HTC's Low-Key Chairwoman Rallies Workers in Loss-Sparked Return

Photographer: Ashley Pon/Bloomberg
Cher Wang, chairwoman of HTC Corp., speaks during the opening of the company's new headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan, on June 13, 2012.

Since HTC was founded in 1997, Chairwoman, co-founder and largest shareholder Cher Wang has left management to the two men she's appointed as company president.

That hands-off approach ended in August.

Just as Taoyuan, Taiwan-based HTC was in the middle of its first unprofitable quarter in history -- and amid a 54 percent share decline this year that has dragged down her own personal wealth -- Wang stepped up her involvement. From about two days a week at the company, Wang is now clocking in four days a week, says Chief Marketing Officer Ben Ho.

Her heightened interest in the mechanics of the smartphone business was formalized Tuesday when she held a 90-minute town hall meeting to rally staff, deliver her remedy for a turnaround and reassure employees that President and CEO Peter Chou is still the boss.

Chou, president since 2004, wasn't absent from the town hall either, telling workers of the intensifying competition the company is facing. Chou, who took over as president from H.T. Cho, led the former contract maker of Compaq's iPaq into an era where its own name would be stamped on the exclusively high-end phones that came off its production lines.

Building that brand is a time-consuming process, Chou told workers, according to Ho. Meanwhile, instead of focusing just on the high-end market, the mid-tier segment deserves a second look, he said.

With the challenges acknowledged, it was Chou himself that invited Wang to get more involved, the two executives said. Wang will be doing more in the areas of operations and sales, while Chou will be left more time to get back to his engineering roots by building better products, they said.

Among Wang's missives is to ensure its devices are more focused on the end-user experience, going beyond the business model that revolved around simply delivering devices that phone operators wanted to offer their subscribers.

That new focus on an end-to-end customer experience is central to its need to reduce churn and build loyalty so customers who buy an HTC phone come back again, she told workers.

In their Q&A session, one worker brought up the elephant in the room: What is going to be done to enhance the quality of its phones?

Quality is everyone's responsibility, Chou responded.

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