這裡是馬來西亞一座華人聚居的小村莊「適耕莊」，在首都吉隆坡北方約 八十公里 ，潘家已經在這裡落腳第三代了。身為長子，因為母親懷孕，九歲的孩子再也不能無憂無慮，只能一肩挑起家計。
二十六歲的潘健成，和另外四名年齡相仿的伙伴，憑藉著一股少年人不服輸的韌性，再二０００年 一月八日 創立群聯。群聯，意指一群人聯合在一起。「群策群力」的團隊精神，也成為群聯最重要的企業價值之一。
不到 二十坪 大的空間，五點之後就沒有冷氣，在悶熱的夏天，這一群大男孩只能穿著短褲工作，但當時他們滿腦子想的只是「不能漏氣」，絕對不能讓公司倒掉，這股拼勁讓已有一定研發基礎的群聯團隊，在三個月之內就把產品生產出來，九個月就達到損益兩平。
從大四以來跟著吳炳飛做研究，潘健成說兩人的關係曾經「情同父子」。如今，是非恩怨看似已成過眼雲煙，不過，恩師對他的成功不願對媒體多做評論，只是在信中語重心長的希望他「保持低調、全心全力專注在事業上（keep low key and pay his full attention on his career），」切莫因為外界加諸的光環而失去自己。
It is hard to believe that this baby-faced boy-next-door with his bookish eyeglasses and modest smile is the general manager of a company with revenues exceeding NT$20 billion.
In fact, this 33-year-old Malaysian Chinese who first arrived in Taiwan as a university student, became the youngest CEO of a Taiex darling stock, when his company’s share price topped the IC design sector in July 2007 after overtaking, if only briefly, that of IC design giant MediaTek Inc.
He is K.S. Pua, the president of chip design house Phison Electronics Corp., which turned the USB flash drive into an essential tool in today’s digitalized world.
A Distant Dream
The first time Pua joined his father to work the land at the family’s home in Malaysia, his father told him something he would never forget. Taking a break from the scorching sun in a simple palm-covered hut, his father told the nine-year-old Pua, “People are not unlucky their entire lives. If you work hard, you will naturally be rewarded.”
The home, located in the ethnic Chinese village of Sekinchan about 80 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur, had been in the family for three generations. As the oldest son and with his mother pregnant, the nine-year-old could no longer live a carefree existence and had to help his family make a living.
During those years, his dreams were a very distant glimmer. One day when he was 11, he returned home from school to find his normally resolute father in tears and his mother cursing as his two-year-old brother slept. The family had run out of rice.
Swallowing his pride, his father took Pua on his motorcycle to borrow money from friends and bought a sack of rice and two canned goods, ensuring that his family would have something to eat for lunch and dinner.
Those difficult times made Pua vow that neither he nor his children would be forced to endure the same life.
In 1992, at the age of 18, Pua scratched together the equivalent of NT$120,000 through odd jobs and the help of family and friends, and traveled to Taiwan to enroll at National Chiao Tung University. He relied on jobs in the library and the school commissary to pay for his expenses, and survived on just NT$35 a meal.
After he graduated with a master’s degree in electrical and control engineering, he got a job at Feiya Technology Corp. (which has since become Silicon Motion Technology Corp.) through an introduction from his academic mentor, professor Wu Bing-fei. With his steady salaried job, Pua’s arduous past seemed behind him.
Forced into Founding Phison
After serving at Feiya Technology for about a year, Pua was appointed to start up a new subsidiary in July 2000.
But after three months, the parent company had yet to put up funding for the new operation, and not only was the spin-off not able to continue, it had accumulated more than NT$1 million in debts. Not surprisingly, Feiya decided to abandon the start-up soon after it was born.
Yet this crisis, in which Pua’s company teetered on the edge of the dustbin, became an opportunity to create something completely new. After agonizing over his options for less than 30 days, he decided to found Phison Electronics. While many companies start from scratch, with zero capital or resources, Phison actually started well in the red. Yet it gradually climbed a path of growth.
