Samsung vs. Taiwan

The Taiwanese version of Business Weekly (商業周刊) says Samsung Electronics has turned from Taiwan's ally into its enemy. To be precise, the article's title says so. 全球抗韓流,三星成科技業公敵! (The whole world protests against Cool Korea – Samsung has turned into the public enemy of (Taiwanese) high-tech industry)

Sensational title aside, the article suggests a series of practical insight and advice. They can be summarized into the following:

  • Samsung is going to be the world leader in electronics. (Wikipedia says it already is)
  • They are even moving into, and taking over, Taiwan's traditional expertise such as semiconductors.
  • Resistance is futile. Taiwan should seek niches to co-exist with Samsung.

It is not a sexy strategy, but who cares? What matters is that everybody with modest workability would be able to put food on the table. We can still ask, though: has Taiwan lost its balls to compete with Korea (Samsung), the once-blood brother comprising the Four Asian Tigers? I think the answer is, it never truly mattered. People in Taiwan, including me, are in awe with Samsung, but we don't want to be like them.

Many researchers have pointed out that the weakness of the Korean high-tech industry model is the relative scarcity of middle- or small-sized companies compared to famous conglomerates. You are either working in (or married to) one of the big players (Samsung, LG) or you are a loser. It creates a sharp contrast compared to Taiwan where even its most prominent companies are relatively unknown to consumers. Does anybody know Hong-hai, TSMC, Quanta? (though HTC is quickly rising as a global brand thanks to its partnerships with Google and stylish smartphones, it has only less than 6,000 employees and US$4billion revenue. Samsung is nearly 50 times as large in terms of both)

Years ago when I visited Samsung Electronics as a technical support, one recently married engineer told me that he dated his wife only 12 times prior to their marriage, all happened on Sunday afternoons; it was the only weekly time slot he wasn't working. After getting married, his wife slowly realized the reason behind that odd behavior and was understandably getting annoyed, which he told me as-a-matter-of-factly. In the morning, company buses picked up workers from surrounding suburbs – some of them aptly called Samsungtown – and dumped them right in front of the company cafeteria for breakfast. Impressive, they had cafeteria which provided three meals a day? Wrong – it provided four meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bedtime snack.

I won't say it's wrong or right – if you ought to be the number one, you have to sacrifice something. Many Japanese companies followed similar habits too (some of them still do). But I can safely say that in the five years of working in Taiwanese hi-tech companies, I have never seen or heard such extreme practices. Here, unhappy workers move to another place than stick with the current employer. It is probably because there are many mid- to small-sized companies and each career move is not directly related to "downgrade" or "upgrade".

In the end, the strategy to create niches around the core – Samsung – sounds not only practical but wise because it allows Taiwanese mid-sized companies to thrive and their employees to keep the income while maintaining relaxed workstyle.