電子機器組立業 Foxxconは巨大ブランドの野望を抱く。 台湾の最大企業がバリューチェーンの地位を引き上げようとしている。うまくいくのだろうか。(2)

Core processor chips and panels are the two most expensive components in a smartphone, while memory-chips are another source of profits. That is why Gou now wants to gain control of Toshiba's memory chip business, although Japanese officials are trying to block the bid, fearing sensitive technology could be leaked to China. 

A crowd lines up outside a Foxconn recruitment center in Shenzhen in early March. (photo by Debby Wu) 

Gou realizes that continuing to rely on the assembly business will keep Foxconn's profit margins slim, as global smartphone sales are slowing. Foxconn wants to develop its own branded products. 

Among the several brands it now controls, Sharp is probably the most important to Foxconn, said Vincent Chen, president of Yuanta. But he added that if it tries to grow Sharp, it could represent "a conflict of interest for Foxconn since it also makes gadgets for others. Currently, Sharp is limited to selling TVs and home appliances, two markets where most Foxconn customers do not operate," Chen said. 

In addition, the TV business is tough. "It's a bit challenging for Foxconn to make profits from selling televisions only, especially when its current strategy is to offer discounts to boost shipments," said Eric Chiou, an analyst at WitsView, although TV sales could increase Foxconn's revenues. Sharp is planning to ship some 8.5 million TVs in 2017, nearly doubling last year's 4.7 million units, mainly due to strong demand in China, he added. 

While relatively low labor costs in China have made the iPhone affordable for middle-class consumers worldwide and contributed to its immense success, Gou is considering establishing two panel production facilities in the U.S. The plans are related to U.S. President Donald Trump's call for major exporters to the U.S. to set up factories in America to create jobs and avoid possible protectionist measures. In late April, Gou met Trump at the White House to discuss investment plans, possibly in Republican strongholds and swing states. 

"We will provide tens of thousands of jobs," Gou told reporters in June. "It is possible [Foxconn and Sharp together] will invest more than $10 billion, not all at once, but probably over a five-year span." The 66-year-old Gou, who is referred to within the company as "BB" for Big Boss, is still working hard to lead Foxconn's key initiatives, particularly its U.S. expansion. 

He rarely stays in the same place for more than three days, traveling constantly and conducting hourslong meetings. Yet he never shows any sign of fatigue. He is also known for his keen memory and eye for detail. And that's the problem: Gou rules Foxconn like a strongman. No one in the company is as visionary and few can operate at his pace and energy level. 


His 40-year-old son, Jeffrey, works for the group, but is overshadowed by his father's extraordinary achievements. His daughter, Shirley, does not appear to be interested in the family business. Gou has another three children by his second wife, but the oldest is only 8 years old. Gou has no heir apparent and has never spoken publicly about a succession plan. 


Equally unclear is Foxconn's ownership structure. Gou and his longtime aide, Huang Chiu-lian, who is his first wife's aunt and Foxconn's de facto chief financial officer, have created numerous holding companies for investment and ownership purposes, like many other Asian companies. Gou controls the Hon Hai board, even though the latest annual report shows he only owns a 12.25% stake in the company. It is unclear whether Gou holds additional shares via personal investment vehicles. 


The business model that Gou has created may be a challenge for his successor to manage. Foxconn's gross profit margin is only 7%, while major electronics players like Sony and Nintendo have margins of around 40%. On the other hand, Foxconn had a net profit of close to $5 billion last year, which is about five to seven times larger than those of Sony or Nintendo. 

Moreover, Gou's plans to rely less on low-margin contract manufacturing and develop its own more lucrative brand face challenges. The company's dependence on Apple for revenue has steadily increased since 2013. Last year, Apple accounted for 54% of Foxconn's revenue of NT$4.35 trillion ($142 billion), which was down 2% from 2015 due to lukewarm sales of the iPhone 7, according the company's annual report. "Foxconn still cannot do without Apple in the future. Apple orders have become too big to lose for Foxconn," Yuanta's Chen said. 




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