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Taiwan is a small island with dense populations and an island economy. In its early days of development, many budding entrepreneurs traveled all over the world with nothing but a brief case of samples, paving the way for today's prosperous thriving economy.
The establishment of Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) gave them a means to further expand their international presence by organizing visiting trade groups or group attendance at important exhibitions.
Our reporters interviewed two generations of Taiwanese entrepreneurs, who share their thoughts on the growth and development of past three decades, how they coped and thrived, and the grooming of successors to be.
Mr. Leon Yeh v.s Ms. Sharlene Yeh
Camsco Electrics is now located in a brand new corporate building along Ming-Quan East Road in Taipei, a long way from its humble trading beginnings in the electrics business in 1979.
It has since evolved from trading in other people's products into owning their own brand of electrical products, Camsco. With manufacturing operations and associate suppliers in China, Camsco has become the renowned brand of electrical products in Southeast Asia.
In order to break into international markets, Camsco went with TAITRA's trade group visiting potential markets in Africa, South America, and the Middle East. Camsco never fails to impress at each trade shows, packing a catalogue of nearly 200 different products, reasonable prices and good quality.
" Our current goal is to increase the number of products that we produce ourselves, and become the supermall of electrical products. That way customers would never think of going elsewhere because they have Camsco, a one-stop shop. " says Leon Yeh, the founder of Camsco Electrics. Sharlene Yeh, his daughter, smiles and nods in agreement.
Loyalty comes first; so second generation entrepreneurs are still the favorites for succession.
Unlike the regular business people or corporate elites, Sharlene Yeh avoids business suits and instead sports wavy auburn hairs and dons fashionable pants and a handsome top. This gives a rather doll-like appearance and aura.
However what often happens is that when they are familiar with the electrical business, they often leave the company that nurtured them and start up a competing firm. The cost of training and retraining these personnel are a significant burden on small businesses. These words from Leon Yeh echoes the voices of other small or medium sized Taiwanese businesses.
Sharlene also shares her observation: " From what I've seen at the TAITRA trade groups, most Taiwanese businesses hand over management to either the founder's children or someone within the family. Loyalty is a primary concern and blood does run thicker than water. "
Changing lanes brings new opportunities
Sharlene Yeh adjusted well to her new role as her father's heir-to-be, and shows no signs of work-related stress or anxiety. She feels that her only short-coming is the relative lack of experience, which she hopes to remedy through learning from her father. She claims that this confidence stems from her life experience that is rather atypical for a second generation business person.
" I studied Creative Arts in the University of Melbourne, majoring in Performing Arts. I was also involved in some television drama and films. " We were stunned as Sharlene told us about this part of her experience, finding it difficult to make the connection between stage limelights and her office which was filled with industrial electrical products.
" I was interested in marketing so when it came to graduate studies I chose to do a post-graduate diploma in Arts Management. Then I found out about advertising and eventually completed Master of Advertising. " Sharlene surprises us yet again.
External corporate experience brings realization
Following her interests, Sharlene naturally applied for positions in advertising companies upon her return to Taiwan. However the continuous excessive overtimes working mode in advertising has made Sharlene to reconsider her career path, and she quit her job and joined a leading art gallery in Taiwan. Her time at the gallery had profound changes on her attitude towards family business. After working in the advertising industry and art gallery... (continues on page 2)
Agencies help to sell their clients' products, art galleries try to sell their contracted artists' works, and Camsco sells electrical products. Sharlene admits that she received a blunt awakening when much of her international portfolio was transferred to the gallery owner's son, who returned from studies abroad. " I realized that no matter how well I perform, the core business will still be handed to someone within the entrepreneur's family. And being the child of an entrepreneur, I realized that I should also take up responsibility within my family's business. "
Diverse work experience brings new thinking.
As Sharlene thinks back, she is thankful that her parents were quite liberal about her career choices and never once did force her to take up position within Camsco. " Although I knew that father wanted me to take after him, he never did once intervene in my study or career choices. "
For many children of Taiwanese businessmen, they were told as they grow up that they will start work in their family business once they finish their studies. Therefore they mostly chose tertiary studies that are relevant to their family ventures rather than their own personal interests. " Both have their advantages, " Sharlene says. " Their strength is that they know their industry very well at an early age, whereas my strength lies in the fact that I have experiences in the international advertising agencies and the arts industry, which often gives me a different perspective on things. "
" Most importantly, I have been out there and know what it's like to work in a large corporate environment. I made an informed choice to return to Camsco and I must say that decision has not disappointed. "
Leon Yeh also agrees, " Young people should go out there and get some experience and insights before returning to family businesses, otherwise they may take things for granted. I would not have it any other way. " Mr Yeh has no plans for retirement just yet, and has not anticipated Sharlene's return to family business so soon. However he is still proud of his daughter's choice to devote herself to Camsco, and his face does a poor job of hiding it.
Modernized internet presence reaches out to potential customers
The first thing Sharlene did after returning to Camsco was to renew its long-neglected web site and refocuses on online-marking. " The Camsco web site has not been updated for years, " Sharlene says with some embarrassment. " Senior staff at Camsco didn't consider that a problem, because we have very stable clients who knew our products well, and therefore had little need to look up information on the web. But where does that leave our potential customers? "
" This is the age of the internet, and it is all too easy to go onto the net and search for the product that you need. So your web page becomes the first portal that greets your customers, and first impressions do lasts. If your web site is poorly designed or maintained, you stand to lose a lot of potential businesses. "
Sharlene understands how important is Camsco's web site to attracting potential customers, and immediately started on modernizing Camsco's web pages. In addition to original web sites' static product informations, she also added multimedia introductions to products and Camsco's Chinese operations. Regular updates were also maintained to ensure that customers can always get up-to-date information from Camsco's website.
The often-talked about generation gap seem absent between Leon and Sharlene Yeh, their understanding of each other and seamless cooperation will definitely be Camsco's greatest asset in the days to come.