Michael Mou, 49, was hardly an instant success. The electrical engineer spent two decades building up the telecom-equipment manufacturer he founded fresh out of business school in Taiwan in 1979. While other Taiwan companies established stardom in the booming PC business, Mou struggled to make DBTel Inc. a leader in less glamorous products: keypads and cordless handsets. "Cordless wasn't a really big market," says Mou. "So the company had a very low profile."

Mou isn't toiling in obscurity now. The advent of the wireless Internet and booming demand for cell phones has made telecom equipment hot--and vindicated Mou's early bet on the sector. Nearly 10 years ago, he started making cellular phones using the GSM standard common in Europe and Asia. An original-equipment manufacturer for Motorola Inc., DBTel is one of the hottest Taiwan companies around. "I have always said that the personal communicator could create the future of Taiwan," he says. His company's stock is up 330% in the past 12 months.

But he's also cautious, remembering that he came close to bankruptcy twice in the early '80s, when inventories got out of hand. "They were very bad experiences," he says simply. As a result, Mou avoids debt as much as possible. Still, he is pushing aggressively to expand DBTel's production capacity--from 3 million handsets last year to 18 million this year. Says Mou: "We are the pioneers."

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