Taiwan’s HTC: Quietly Brilliant

If you own a cell phone, there is a good chance your phone was designed and/or manufactured by the Taiwanese company HTC. Never heard of HTC? That’s alright, most people haven’t. For most of their 12+ year existence, HTC has primarily been an Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) – designing and manufacturing PDA’s and cell phones for companies such as HP/Compaq, Palm, or your carrier-branded phone, etc. Now HTC is trying to break out on its own and not only be an ODM, but establish its own global brand.

The global brand campaign has included heavy television advertising in the United States. As a Taiwanese American, it brings me great pleasure to see HTC trying to establish itself as a global brand similar to Japan’s Sony, and more recently, South Korea’s Samsung & Hyundai. Sure, there have been other Taiwanese companies like Acer and Asus which are more well known in the United States than HTC, but HTC is the first Taiwanese company to have launched a national American television campaign to promote its brand. Wired.com doex an excellent job of summarizing HTC’s rise and grand ambitions:

“HTC doesn’t want to be just another Taiwanese handset manufacturer. Despite its strong Asian roots, the company has tried to build an international business culture. Almost all of HTC’s senior management is of Asian origin. The company has its headquarters in Taiwan and is listed only on the Taiwanese stock exchange. Yet the company’s primary language is English. User documentation, technical papers and even all e-mails and staff meetings at HTC’s office in Taiwan are done in English … HTC has also imbibed one of the greatest ideas of American business: It’s okay to fail. HTC’s R&D division has a “target failure rate” of 95 percent, says Luke. “A research lab has to come up with enough ideas that fail fast and fail early so you can learn and harvest the right ones,” he says. “That’s very different from the culture at Taiwan, where you have to be successful all the time.””

I’ve heard from my friends and relatives in Taiwan that the CEO of HTC, Peter Chou, is considered “the Steve Jobs of Taiwan.” While I don’t know if that’s an accurate description of Chou, HTC has certainly been one of the best performing stock on the Taipei Stock Exchange the past several years, growing to over U.S. $4 billion in revenue. And certainly, the idea of the lessons of failure is not as widely accepted in Taiwan as it is in Silicon Valley.

Not only do I love HTC’s new ad campaign, but I think their tag line of “Quietly Brilliant” describes the very ethos of the company. HTC has thrived in anonymity, designing and manufacturing Windows Mobile and other smartphones for carrier and handset brands while also now pursuing its own path of defining itself directly to the consumer in their brand advertising. Their boldest move now has been closely working with Google to launch the first Google Andriod OS phone in the United States, the T-Mobile G1 last year. Most recently, Google “leaked” their own branded phone as holiday gifts to their employees – the Nexus One; conveniently also manufactured by HTC .

Of course, there are dangers that its ambitions may conflict with its partners, but so far HTC has been very successful in balancing the needs of its customers while thinking longer term in establishing itself as a global brands with its subsequent benefits; I look forward to the day when HTC is as widely recognized as Sony and Samsung in the United States.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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