Many executives would shrink from the challenge of creating a notebook computer company from scratch. To Horace Tsiang, the job he undertook at FIC 5 years ago was far easier than his previous assignment: 20 years ago, he joined Wang Laboratories in Lowell, Massachusetts when the company was in the calculator business. Over the course of his career at Wang, Tsiang ran the company's R&D group with 3,000 engineers and a $280 million budget, and oversaw the development of the VS minicomputer line — which required him to build every bit of the complex system, including software, from scratch.
A native of Shanghai, China, Tsiang fled the country at age 16. He lived in Hong Kong for a short time, then immigrated to the United States, where he earned degrees in engineering from Oregon State University and the University of Wisconsin. Even during his years at Wang Laboratories Tsiang wanted to return to work in a Chinese corporate environment. When he moved to Taiwan, newspapers gave prominent play to his arrival and he was asked to serve on government-industry advisory panels. Nonetheless, Tsiang has succeeded in maintaining a low-key approach. Shortly after his arrival, he was invited to a gathering of PC industry leaders. Amid the chauffeur-driven limos, Tsiang arrived by city bus.
Five years into his assignment at FIC, Tsiang has few illusions about the differences between the United States and Taiwan. Indeed, Tsiang says he needs to stay as close as possible to day-to-day operations at FIC because the Chinese and U.S. styles of interaction are markedly different — one reason expatriate managers so often fail in Taiwan, he says.
"In the United States, engineers are open to discussion and raise issues," says Tsiang. "Here they won't raise an issue. They'll keep it to themselves. You'll say something and then have to guess if your managers really agree or are just being polite. Here when people run into trouble, they don't want to rock the boat."
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.