Asustek's Australian Army
Building a Global Brand One Victory at a Time
Fighting to become one of the world's top brands, Asustek has deployed its managers around the world in search of new opportunities. What are their rules of engagement, and how are they able to expand Asustek's presence in new markets?
Building a Global Brand One Victory at a TimeBy Ming-Chun Chen
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 375 )
To Ted Chen, the 33-year-old managing director of Asustek Australia, internationalization is not a simple proposition. It is no longer enough to speak English well and be able to adapt to an unfamiliar country.
Chen is in charge of an Australian market roughly the same size as Taiwan’s, and for this high-level manager, having international skills means being able to lead a foreign team in attacking a foreign market.
The baby-faced Chen speaks quickly and with urgency. A member of the first graduating class of National Taiwan University’s Department of International Business, Chen decided to join Asustek (more popularly known by their trademark Asus) eight years ago when he was looking for his first job, because he wanted to be part of a company with an international brand name. In his second year with Asus, he was sent to the Middle East and Africa to develop markets there.
Then three years ago, Chen was deployed to Australia to build Asus’s business Down Under. When he first went, he was the managing director of Asus’s one-man company in Australia, but now when he goes overseas, the feeling is completely different.
When Chen was first stationed in Australia three years ago, every time he went through airport customs, agents would quiz him over the two or three computers he carried. Now all he has to do is point to the advertisement for the Lamborghini notebook computer posted right behind them, and the customs agents immediately react, “Oh, Asus!”
Hearing Australians say “Asus” was once not a commonplace occurrence. At the beginning of Chen’s stay there, when Australians pronounced “Asus,” it would often come out sounding like “Acer,” a reflection of the company’s lackluster presence in the market.
Chen at the time actually complained to market intelligence firm IDC, wondering why Asus was not ranked in Australia. IDC replied, “Sorry. Asus is too small and can’t even crack the top ten.”
Asus did not even have an office in Australia when Chen got there, so he rented a two-story house. It only had two rooms, and its cramped size scared off many job applicants.
“What kind of a company is this?” was often their first question.
But Chen himself was never frightened away. After being in Australia for a month, he had his wife and child join him there, determined to develop this new frontier and not look back.
Chen’s main aspiration was to beat out one international brand every quarter and push Asus up the rankings ladder. Just three years later, Asus had emerged from nowhere to beat out Samsung, LG, and Lenovo IBM to rank among Australia’s top five computer brands.
On the eve of this year’s Computex, Asustek managers posted around the world gathered at the company’s headquarters in Taiwan for a global sales meeting. Chen got up and presented to other country managers the two key decisions he made that laid the foundation for Asustek Australia’s present-day success.
Overseas Strategy 1: Build Your Own Team
During the presentation, Chen projected the words “People Management” onto the screen in big letters, a reminder that managing local employees is the problem that executives sent overseas most often face, and the one most difficult to resolve.
Because these overseas managers don’t understand the local market and don’t have their own teams, the first thing they often do is hire away experienced people from other companies and quickly piece together a rapid deployment force.
Asustek Australia managing director Ted Chen believes that the most important challenge facing local executives posted overseas is managing people. The only way to succeed, he says, is by building your own team.
While the strategy may be logical, it can be the beginning of the end for many Taiwanese managers abroad.
Chen himself learned the hard way. He spent a lot of money hiring away mid-level managers, but these individuals never bought into Asus’s corporate culture during the entire time they were with the company.
There were even more lethal consequences, however, when these well-paid executives left. Their departures had a far-reaching impact at many levels, and left the company with a perpetually tense environment that made it impossible to cultivate a core group of employees on whom Asus could depend.
Chen then decided to completely change course and develop his own team. In his first year in Australia, he spent a lot of time searching for staff, and on his daily inspections of distribution outlets or visits to customers, he would keep his eye out for people with potential.
That’s how he found his current product manager for components, Albert Liang, a 29-year-old Australian of Chinese ancestry. At one computer retailer that Chen often checked out, he noticed a young clerk who would work late every night. Only when the two exchanged name cards did Chen realize that Liang had a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Sydney and was working in the store because of his interest in computers.
