Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pua's mighty 'Pen'

No this not about Tony Pua. This is a story filed by S. Indramalar of The Star on Pua Khein Seng whose originated from Malaysia and, who found his way to Taiwan and developed the world's first USB flash removable disk, more popularly known as the Pen Drive.

Pua Khein Seng is another inspirational story. One should not read any sort of political, educational or any angle into his story. It's about a Malaysian who made good. His is another story that should inspire all Malaysians to do better and to be the best that we each can be.

I must thank profusely regular commentator flyer168 for forwarding this story to me.

Name: Pua Khein Seng
Age: 31
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 Seng 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

"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.

For 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 helped his adopted country, Taiwan made $31bil in the process. The rest is history....


Estrelita Soliano Grosse said...

Great story but 9 am to 11 pm. I never want to work in Taiwan! :)

de minimis said...

Hi Lita

The hours are actually normal for budding entrepreneurs. I'm sure the official worktime for employees are quite civilized even in a frenetic place like Taiwan. But for entrepreneurs and techies, those 15-hour workdays are the norm especially when starting a business :D That's the way to get teething issues sorted out in order to produce a worldclass product or service. No pain, no gain :D

etheorist said...

de minimis,

I like this story especially in reference to home-grown technology.

But bitter-sweet. Pity.

walla said...

What an uplifting post, de minimis, all the more for the success story not having been nurtured by the mechanics of state support of this country.

Ten of 'em and our GDP would have at least doubled. That's as clear as one can get of what brains and enterprise can do for a country if they are honestly valued without having to come under the lens of other considerations.

However, missing from the story is how he had found the funds to file and also defend patent claims. This is crucial for new technologies, especially when those technologies such as this NAND flash memory are in the strategic radar of bigger players such as Toshiba, Samsung and Hynix. Toshiba itself has(d) a partnership with Sandisk which is a vested player in Phison's sphere.

If that funding had come from equity investments by say Toshiba, it could be a heavy price to pay - regular royalty in exchange for high p/e equity and thus dividends as well as management direction in global marketing and future development.

Governments if they are really interested in deep-territory nation-building should see that linchpin of mezzannine funding for startup IP protection as a key constraint which must be resolved, not just for the project's success per se for also for strategic influence of growing segments of an industry that will remain a mainstay in this century.

The industry itself is high-pressured and constantly changing:

It is instructive to think how he has had to find his destiny elsewhere. Here we don't have the fertile idea bed where ideas can developed through intellectual exchanges and interactions in the very climate and surrounding that nurtures that sort of development. Try walking door-to-door in our technology parks and so on, and see if there's any life in them.

Secondly, our supporting R&D for material science technologies are virtually non-existent, and material science is a pillar of that industry.

Thirdly, we don't have real policies that work to encourage brains to stay on nor a proactive venture capital industry to spark risk-taking for big one-time wins. Moreover, we don't have a firm umbrella policy to evaluate the effectiveness of our development policies, each review either falling under some cyclical calendar or with the changing of guard. Hardly pragmatic since the industry doesn't time itself to the vagaries of our small country.

Fourthly, there is no easy access by individual entrepreneurs to industry-tracking databases relevant to this type of industry ... databases like MIC III, instat, isuppli and delloros (;P). They tell market changes, new forces and trade sizing.

Fifthly, we seem to be resistant for no good reason to supporting people like our success story here. It has become almost like negative profiling. If we keep on using outdated policies to shoot ourselves in the foot, we will soon have no feet left to stand so that those who can but leave will only return for our hawker fare. Doesn't that say something of how relevant this country has become in the developed world, especially if it is reflected in the only reason why our own would want to come back? Not an easy question to answer, i guess. But then, i always ask hard questions, don't i?

Lastly, we have a semiconductor industry that can be considered well-established. We have a sizable SME base. We probably have some idea-spinning entrepreneurs around who are yearning to make a difference in their lives ...people who want to get off their but's" (note: not "butts"). They have no "but's" in their heads; there are no excuses.

Yet we have no Phison's. All the ciku's who talk about this and that policy should just bite their lips ..and really think hard for a change.

No more lip service, please.

chapchai said...

When I first used the pen drive I thought "what a brilliant idea" not knowing that a Malaysian was involved in its invention. I wonder how much talent Malaysia has lost.

donplaypuks® said...

"Lastly, we have a semiconductor industry that can be considered well-established." Walla.

