The Man Who Makes Your iPhone

Business Week was granted a rare interview with Foxconn chief Terry Gou, as part of the company’s public relations blitz formulated by Burston-Marsteller:

Part of Burson-Marsteller’s plan was granting Bloomberg Businessweek’s request for unprecedented access to Foxconn’s factory floors, worker dorms, suicide-help-line operators, and Gou himself, who in the course of a three-hour interview riffed on everything from Warren Buffett (“He’s too old”) to the uselessness of business degrees (“You can’t read a book to learn to swim”) to Steve Jobs (“I forced him to give me his business card”). Gou also mocked New York bankers who “see the Hudson River and say, ‘I’m a king of the world.'”

The interview took place at Longhua, the entrance to which looks like a border crossing, with seven toll-booth-like lanes and uniformed guards. Although drab and utilitarian, the campus is a fully functioning city, with fast-food joints, ATMs, Olympic-size swimming pools, huge LED screens that flash public-service announcements and cartoons, and a bookstore that sells, among other things, the Chinese-language translation of the Harvard Business Review. Prominent on display are biographies of Gou, one of which collects his many aphorisms, including “work itself is a type of joy,” “a harsh environment is a good thing,” “hungry people have especially clear minds,” and “an army of one thousand is easy to get, one general is tough to find.”

Foxconn is now the biggest exporter out of China, and its general is the richest man in Taiwan, estimated by Forbes to have a personal fortune of $5.9 billion. He says he cannot confirm that figure, however, as he does not keep track. “I have one guy in charge,” Gou says in heavily accented English that he picked up while touring the U.S. in the 1980s. “Every year he gives me a piece of paper and says, ‘Hey, this is how much.’ I think for me, I am not interested in knowing how much I have. I don’t care. I am working not for money at this moment, I am working for society, I am working for my employees.”

Read more about Foxconn and the recent spate of worker suicides at their Shenzhen plant via CDT. See in particular a recent article from Japan Focus: “Suicide as Protest for the New Generation of Chinese Migrant Workers: Foxconn, Global Capital, and the State.”

September 13, 2010 10:54 PM
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