Name: Pua Khein Seng
Hometown: Sekinchan, Selangor
Education: SJKC Yeok Kuan, Sekinchan; Pin Hwa Independent school, Klang; Chiao Tung University, Taiwan
Occupation: Engineer/ president of Phison Electonics Corp
Current base: Taipei , Taiwan
Years abroad: 12
WHEN he set off for Taiwan in 1993, Pua Khein Seng’s only aim was to complete his degree in Electrical Control Engineering at the renowned Chiao Tung University and return home to work in Malaysia .
Never did he envision himself heading a multi-million dollar Taiwanese company that developed the world’s first USB flash removable disk, which they called Pen Drive.
Pua Khein SengPua Khein Seng (right) went to Taiwan to get his engineering degree but ended up staying on, starting his own company and inventing the pen drive.
“I went to Taiwan to pursue my undergraduate degree. I chose Taiwan only because it was too expensive to study either in the United States or Singapore .
“However, I did well in my undergraduate programme and was offered a place to do my masters,” explained Pua, who was back in Kuala Lumpur recently for a holiday.
After completing his Masters in July 1999, Pua worked for about six months in a local company before deciding to set up his own venture company with four fellow engineers who had studied with him at Chiao Tung.
“We were confident that we had the know-how and ability to start our own business, which is focused on USB technology. The company is called Phison because there are five of us – two Malaysians and three Taiwanese engineers,” said Pua, 31, who hails from Sekinchan, Selangor.
Phison Electronics Corporation was set up in November 2000 and within six months the young entrepreneurs came up with their first invention – a USB storage device called Pen Drive .
“We were the first company in the world to develop the USB Drive SoC (System On Chip) and we were very confident that the market for USB will be huge. At the time, no one believed in us so we had to do everything ourselves – from developing the technology, the chips to the product itself.
“We were only 27 at the time and inexperienced. But we were confident that we could design good systems and chips but we didn’t know anything about selling. So, we sought partners or traders who could help sell our products for us,” Pua added.
Through smart partnerships and shrewd strategies, Phison soon made its way into European, American and Japanese markets. One quick move was securing Japanese tech giant Toshiba as Phison’s largest shareholder and customer.
“We launched Pen Drive in June 2001 and by August the same year, we broke even! From September 2001, we were reaping monthly profits from our invention and there has been no turning back since.”
Having established himself in Taiwan , Pua is in the midst of setting up Phison’s branch in Malaysia , due to begin operations this February.
“I am starting a branch in Malaysia because this is my country. I would like to do contribute to its development.
“We have about 100 engineers at Phison in Taiwan , 20 of whom are Malaysians. Though they studied in Taiwan , I had to re-train all the engineers I hire because, like most fresh graduates (in this field), they are not industry-ready upon graduation.
“Unfortunately, some of the Malaysian engineers want to return home after a couple of years because they are homesick, about to start a family and so on. Some prefer to work in Singapore , as it is closer to home. Instead of losing them to competitors, I decided to set up an office in Malaysia where they can still work for me,” said Pua.
Another problem faced by returning computer engineers from Taiwan , Pua added, was the lack of job opportunities for hardware engineers in Malaysia .
“There is no environment or support for design engineers here in Malaysia . One of my Malaysian engineers from Phison returned home and ended up as a teacher in a Chinese school! I was shocked and thought, ‘After all that training and re-training, he is going to just teach?’ I told him to hold on till I open up the Phison branch in Malaysia .”
Though he has been in Taiwan for the past 12 years and married to a Taiwanese, Pua is not sure how much longer he will remain there.
“I have really no idea where I will be in 20 years. Maybe Taiwan , maybe Malaysia , maybe somewhere else … it all depends on my business. The industry is moving so fast that I cannot predict what or where I will be,” he said.
malaysian foodFor the moment though, Taiwan is home for Pua, his wife and two children even though he misses the Malaysian way of life.
“I come home once a year for Chinese New Year and will usually stay for about two weeks. There are several things I really miss about Malaysia . One is the food! For the past 12 years I have been craving for Malaysian food … I miss laksa, curry noodles, chee cheong fun and all the other delicious dishes we have here.
“I also miss the lifestyle and quality of life here. When I come back, I am always amazed to see people hanging out and relaxing at mamak shops at night. In Taiwan , most people would still be at work at that time of the night!
“Before I got married, I used to work for 15 to 17 hours a day, everyday. Now that I have children, my wife has forbidden me to stay so late. Now, I go to work at 9am and come home by 11pm. These hours are quite normal for the Taiwanese.”
The man who invented USB pen-drive is a young modest Malaysian who can’t even get into a local University but invented the most versatile, indispensable computer peripheral today. And he helped his adopted country, Taiwan made $31bil in the process. The rest is history….
Read more about Pua Khein Seng
“You need a team to make it work, without a team you cannot hope to succeed,”
Name: Pua Khein Seng