Key Foxconn Executive Steps Down
Ever-shrinking project loses second key executive this year.
Say goodbye to Louis Woo.
Make that Dr. Louis Woo, the longtime Foxconn executive and its most quoted spokesperson, who has left the company under rather mysterious circumstances.
His departure was reported by The Journal Times in Racine, which offered this statement from the company: “We can confirm that Dr. Louis Woo, whose invaluable contributions have established a strong foundation for the Wisconsin project and have set the stage for Wisconn Valley to be the center of a high-technology hub supporting thousands of Wisconsin jobs, has relinquished his project responsibilities to focus on addressing some personal matters.”
The newspaper helpfully noted what was missing from this statement: “Foxconn did not state specifically what the personal matters were or if this change is permanent or temporary.”
Which is a blow to those of us tracking the ever-changing Foxconn saga, for there was no one who was more informative than Louis Woo. He seemed to operate as part of a tag team with Foxconn’s founder and chief executive Terry Gou, who had run the company for 45 years: it was always Gou followed by Woo, or Woo by Gou, in statements to the press.
Typically it was Gou offering the moon, specifically $10 billion in capital investment and 13,000 jobs at a 20-million-square foot campus that would require six times more power than the next largest factory in Wisconsin. And then Woo would let us know that actually it might turn out a little different.
Back in August of 2018, three months before the election Scott Walker hoped would gain him a third term for governor, Woo let slip the bad news that Foxonn would be creating very few assembly line jobs and 90 percent would be done by robots. As for the idea of a Gen 10.5 plant manufacturing LCD panels for giant TVs or even the smaller Gen 6 plant for more conventional TVs, that no longer seemed in the cards. “We are not really interested in television,” he declared.”We are interested in vertical solutions” — in medical, manufacturing, office automation or other areas, he explained.
That’s more or less what’s being built now, on a campus one-twentieth the size originally promised, but soon after Woo’s statements, Foxconn backtracked to promise it would still create those 13,000 jobs, though it dropped the $10 billion promise from its statements.
Then, not long after Walker’s defeat Woo hit the news again, letting us know that big plant doing LCD screens for big TVs wasn’t happening. “In terms of TV, we have no place in the U.S.,” he said. “We can’t compete.”
In less than a week, Gou contradicted that after meeting with President Donald Trump, promising that the project was still on track as originally promised.
The fact that Woo could make these statements seemingly undercutting Foxconn’s promises suggests this was part of strategy, with Woo as the cranky weatherman dampening expectations while Gou was Mr. Sunshine. The two executives had worked together for many years, and it was always one or the other making statements to the press.
Indeed it was Woo who “publicly represented Foxconn by meeting with local and state officials… multiple times during the course of negotiations for the development agreement” and Woo who “signed a memorandum of understanding with Racine Mayor Cory Mason in March, which promised that the city and Foxconn would work together to pursue public/private partnerships,” as the Journal Times reported.
But last April Gou announced his resignation to run for president of Taiwan (a race he lost) and a new regime took over. In June the board of Hon Hai Precision Co. Ltd. — aka Foxconn — chose Young-Way Liu, the head of the group’s semiconductor arm, to succeed Gou.
“While Mr Gou is a self-made man who started with a technical education from a local college, Mr Liu, who is also known as Young Liu, holds an electrical physics degree from Taiwan’s elite National Chiao Tung University and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California,” as the Financial Times reported.
The vice-chairman or number two man is Dr. Jay Lee, “an artificial intelligence expert and a University of Cincinnati professor who was named to a Foxconn leadership group earlier this year,” the Journal Times reported.
In short, the geek heads have taken over. It was these two officials, along with Alan Yeung, who is Foxconn’s U.S. strategist and a holdover from the Gou era, who recently met with Gov. Tony Evers to discuss the shrinking Racine project.
It may be that Woo’s unmentioned reason for stepping down is a health issue. But it is clear that Foxconn now has very different leadership, that doesn’t seem to be operating in the same way as Gou and Woo. They are still promising a “high technology hub”, but the promise of 13,000 jobs seems to have been dropped. The “eighth wonder of the world” proclaimed by Trump is not the sort of the thing the PhD’s now running Foxconn are ever likely to promise.
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