Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on October 16, 2008
Wang Yung-ching, the founder and longtime chairman of Taiwan’s biggest industrial group, has died at the age of 91. Like Li Ka-shing in Hong Kong, Wang was a legendary up-from-nothing success story who personified Taiwan’s transformation from an agricultural backwater after World War Two into the high-tech economy it is today. Wang also was way ahead of his time in pushing for closer economic ties between Taiwan and China, albeit for some less-than-noble reasons. Back in the early 1990s, when Taiwanese were souring on the idea of having gigantic petrochemical plants ruining their environment, Wang realized that he needed a place to invest where officials were less concerned about pesky environmental issues. Hence he became one of the first Taiwanese industrialists to promote investing big sums in the mainland.
No surprise, then, that Xinhua praised the billionaire in its obit. “The father of 10 not only made significant contribution to Taiwan’s economic prosperity, but attached great importance to the exchanges and cooperation across the Taiwan Strait,” reported Xinhua today. “He had repeatedly called for the acceleration and expansion of trade and economic cooperation with the Chinese mainland in recent years. Formosa Group has set up a number of petrochemical and plastic enterprises on the mainland. Wang himself also offered to help build 10,000 primary schools on the mainland. The project is now in progress. Soon after the 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck the southwestern Sichuan Province on May 12, his group donated 100 million yuan (14.6 million U.S. dollars) to the victims.”
For the most part, Wang was an old-fashioned industrialist. But one thing the obits I’ve read don’t mention is the role he played in promoting the growth of Taiwan’s electronics industry. Nanya Technology, one of the island’s top chipmakers, got its start in the Formosa group in 1995. The chairwoman of chip-design house Via Technology, an industry pioneer in Taiwan, was Wang’s daughter Cher. Most significantly for people outside Taiwan, the Wang family is a driving force in High Tech Computer (HTC), the smart-phone maker that is the biggest producer of Windows-enabled phones and is now making the Android phone for Google.
Not all of the Wang family’s tech ventures have been as successful as HTC. Most notably, Wang’s estranged son, Winston Wong (the spelling of the family name is not a typo), was one of the founders of Grace Semiconductor, a chip foundry in Shanghai that got its start early this decade at a time the Chinese government was hoping to build a semiconductor industry to rival that of Taiwan’s. Things didn’t work so well. Grace’s cross-town rival SMIC beat it to the punch with a Nasdaq IPO. In the years since, excitement about China’s chip industry has cooled considerably and Grace has sort of fallen into obscurity.