Taiwan's Priestess Of The PDA

Cher Wang, Founder and Chairman, High Tech Computer Corp., Taiwan

The experiment almost ended in failure. In 1997, Cher Wang, daughter of one of Taiwan's richest men, petrochemicals billionaire Y.C. Wang, launched a design and manufacturing outfit in Taipei with a difference. It aimed to offer what was then a unique product for executives on the go -- a gizmo that was both personal digital assistant and mobile phone.

But the PDA phone failed to capture the corporate world's imagination. In less than two years, High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) was hemorrhaging cash. "The market just wasn't ready for a PDA phone that behaved like a minicomputer," recalls Wang, HTC's 47-year-old chairman, who concedes that the software and design weren't up to scratch.

But the indomitable businesswoman, who also chairs chip-design house Via Technologies Inc., refused to give in. Instead, she injected millions of dollars of family money -- she won't say exactly how much -- into the company to boost its design and engineering capabilities. The investments paid off. In 2000, Wang's HTC won the contract to make the now hugely successful iPAQ handheld personal computer for Compaq and later for Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ ), which took over Compaq in 2002. Its reputation as a handset-design house snowballed as carriers such as T-Mobile International and Cingular Wireless (HPQ ) came calling. And a key collaboration began with Microsoft Corp. (MSFT ) on Windows-based technology for mobile phones. Now execs from New York to Shanghai use HTC-designed or manufactured devices.

Despite her rocky start, Wang is a Star because of her persistence in pushing her vision for the company. HTC now boasts a 950-person research and development team. "We are all about R&D and innovation. It's a given that we provide the best," says the economics graduate of University of California at Berkeley. Sales last year jumped 67%, to $1.6 billion, and profits soared 108%, to $123 million. HTC shares, traded on the Taiwan Stock Exchange, are up 86% since January. Wang's determination could take HTC to new heights.

By Matt Kovac

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