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The man behind Foxconn, the largest and most powerful exporter in the world

First, a little trivia. You know that famous Foxconn factory -- the iPhone one, the one with the suicides -- well, it has between 300,000 and 450,000 employees. That's about four times the size of Microsoft and Dell, or ten times the size of Apple. But here's the scary bit: that factory ('Foxconn City') represents less than half of Foxconn's entire 920,000-strong workforce. By 2011, that number will grow to 1.3 million -- and every single one of them is making gadgets for us. Anyone would think that we're a society of consumers...

Bloomberg Businessweek has a fascinating (8-page!) interrogative analysis of Foxconn's owner, Terry Gou. Those million workers have just one boss -- or 'general', as he likes to call himself. As of today, it's speculated that he has a personal fortune of some $6 billion, but to Gou that's seemingly inconsequential: "I am not interested in knowing how much I have. I don't care. I am working not for money at this moment, I am working for society, I am working for my employees."

The story goes on, detailing how Foxconn started small, with Gou using a $7,500 loan from his mother to make plastic knobs for TVs. Soon after he was making connectors for the Atari 2600. Then in the early 1980s he toured the USA to pick up new customers, and the rest is history.

Sadly, a lot of the story is about Foxconn's working conditions -- and the suicides. I guess the allure of writing about death is such that even Bloomberg can't escape it. Nevermind that, even after 13 suicides, the suicide rate is still below the national average. Nevermind that Foxconn is providing jobs (well-paid by Chinese standards!) to the incredibly poor citizens of central China.

Still, if you're interested in finding out how the largest exporter in the world does business, about how Terry Gou goes that extra mile to ensure the happiness of Apple, Dell and other big-hitters, you should read the story.

Tags: apple, china, dell, exporting, foxconn, iphone, manufacturing, taiwan, terry gou, TerryGou