Online Extra: Q&A with Quanta Computer's Barry Lam

The Taiwanese PC maker's chairman discusses the business outlook -- and his ideas on art and technology

Barry Lam is the 52-year-old chairman of Quanta Computer, Taiwan's No. 1 producer of notebook PCs. Lam, who was born in Shanghai, raised in Hong Kong, and educated in Taiwan, started Quanta in 1988 and has built it into one of the most successful suppliers to customers like Dell Computer. While most PC companies are hurting because of the tech recession, Quanta is enjoying a big revenue increase as more companies look to lower costs by outsourcing to Taiwan's relatively inexpensive manufacturers.

Lam has also made Quanta more involved in designing products for customers. Design is something that he cares about on a personal level, too. An avid collector of Chinese art, Lam often welcomes visitors to his personal gallery on the top floor of Quanta's headquarters in Linkou, a Taipei suburb, and he fancies designer names such as Hermes and Issey Miyake. He recently shared with BusinessWeek's Bruce Einhorn his thoughts about Quanta's business prospects -- and the importance of art. Following are edited excerpts:

Q: What do you see as the connection between the world of business and the world of culture?

A: We promote high tech and "high touch" -- a better life through high technology, which is more for material things, and through high touch, which is more for spiritual things. When you come into this [gallery], what do you feel? Peace of mind. Here, there's nothing about high tech, computers, stock prices, and pressure.

Q: Which do you value more -- the high tech or the high touch?

A: High tech is for a short time. But art is forever. People still admire a Picasso or a Van Gogh. But they don't admire the steam locomotive anymore.

Q: You've said that you want to open an art museum. Why?

A: In the past century, China suffered from a lot of wars. People worked very hard. In this century, [the] Chinese should spend more time to learn about art, in order to have a peaceful mind and a peaceful society.

Q: Do you think of yourself as a Chinese or a Taiwanese?

A: I was born a Chinese person. My father and mother were from [the mainland]. I am a Chinese.

Q: Taiwan is facing hard times as the economy slumps, exports to the U.S. decline, and manufacturing shifts to the mainland. What's the solution?

A: Taiwan must find its own way. We have been emphasizing too much the manufacturing business. We have to become more high-tech, more innovative, and provide more value. We can't always insist on the value of low-cost production. We have to invest more in R&D to get high-value business.

Q: What plans do you have to invest in R&D?

A: Our intention is to have more R&D people in Taiwan. We have 750 now, and in three years, we want to expand to 2,000 people.

Q: Other Taiwanese businesses are moving their R&D to China, too. Why aren't you doing that?

A: In Taiwan, people are very stable, loyal, and much more creative.

Q: How do you compare Quanta's model -- which includes not just manufacturing but also design services for customers -- with other contract manufacturers such as Celestica of Canada and Solectron of the U.S.?

A: We don't want to be a contract manufacturer like Solectron. Everybody can do that. The next revolution, the next trend is to be an intelligence-intensive company. That has more value to society than a labor-intensive company.

By Bruce Einhorn

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