The scene changes but the aspirations of men of good will persist. William Shakespeare
Sitting just 100 miles (160km) off the coast of China, Taiwan has a chequered history. Japan routinely had designs on it and occupied it during WWII. In 1949 the ousted Kuomintang Chinese government fled to Taiwan taking with it China’s foreign currency and gold reserves. Even with this start in 1962 Taiwan was ranked economically among minor African nations; by the late noughties it became a tiger, a major player in global economic growth.
After his father died Stan Shih had to hustle from the age of three; with his mother he sold duck eggs and stationery. From these beginnings he would build a global empire of over a hundred separate businesses turning over $8bn.
Qualifying from Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University in 1970, the next year he developed the first desktop calculator in Taiwan for Unitron. In 1976, when Unitron hit financial troubles, Shih and his wife Carolyn Yeh with others founded Multitech.
Multitech started supplying and making electronic components but also acted as a consultant in the use of microprocessors. It was its business in DRAMs, licensed from TI, that developed a foundation for its move into the manufacture of PCs and laptops. It designed its own Micro Professor series, Apple clones, before becoming a major IBM PC-compatible maker.
1987 the name of the operation became Acer Inc. By 1993 it turned over just $75m; and then in 1994 it really took off with revenues of $3.2bn.
1995 Acer continued its growth, overtaking Dell, HP and Toshiba to become the ninth largest PC manufacturer in the world.
That same year it launched the Aspire PC, a desktop series for home and small business use, and the Predator series for gamers. By 1993 Acer had become the world’s largest motherboard maker.
AOpen was formed as an Acer subsidiary in December 1996 and had its own market listing by 2002; offering energy-saving products.
1997 Acer acquired TI’s mobile computing, becoming the world’s seventh largest PC brand and fourth largest PC manufacturer. In 2007, Acer acquired Gateway for $710m and a year later assimilated Packard Bell, the US market leader until Compaq overtook it. By 2009 Acer was the second largest computer manufacturer and number one in notebooks.
Other Taiwanese emerged: First International Computer Inc was founded back in 1980 as an electronics component manufacturer. Compal Electronics founded in 1984 produced laptops for Compaq, Dell and HP. Today it is the second largest contract laptop manufacturer; by 2010 it had shipped around 50m notebooks.
1986 Micro-Star International was founded to manufacture video cards and motherboards. It expanded into mainland China.
1987 Elitegroup Computer Systems started in the manufacture of motherboards. It expanded into notebooks with the capacity to produce 2.5m motherboards and 200k notebooks every month. In 2005 it merged with PC Chips USA Inc as ECS.
1990 ASUS was founded, the name derived from Pegasus. It started with graphics cards and moved to motherboards. Today it manufactures components for Apple, Dell and HP. ASUS entered the mobile phone business in 2003 and the PDA/smartphone business in 2007.
That year it launched its own super lightweight Eee PC netbook. The three Es stand for ‘easy to learn, easy to work, easy to play’; by autumn 2008 it had shipped 1.7m units. It also makes the XO-1 for the One-Laptop-Per-Child initiative.