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Confucius line in Taiwan firm: 'helping friends'

Adam Smith is Adam Smith and Confucius is Confucius and, according to T. S. Lin, never the twain shall meet. The chairman of Taiwan's oldest and second largest company, Tatung, has begun to export his Eastern style of doing business into the West, mainly the United States, where he wants to spread a little Confucian philosophy of "doing well by doing good."

"It's the Tatung spirit. The people in Taiwan have liked our products for years. Now we want to share the goodness of the people. That is the sole purpose of Tatung in America," states Mr. Lin.

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"Tatung was a term used by Confucius to mean, 'Everybody is brother and sister --help others like a family and the whole world will be a family."

If 18th-century Adam Smith saw the electronic company's bottom line, he would think he had a kindred spirit: an average 25 percent growth in sales since 1972 to over $700 million (US) last year. Today, Tatung accounts for 1.6 percent of Taiwan's total GNP.

But Adam Smith's guiding light of profits finds no takers at the tall Tatung office building in downtown Taipei. The guiding principle is prudence and a slow payoff.

"Moderation is the basic concept of Confucianism," says Mr. Lin, who continued to talk quietly during an interview, undisturbed by a violent windstorm shaking his building. "Create profits and share them with customers." High growth (25 percent) rather than high profits (4 percent of sales) "helps Tatung help others," says Mr. Lin.

Taiwan's leading producer of home appliances and consumer electronics (best known for its rice steamer) was founded in 1918 by Mr. Lin's father. Today Mr. Lin's son, W. S. Lin, heads day-to-day operations as Tatung president. It's that Confucius-style family tradition which Mr. Lin likes to spread around to his "friends."

As with many older Chinese, T. S. Lin likes to recall American generosity after the Boxer Rebellion (1900) when the US returned Chinese money for use in higher education of students. "I have found the Confucius spirit can coincide with Christianity in America," he says. "The American people have shown greatness."

Tatung has been building plants in the United States with 50 percent ownership since 1972 -- a time when the idea of exporting electronic goods from the US appeared to make no sense. Its goal in joint ventures abroad is to create "self-standing" management for the benefit of the people.

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It claims to have the largest market share of fan sales in the US, and two years ago, it began building television sets in Long Beach, Calif. The company expects 50 percent growth this year in the US. The reason? "Establish yourselves and help others to establish themselves," says Mr. Lin.

Solar water heaters are the latest product from Tatung, which built them first for large buildings such as dormitories, and now is entering the home sales market. The firm expects to "help" the US and Taiwan cut its oil dependency.

Tatung recently opened a plant in Britain, sending shivers down the European Community's spine for the potential competition from a very efficient operation. The company's 25,000 employees, after all, are part of the Tatung family, and management at least tends to put in extra hours.

Mr. Lin's ultimate vision is removal of communism from mainland China and the spreading of "Taiwanese way of life all over China." That way of life, of course , really means Tatung's Co nfucian-style capitalism.

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