Terry Gou, center, attends the charity carnival at Taipei Zoo on Jan. 15 together with members of his family. (File Photo/Teng Po-jen)
"Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache," said Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou at a recent year-end party, adding that he wants to learn from Chin Shih-chien, director of Taipei Zoo, regarding how animals should be managed.
Gou not only invited Chin to take part in his company's annual review meeting but also asked all general managers in the group to listen to Chin's lecture, according to the local Common Wealth magazine.
Gou's words could have been chosen more carefully. Hon Hai is the Taiwanese parent company of Foxconn, the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer, which counts Apple among its major clients, turning out iPhones and iPads at its huge plants in China where working and living conditions are such that many of its Chinese employees might well agree that they are treated like animals.
As Chin lectured on the stage, sharing his experience with the audience on how to manage different animals according to their individual temperaments, Gou listened carefully and asked Chin to put himself in his place as the chairman of Hon Hai, to the amusement of the 12 general managers of the group present.
For Terry Gou, however, it is no joke as he genuinely faces a critical difficulty in managing his workers.
"It's a tough job to manage a workforce of over one million, young people's hearts in China are hard to get hold of," lamented a vice president at Foxconn.
Gou recently traveled to university campuses to talk with students, where he declared that he plans to invest in the automation of his factories. From a spate of individual worker suicides in 2010 to the recent incident where a group of employees threatened to kill themselves en masse at the company's plant in Wuhan, it can be seen that the most challenging issue for the Taiwanese tycoon is how to manage his people.
From 2010, Foxconn launched a gradual change in its approach following a series of worker suicides at its plants, which made Gou aware that China is no longer a cheap labor camp where young workers will accept any hardship to improve their family's condition.
Young people in Taiwan meanwhile, especially those who have undergone higher education, are conversely not necessarily willing to enter the manufacturing industry; they would rather enter the service sector, opening cafes and online shops. These factors have given Gou and other entrepreneurs like him food for thought.
Gou is also keenly aware that in a time of economic change and rising incomes in China, it will be difficult to avoid the problem of labor shortages even if the company continues to raise wage levels. What he may not have grasped however is the inconvenient truth that his workers are not in fact animals.
Terry Gou 郭台銘
Chin Shih-chien 金仕謙