Foxconn: Gou seeks further opportunities in Japan
TAIPEI — Foxconn Technology Group Chairman Terry Gou on Saturday said he intends to add more jobs at Sakai Display Products, a large panel maker in Japan in which Gou owns a key stake.
The tycoon has been aggressively exploring opportunities outside assembling Apple’s popular iPhones. This one item accounts for half of Foxconn’s annual revenue.
On June 20, Gou visited the Osaka-based display maker, which churns out large TV panels, and said he wants to invest more in Japan. “SDP has been turning out a profit for three straight years,” Gou said in a written statement. “In the future, I will continue to invest in Japan, hire more Japanese talent and expand our global reach.”
Gou first invested in Sakai Display in 2012.
He did not specify the number of positions he wants to add at the advanced panel-making facility. His statement appears to be an effort to quell longstanding speculation that he may try to cut payroll to boost Sakai Display’s bottom line. The company now employs about 1,400.
Gou’s statement also raises speculation as to whether he will keep a promise to take Sakai Display public once it has been profitable for three consecutive years. Sakai Display declined to comment on the issue.
During Gou’s visit to Sakai Display on June 20, he unveiled Terry Road, a refurbished passage on the company’s campus dedicated to the executive as a token of appreciation for his initiatives to share his gains with Sakai Display employees.
Gou was to return to Taiwan later in the day. He had been in Japan for four days, also meeting with potential clients.
Gou paid 66 billion yen ($540 million at today’s exchange rate) for a 37.61% stake in Sakai Display in 2012. The money came from his personal investment firm, SIO International Holdings. The stake was bought from embattled electronics conglomerate Sharp. Gou and Sharp now manage Sakai Display together.
The transaction was made while the panel maker was suffering from cutthroat competition in the TV market and a strong yen. Sakai Display was running up huge losses and contributed to the 376 billion yen loss Sharp chalked up in 2012.
That same year, Foxconn opened talks with Sharp about acquiring a stake in the Japanese tech icon, hoping to gain access to Sharp’s advanced display technologies and better compete against South Korea’s Samsung.
Three years on and the two sides have yet to reach an agreement. Sharp remains reluctant to allow Foxconn to get involved in its management or to lower its asking price of 550 yen per share, even though its stock is trading at less than 200 yen per share.
To expand in Japan and develop display technologies, Gou in 2013 set up Foxconn Japan RD. In 2014, Foxconn made a breakthrough in Japan, winning an order from SoftBank to produce Pepper, a humanoid robot intended to keep Japan’s elderly company. Pepper is also drawing interest from corporate clients, who want to use the robot to help in stores.
The robot partnership deepened Thursday, when Foxconn and the Alibaba Group announced each will invest 14.5 billion yen in SoftBank’s robot unit in return for 20% stakes. Gou, Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma and SoftBank Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son appeared together at a Tokyo press event to announce their newly minted partnership.
The three tycoons plan to work together to mass produce Pepper. Their initial goal is to deliver 1,000 robots per month and to take Pepper global.