SHANGHAI – Unlike Spreadtrum and RDA Microelectronics, China’s leading IC vendors, Shanghai Awinic technology co., a fabless chip company established here in 2008 and now up to 70 employees, is largely a mystery beyond China. But Awinic’s work ethic (always on call, including weekends) and the way its engineering team interfaces with local customers (Awinic’s engineers do double duty in marketing and product development) have set it up for greater prominence.
Awinic’s devotion to working harder appears to be lifted straight from the playbook of another Chinese success story, Huawei. Further, just as Huawei engineers are known to have a sleeping bag in their cubicles (so that they can work into the wee hours), so are Awinic engineers. (See the pictures on the following page.)
Armed with 50 different products aimed at the mobile phone market, Awinic has been successfully nipping at the heels of global analog chip vendors such as Texas Instruments.
None of the Awinic’s products are big chips, but they are designed by intently listening to what customers want. Jiao Jiantang, deputy general manager at Awinic noted: “Customer needs are the reason why we’re here.”
Their products include audio power amplifier chips, LED backlighting driver ICs, touch screen controllers, dual-mode dual standby SIM card controller ICs, dual-battery power management systems and others.
Jiantang claims that the company has shipped1. 4 billion chips – altogether – since 2008.
Unmistakable Huawei DNA
The company’s core management team consists of ex-Huawei guys, including Jiao Jiantang. Engineer Yu Wei Xue, Awinic’s thirty-something director of product department, also speaks admiringly about Huawei.
Asked if he works weekends, Wei Xue said, “Although we are a five-day work week company, many of our [local] customers are not. So, if they need help on weekends, they’ll call us and, yes, we help them.”
And when they say they help their customers, they do mean it. Even if clients have problems with chips not designed by Awinic, “we help them,” said Jiantang — at no charge. “We like to think we’re building friendships – rather than business,” said Wei Xue.
Awinic’s customers today are mainly local mobile handset guys. In addition to Chinese handset brands such as OPAL, they supply chips to big OEMs including Huawei and ZTE, and EMS companies like Foxconn. While a majority – 96 percent — of Awinic customers are based in China, they also include such non-Chinese firms as Sharp and Motorola. Jiangtan said Awinic is currently in negotiation with Samsung.
Asked about how Awinic differentiates from competitors, Jiantang pointed out two things: “We understand our customer needs better, and we are able to provide better service.” Many bigger Western chip vendors market their platforms, but often tlack local R&D staff, said Jiantang. He likes to tell Awinic’s customers, “Our R&D is your R&D.”
Unlike other Chinese fablesses – often run by Chinese engineering executives who returned from the United States — Awinic has a real local Chinese flavor. But executives are keenly aware that their next phase of company growth requires a global strategy. Jiantang’s plans for Awinic’s future include: expanding the customer list [including new foreign customers like Samsung and LG], and expanding the product portfolio from purely analog chips to SoCs, as well as high-performance analog chips. For the SoC, Awinic is planning on touch panel SoCs. For high-speed analog, the company is developing RF parts for the GPS power amplifier.
Remaining ever so humble, Jiangtang scoffs at the notion of taking over competitors like TI or Yamaha. “We still have a lot of things to learn from them.”
Nonetheless, Jiangtan is keenly aware that the core driver of the company’s success is in innovation that impresses the whole world. “The China market is very big. But we need to go global.”
Awinic claims to have six key patents for audio performance enhancement technologies. The company is known to have high reliability of electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection design. ESD prevents sound distortion and interference by low frequency electromagnetism (EMI), while consistently maintaining minimal power consumption. The company also has 18 unique IC layout designs copy righted.
Jiao Jiantang, deputy general manager at Awinic, plays ping pong during a break in his office
Jiantang (left) and Yu Wei Xue, director of product department, are a dynamic duo at Awinic. Although young Wei Xue has never worked for Huawei, he speaks of the telecom giant in China with great respect and admiration.
The fanatical devotion to customer service comes as no surprise. I read an article in a business journal a while back dealing with doing business in China, and how Americans needed to adjust their thinking. Like, a US executive who wanted to do a joint venture with a Chinese company might find himself doing things like having tea with the Chinese CEO well before actual business was discussed, and bringing up business at that point would be a fatal error. The Chinese CEO was thinking long term about the relationship that would be involved, and wanted to know "Do I get along with this guy? Are our personalities compatible? Would I be comfortable entering into a long term business relationship with him?" Only if he decided the answer was "Yes", would he then be interested in discussing the specifics of the deal.
When I think of the number of US joint ventures and acquisitions that have foundered on incompatible personalities between principals and incompatible corporate cultures, I think the Chinese may have a point.
Awinic is devoted to building that long term relationship, and fanatical customer service as a way to do that.
I think the notion of many Americans that Chinese are "Only hard work and no innovation" is slowly proving wrong. All the Asian countries -China and India included have people full of innovative ideas and they also implement those ideas - these things are called "Jugaads" in India and I do not know the Chinese word for it.
So never underestimate the hidden power.
Great Story, Junko. I remember whenever I have to deal with companies in Asia, I have to work odd hours too. Work week typical starts from Sunday 6:00PM PST to Saturday 8:00AM PST. Talking to them on the phone, answering email so that they can move forward quicker instead of waiting for my decision for a while day. On the other hands, some of them do the same. They would respond to my email in the middle of the day California time. Your story confirms align my observation a couple years back. I believe the new Asian work style is efficiency and work life balance.
Hi Junko, surprisingly the customer devotion is not only with Awinic. You will see it in most companies there in China. Even multinational companies with headquarters in the US look into the local talent to give it somehow bridge the customer needs. I remember when I was in a meeting with my former company in China, from our office window one would see the customer building across the block. EVERYTIME our sales people would mention the customer name, they would all turn their gaze to the customer building like they were being watched. The basics is, you got the money and the business for us...you have all our attention...
The commitment to quality customer service around the clock is impressive - especially in an era in which too much customer service is deflected to useless online FAQ pages and uninformed "support" staff who promise to call back and never do. The one remaining step is to ensure employee quality of life and work-life balance. Perhaps rotating coverage schedules could help.
Very illustrative story especially with pictures having sleeping bag behind. Lots of electronic companies in Asia having this culture. And it is a norm the bosses would expect engineers to stay back or come over during weekends without any extra compensation. I have heard stories of Huwei engineers committing suicide due to the imbalance in the work life.