Chen decided to hire him and put him in charge of motherboards and graphic cards, a position that would normally be filled in other Australian companies by executives in their thirties and forties.
“It showed that right from the beginning there was tremendous motivation, with everyone sharing the rewards. There was a strong revolutionary camaraderie,” says the youthful Liang, who has never worried that Asus Australia is a small company.
For his part, Chen’s efforts to find people suited to his company continue to this day. In the last three years, he has interviewed over 300 people, mostly on weekends or late at night.
“The ones who aren’t scared off when they enter our office and are willing to do an interview at those hours are all young people with a strong team spirit,” Chen says.
Pushing Asus’s corporate culture in a market like Australia’s that still adheres to more Western values is not easy.
Asus tightly controls its marketing budget and insists that its employees work hard – themes outside the center of the Australian mindset. The desks in Asus’s office, for example, are shared by two people, and working overtime is the norm rather than the exception.
“At the beginning, it took a lot of communication to explain to them the concept of job responsibility,” Chen says.
But Asus has one advantage, which is that it gives its overseas country managers plenty of authority. They are empowered to represent the company, develop local pricing strategies and build a culture in their territories.
To cultivate a “localized” operation, Chen tells every new employee: “This is our company. You tell me what kind of company you want, and we will create our own corporate culture together.”
Today, Asustek Australia has grown into a 60-employee operation, just three years removed from the days when Chen was flying solo. He has taken people from 14 different cultural backgrounds, including Italy, England, Peru, Chile and Ireland, and molded them into a cohesive unit that embraces Asus’s values.
Overseas Strategy 2: Enter the Market with Your Strength
Marketing is something that’s really local. You want to do something that local consumers will really like, something that will make them laugh right away. The second common mistake that derails overseas managers is how they approach local markets. Understanding the local culture and consumers’ habits are key to attacking any market, and if overseas managers don’t have an accurate feel for a local market, one small decision can have severe repercussions.
“Many people think that developing a new market means trying to get your product into a particular store or other distribution channel. That’s not a very good idea,” says Chen, who explains that by doing so, a company limits its product’s exposure in the market from the very beginning to only one type of distribution outlet.
When Chen first attacked the Australian market, he decided to play off the company’s strengths. Asus didn’t have much name recognition at the time, but its motherboards were highly regarded by professional gamers and held more than a 50% share of this niche market.
With that advantage in hand, Chen decided to first enter the Australian market through component distributors and only later did he extend his network to consumer electronics outlets. Soon after, he set up the company’s own service center to complete Asus’s marketing value chain in Australia.
At the Computex trade show in Taipei, Asustek country managers share experiences from their respective markets.
Chen backed up his comprehensive network with innovative marketing techniques that allowed him to operate with a marketing budget a third the size of his rivals. One example of his marketing wizardry was a joint project with an Australian TV network, in which Asus products were introduced on a show and became a hot topic of conversation.
“Marketing is something that’s really local. You want to do something that local consumers will really like, something that will make them laugh right away,” says Asustek Australia marketing manager Carmen Li. Asus’s latest marketing campaign was a parody of the James Bond film “Casino Royale,” where Asus products were presented as 007’s newest weapons. The campaign made a strong impression on local technology reporters.
Chen, who often describes himself as a born-and-bred “son of Taiwan,” spent his childhood and teenage years in the Taipei suburb of Yonghe. He never studied abroad or went on student trips overseas, and he never imagined that his professional stage would be in another hemisphere.
“I didn’t know what I wanted, or have any clear goals. That’s one sad thing among a lot of Taiwanese students. But during the process I gradually discovered where I could make an impact. I was fairly lucky, because I’ve put nine years into this job, and I’ve always enjoyed it,” Chen says.
This year’s APEC leaders forum will be held in Australia in September, and Asus will be active in related events organized by local commercial groups. That has Chen excited, because it’s a chance for the world to see Taiwan and provides a big stage on which Asus can deliver a rousing performance. With the eyes of the international community on them, Asus and Ted Chen hope to become the new “Pride of Taiwan.”
Translated by Luke Sabatier
Chinese Version: 一季擊敗一個國際品牌