The 26-year-old Pua and four other partners of around the same age showed their youthful tenacity and refusal to accept defeat by forming Phison Electronics Corp. on November 8, 2000. The company’s Chinese name means “a group of people united together,” and this team spirit that emphasizes pooling the group’s collective wisdom became one of Phison’s most important corporate values.
Pua and his partners scrambled to raise capital, and were even turned away when they came to the bank hat in hand. But ultimately, they managed to raise NT$30 million in a month. Their temporary headquarters was a 65-square-meter room in the basement of the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) Incubator building. With the air conditioning shut off after 5 p.m., the young partners worked through the muggy heat of summer wearing nothing more than shorts. But undistracted by their environment, they single-mindedly focused on staying the course, determined not to allow the company to fail. The Phison team, with a considerable foundation in research, persevered, producing products within three months and breaking even after nine.
In 2001, they designed the world’s first USB flash memory SOC (system-on-chip) and followed that by successfully designing and manufacturing the world’s first single-chip USB flash pen drive, riding the momentum of the global USB flash craze.
At the young age of 26, Pua seemed to be on the verge of success, but his dream was nearly extinguished a short time later.
The Struggle for Survival
Two years after the company’s inception, fast-growing Phison’s very survival was threatened.
In 2002, Feiya Technology filed civil and criminal complaints against Phison, Pua, and another former Feiya employee, vice president Aw Yong Chee Kong, for allegedly stealing trade secrets. A Hsinchu court issued an order to freeze Phison’s entire cash reserves of NT$45 million, leaving it without any cash to operate and almost forcing it out of business.
Faced with a challenge from such an imposing rival, Pua’s simplest option would have been to surrender. But he believed that giving in would have wasted the efforts of the previous two years and betrayed the trust of the partners and investors who had backed him from the beginning.
“If you disappointed people like that, could you still look yourself in the mirror?” Pua felt at the time.
The suit proceeded for a full four years, with the court initially ruling in Phison’s favor. But during the appeals process in September 2006, the two sides reached a settlement that forced Phison to pay NT$3 million in compensation to Silicon Motion (which by that time had acquired Feiya).
Often, only a fine line separates bad luck from good fortune. Reflecting on the biggest tempest of his life, Pua has trouble hiding his anger, but he is still “grateful” toward Silicon Motion and its president Wallace C. Kou, like Pua a National Chiao Tung University alum. If Phison had not been put through the lawsuit, Pua says, “Phison would have never progressed so quickly.”
The enmity lit by the lawsuit remains to this day. Pua’s resentment toward his former employer has manifested itself in the commercial arena, with Phison stalking Silicon Motion mercilessly, stealing its customers and undercutting its prices.
“If they sell [an item] for NT$0.32, I’ll sell it for NT$0.18,” Pua says.
One such example may have played out in the competition over a part in an Asustek Computer product. The embedded SSD controllers Asus uses in its low-cost Eee Pc were originally supplied exclusively by Silicon Motion, but since February of this year, Phison formally joined the supply chain for this item, a move carrying the distinct scent of Pua’s continuing desire for revenge.
Losing a Friend and Mentor
As much as the legal wrangling may have triggered Phison’s growth, it also had negative consequences, including driving an irreparable wedge between Pua and his close friend and academic mentor Wu Bing-fei.
Of all of Pua’s professors during his years at National Chiao Tung University, he is most indebted to Wu, long a pillar of the university’s Department of Electrical and Control Engineering. Pua’s leap from that department into IC design with no formal training in the IC field was helped to a considerable degree by Wu’s guidance.
Pua, who collaborated with Wu on research projects from the time he was a university senior, described their past relationship as that of “father and son.” Today, the discords of the past seem to be water under the bridge, but Wu is unwilling to discuss Pua’s success with the media. In a letter, the professor expressed the hope that Pua would remain “low key” and focus his full attention on his career, rather than losing himself in the media limelight.
And what are Pua’s plans for the future? He hasn’t really pondered it.
“People who think too much are unable to concentrate,” he says, contending that if all you do is ponder how to move forward, you’ll never reach the destination. He prefers to take action and then think about the direction. At this point in time, Pua says, he is solely focused on properly handling the tasks at hand.
“I don’t have time to dream,” he says.
Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier