Zhang was separated from his mother and siblings. He was one of 17 million urban youth sent to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s.

After his five-year service, Mr. Zhang was able to apply and receive a music scholarship at Pasadena City College, but he was unable to finish. He set his focus on the restaurant industry and opened Shanghai Charlie's in Capistrano Beach in 1984. He began opening more restaurants in quick succession. In 1985, he opened New Shanghai in Laguna Niguel and Mandarin King in Laguna Beach, followed by a Thai restaurant and a Japanese restaurant. In 1989, Mr. Zhang saw an untapped market and launched the fast-casual restaurant Pick Up Stix in Rancho Santa Margarita. The accessible menu and open kitchen format were a huge success and grew rapidly to 100 locations.

After conquering the restaurant industry, he set his sights on real estate and established Zion Enterprises, a real estate development company involved in commercial, retail and residential projects in the western United States. Mr. Zhang began his next entrepreneurial evolution in 2004 with Aseptic Solutions, a technologically advanced bottling process to extend the shelf life of premium organic beverages.

Mr. Zhang was named “Entrepreneur of the Year" by Ernst and Young in 1997. He received the 2002 “Spirit of Life" award from the City of Hope. In addition, he received the “Distinguished Business of Science and Technology" award and “Beijing International Entrepreneur of the Year." He is also the recipient of the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor. In addition, he has been named Distinguished Leader Honoree by Segerstrom Center for the Arts and O.C. Arts Patrons.

Mr. Zhang has spent the last several years focusing on philanthropic work, with a distinct emphasis on the performing arts around Orange County. He has said that founding the nonprofit community performing arts school, O.C. Music and Dance (OCMD) is his greatest philanthropic accomplishment. OCMD ensures every child, regardless of their financial circumstances, has the opportunity to develop their innate talents, learn from the most accomplished professionals, and be encouraged by peers, family and community.

Mr. Zhang's special involvement at California State University, Fullerton includes serving on the board of the Center for Leadership within the College of Business and Economics where he has repeatedly funded different initiatives with the vision to have a world-class leadership studies program. He also serves as a mentor through the College's Executive-In-Residence program. He leads by example with his volunteerism and will boldly encourage others to do more, but only after he has done more.

In recognition of his inspiring entrepreneurism, being a passionate advocate and investor for the university and the greater Orange County area, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University, Fullerton are proud to confer upon Charlie Zhang the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.