Ever since Foxconn chairman Terry Gou announced his bid for Taiwan’s presidency last month and intention to step down, questions have abounded over who else could lead the $41-billion empire that is the world’s biggest assembler of iPhones.
Now, the company’s de facto chief financial officer and one of Gou’s closest aides, Huang Chiu-lian, is widely anticipated to succeed him.
Known as “Money Mama” (in Chinese), Huang is the aunt of Gou’s late wife. According to Taiwanese media (link in Chinese), she is one of the founders of Foxconn—also known as Hon Hai—having provided startup capital for Gou to launch the company in 1974, and has held the keys to the company’s safe from the very beginning. A 2002 annual report (pdf in Chinese)—the earliest available version on the company website—lists her as one of the shareholders among the three major corporate shareholders of Foxconn. Huang’s husband, You Xiang-fu, is a top general manager at the company.
But Huang is also a mysterious and elusive figure. She is not listed on the official roster of the company’s management team, but in a 2003 annual report (pdf in Chinese) she is listed as the director of more than 90 Foxconn subsidiaries. And she works very closely with Gou. According to the Nikkei Asian Review (paywall), the two spend long hours together, often traveling on Gou’s private jet. She is also understood to be involved in all Foxconn investments and to have a full picture of the flow of funds at the company, including Gou’s personal assets, according to Nikkei.
Foxconn did not reply to a request for comment, and Gou declined to directly address questions about his succession plan at a press conference yesterday (May 6). But he did let on that “whoever is on the nomination list will have the chance to become the new chairman” and that new directors would be appointed at a board meeting on Friday (May 10), according to Nikkei (paywall).
How did Huang come to play such a prominent role, yet remain so much in the shadows? It has to do in part with Foxconn’s complex organizational structure, said Chung Hsi-Mei, a professor at I-Shou University in Taiwan who studies corporate governance. As Foxconn expanded rapidly, it set up scores of subsidiaries over the past decades. No one fully understands how these subsidiaries are controlled or how they relate to one another—except Huang and Gou, she said.
Anyone tasked with leading Foxconn will be facing challenges ahead. While the iPhone remains the dominant cash-cow for Apple, sales of the smartphone dropped 18% in the second quarter of 2019 when compared to the same period last year. This poses a major problem for Foxconn, which is heavily reliant on Apple for revenue as its main iPhone supplier, and the company has taken a hard hit as a result (paywall).
Gou’s successor may soon face political headwinds, too. At a press conference yesterday (May 6), he challenged China to recognise Taiwan’s independence (paywall) and said that it “must acknowledge the existence of the Republic of China”—the official name of Taiwan. China has long claimed Taiwan as its own territory, and has repeatedly warned that it could use force to unify the two.
“If Beijing later threatens to close down my factories after I become Taiwanese president… I will move my production sites to more competitive places in the world,” Gou said (paywall).
That would certainly be quite the undertaking for the next Foxconn chief.