Most of Malaysian foray into this industry is as sub-contractors for US giants.

I think there is a $8.5 billion scandal waiting to surface in Khazana's and MoF's investment in Silterra, where some $6 billion has been written off against shareholders' funds up to 2007.

It's difficult in the Malaysian atmosphere of ali baba fraudtreneurship, to produce genuine enterpreneurs! Who wants to take risks with their own money when you can do so with Govt handouts which you don't have to pay back?

flyer168 said...

De minimis,

Thank you for highlighting yet "Another" Great Towering Malaysian Technocrat....

We the Middle Class Group have to provide the Rayaat with a good dose of "POSITIVES"for the Rayaat to “Move On” to make ends this great nation we call Malaysia.

Our Mission & Endeavour is to Identify, Highlight & Name OUR VERSION of Towering Malaysians....

To use JFK's Famous words:

And so, my fellow Anak Bangsa Malaysia.....

Ask not what your country can do for you....

Rather ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of Malaysia:
Ask not what Malaysia will do for you,

Rather what together we can do for the freedom of Man...

Only then can we Enlighten & Empower more Malaysians to be Achievers & MASTERS of their VOCATION.

It is also my fervent wish & hope that we can all change our Paradigm :

Inline with the original “VALUES” which our Bapak Merdeka Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra together with his first cabinet of HONOURABLE, DEDICATED & ESTABLISHED TRUE MALAYSIAN TUANS adopted - From TOP to BOTTOM.

Let us all SHIFT our “Ketuanan, Racial, Religious, Personal, Selfish, Etc PARADIGM”....


- "Malaysia for Anak Bangsa Malaysia" where every citizen, young & old can "Share & Dream" about ,

- "Be given the Opportunity" to work hard towards that "Dream",

- "To Achieve" that "Malaysian Dream" as ....

- Another proud Anak Bangsa Malaysia "Achiever”!

- as some of us have PROVEN, through our own "Blood, Sweat, Tears, Intelligence & Wisdom"


flyer168 said...


De minimis,

In our multiethnic and multicultural Malaysia, one can and must draw valuable lessons from the experiences and important values of each of the ethnic communities.

In doing so, one is nudging society in the direction of the once much-touted ideal of Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian race).

There are hardworking people, for instance, in all of the ethnic communities in Malaysia just as there are intelligent people in these communities who can be a source of human capital and an inspiring example to all Malaysians.

These are important attributes especially if they involve people who STRIVE and PERSEVERE in a situation where they eventually prevail and succeed with no (or little) state assistance such as scholarships and other facilities.

Other equally important values and attributes are moral uprightness, critical-thinking and a principle-centred life.

A towering figure - whether in Politics, Industry and Academia, as an example again....

Is someone who is not only intelligent, resourceful and creative, but also sticks to his/her beliefs and principles even though these may go against the mainstream or status quo.

These industrious people should in fact be given recognition by the powers-that-be so that....

Firstly, they become a shining example for other Malaysians (not just Malays) to emulate...

Secondly, their hard work and intelligence is given due recognition, which would encourage them to propel themselves further in the quest for excellence.

More importantly, this kind of recognition can help stem the brain drain out of this country.

This effort could involve Industry and Academia, for example, where talent needs to be Nurtured, Recognised and duly Rewarded and where Academic and Professional Excellence is "Crucial".

The country as a whole would benefit from such people who make principled decisions and take carefully considered actions.

Giving views and ideas that are different from the management of a factory or a university should not be erroneously perceived as undermining its authority.

If anything, they should be considered as a very useful contribution to knowledge building.

If the search for our "True Grit" Towering Malaysians were to be "liberalised", then we would be able to appreciate the good in many of us Malaysians.

In this 21st century context of Malaysian Nation Building & the creation of the "New Breed of Leaders, Politicians, High Yield Technocrats, etc".

Despite the ravages of modern capitalistic living and rapacious politics, there is still a pool of Malaysians who are Altruistic, Disciplined, Principled and Loving and whose Actions and Beliefs can easily leave us "Humbled and Inspired".

Until such times Malaysia can IDENTIFY “Role Model” MATURED, EDUCATED, INTELLIGENT, ESTABLISHED Leaders, Politicians, Technocrats, etc of HONOUR with Calibre & Tolerance without Fear or Favour,

Malaysia CANNOT even THINK of having a 2 or 3 PARTY Political System of Government to mitigate the IMPENDING Political & Financial fallout.