Although the ACT Tourist Bureau would have the rest of us believe that the nation's capital is a fun-filled and interesting place it is generally recognised that Canberra is lacklustre and fairly dull. While the capital is a pleasant place to live, even an Amazonian sloth would be hard pressed to find a social life there.
However, if Canberra had been exciting, Allen Leu and his wife Tracey Tsuei may never have returned to Australia to found MSI Computer.
While Tracey was studying to complete a Masters at the Australian National University, Allen stayed at home with his notebook. "I didn't have anything to do so I used to play all day on the notebook computer." According to Allen, being locked up all day with a notebook in a boring foreign city ultimately lead him to his vocation.
"I became interested in computing and in 1993 when we went back to Taiwan, I applied for work at Acer. There were no jobs there, but I kept looking. I didn't have any formal studies in computing, but because I had lived in Australia and I spoke a bit of English, they thought I was qualified. I wound up with a job at Micro-Star International."Tracey first arrived in Australia in 1989 and began her studies at the ANU.
Allen joined her two years later after completing compulsory military service.
"Taiwanese men cannot leave the country without doing military service," she explained, "so I came over alone at first."Although they admit to some teething problems, the couple overcame some of the linguistic and cultural challenges of living in Australia. Both speak of their first impressions of Australia in glowing terms.
"It was like heaven to us. The weather is beautiful and the environment is very clean. Taiwan has 21 million people and it is only half the size of Tasmania - it is very crowded and very polluted. From the time we returned to Taiwan, we really wanted to come back. We just needed the right excuse," Tracey said.
Their chance came in 1996 when they became aware that Micro-Star International was looking for a distributor in Australia. Hearing of the opportunity, the couple drafted a business plan and offered their services to the company. As they had already lived here, they were obvious candidates and were quickly selected to set up and run MSI's Australian distribution arm.
"We were given limited capital to start off, and do all the market research," said Tracey. "We knew that that would be all, and if it ran out we would have to return to Taiwan so it was important to find customers. At first we ran the business out of home and made very small margins because no one knew us, so they did not want the products."While Tracey is responsible for the sales and administration side of the business, Allen likes to focus on the engineering and technical side.
"When I was at MSI I had to learn as I went along, so I have seen how the different products developed," Allen explained.
Micro-Star began with a focus on mainboards and has now expanded its offerings to include modems and multimedia cards.
According to Tracey, this trend is set to continue, forecasting that MSI will grow in a similar way to Acer by gradually increasing its product base.
His long-term involvement with Micro-Star has given Allen an in-depth knowledge of the MSI product line, which makes him popular among MSI customers.
"Our customers know that Allen knows a lot about the products. They always want to speak to him and ask him the questions," said Tracey.
In retrospect, Tracey and Allen recognise that the time they spent in Australia in the early 90s was important to their ability to adapt so quickly on their return.
"We are lucky because we had been here before and we knew what to expect," Tracey explained.
Although they feel right at home living in Australia now, there are some important cultural differences that apply to the corporate sector: "In Chinese culture, people have very different business relationships. Business is generally very social. Partners spend a lot of time together outside work, going out for dinner and things like that. In Taiwan you have to keep working after five because when you go out you are still at work. It is not unusual to find people working 12 and 14 hours. In Australia, no one really calls you after 5.00 or 5.30, you don't have to work on weekends and you aren't always expected to go to business functions all the time," Tracey said.
"In Australia, business is based on business, if you see what I mean. Deals and partnerships depend on how competent you are, not on what kinds of parties you throw. If we had to depend on the social side of things it would be more complicated because we are not Australian and we don't know the culture as well as others," she added.
As for business success, Tracey puts it down to a fairly serious work ethic. "I say do what you can do, regardless of sales targets. If you worry too much about targets, you can't do your job properly. If you are doing well and you reach your target you just end up slowing down, and losing sales. If you don't make it one month you feel bad. We always try to do our best and be happy with that."Allen has a different philosophy. "I think that in the computer industry, you can get as far as you want as long as you want to learn, and you keep learning.
You can do anything with education - you just have to keep you eyes and ears open and just keep trying."