Bloomberg Businessweek has just dropped an incredibly up-close look at controversial Chinese electronics supplier Foxconn and its founder, Terry Gou. It's the most thorough look to date at one of the most powerful—and intriguing—manufacturers in the world.
What's most interesting about the eight-page spread, aside from the details of Gou's own story and how intertwined it is with Foxconn itself, is the degree of access Businessweek was allowed. I would've thought a company more known for its employee suicide than its partnerships with the largest electronics companies in the world would be reticent about granting unmonitored employee interviews. And yet:
More than two dozen Foxconn employees were interviewed; none showed signs of being afraid to speak freely to a reporter. Those interviewed on the job did so without a supervisor present. Other discussions took place in Internet cafés, staff dormitories, and in the company canteen. Most seem keenly aware of their choices. They work at Foxconn because they want to make money as quickly as possible. Some want cash to buy the things they make. Others want to become entrepreneurs. None of the workers was upset about having to work overtime. To the contrary, the availability of overtime hours was a big attraction.
That's not to say that workers are without complaint; but in a workforce that numbers 920,000, there are bound to be extreme variations in job satisfaction.
Other tidbits? It turns out that Foxconn's most notable client may also be its most demanding:
When Apple's iPhone 4 was nearing production, Foxconn and Apple discovered that the metal frame was so specialized that it could be made only by an expensive, low-volume machine usually reserved for prototypes. Apple's designers wouldn't budge on their specs, so Gou ordered more than 1,000 of the $20,000 machines from Tokyo-based Fanuc. Most companies have just one.
And Gou, in addition to being the kind of billionaire who holds an annual raffle with a million dollar top prize (in the form of shares of Foxconn's holding company), isn't afraid to talk a little trash about our our homegrown titans of industry:
Gou says he can't understand why Buffett didn't do his homework before investing in BYD in 2008. "Warren Buffett is too famous. Yes he is great, yes he made good investments, but he is too old. He doesn't understand about Chinese private companies"
If you're still not convinced that Foxconn matters, just grab whatever gadget is closest to you. Chances are, part of it came from there. Making this profile worth your full attention. [Businessweek]