Thursday, April 30, 2009

My next computer company job and really learning the ropes I

About five months after leaving the software company I had another job as a marketing manager – or whatever that meant in Taiwan.

This time I hoped I had been a little smarter in my choice. MTI, an up and coming company that made smart communication devices, so it was mostly a hardware company – Choosing software hadn’t really been the best idea as India was famous for software, Taiwan for hardware. Over 80% of the world’s notebooks were made in Taiwan, not to mention the myriad of other devices in the market. Taiwan had a competitive advantage in this area that wouldn’t be going away for a while.

The downside was I was going in at a position lower than the previous job – I was taking a gamble it wouldn’t matter; that there wouldn’t be a well-oiled marketing machine in the company with my role set out in stone.

First day in the company and I was being given a personal welcome invitation by the vice-president of the company, William Kuo – My position didn’t warrant this attention, but I was a foreigner so the boss wanted to show he was a caring, laidback kind of boss who was down with the people, just like in those Hollywood movies he watched.

“You foreigners are more creative. I hope you can challenge us and bring new ideas. We hope to create a very innovative company. We hope marketing will be more and more important in the future,” he said. I was excited at this but then he added the expected: “This is a very competitive area and we want to be the leading ODM manufacturer in the world.”

Background: ODM was the official term for what we know as making things for other people - but to be fair to this company and others in Taiwan ODM wasn’t exactly as the stereotype went of elfin-size oriental people slaving away on wooden production lines in dark factories. That still went on in China to make your cups, but modern hi-tech ODMs were situated in huge gleaming new buildings of concrete, steel and glass. They designed the product, did the research and development, tested it, packaged it, in short they did everything apart from the final stage of putting their own name and putting up the billion dollar advertising costs – they preferred a foreign company to do that. What makes it a product of HP or any other big company? Well, they have an engineer posted in the company making the product, and they claim it lives up to their exacting standards??

A good example is Quanta, where I had a gig teaching for a year or so. Nobody has heard of them, but with about five other ODMs they make most of the world’s computer hardware. Their offices outside of Taipei are about the size of two football fields and twenty storeys high. Inside, sat hunched over tables in their jeans, there were logic engineers, power engineers, electrics engineers, circuit engineers, hardware and software engineers – more kinds of engineers than the world had plant life - but they all looked the same: thick glasses; glasses so thick demolition balls would bounce off – there was more glass on faces than in the building’s windows; bulging, swivelling eyes and mouths hanging half open from staring at a computer screen 24/7 from about 2 inches away –- think swinging watch.

In England everyone wants to be a lawyer and a journalist, in Taiwan everyone is an engineer.

…Anyway, the upshot of all this was I wasn’t going to be running any high profile marketing promotion campaigns in the near future.

“I am looking forward to making a contribution,” I said.

“I will show you where you are sitting,” said William. "I must go now. You can maybe contact your team. My secretary will give you a phone book.”

Apparently, there was a girl below him in the other branch office in Taoyuan, an hour away, who it seems it was not important to meet - and a guy in the next room who didn’t want to be met.

“It is ok, I’ll work it out,” I said. “I have worked in a Taiwanese company before.”

"Great," he said. "I know you foreigners are more independent - that is what we need..."

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