He spent £21m on a penthouse - but turns lights off to save money: Inside the amazing world of secret billionaire Terry Gou花2千萬英鎊買豪宅，但只用小燈來省錢，一探億萬富翁「郭台銘」的神秘世界
By Simon Parry In Taiwan and Richard Jones In China
Last updated at 12:37 AM on 27th June 2010
Squatting beside a road in a backward northern China village where, once a year, a wealthy benefactor sweeps past in a motorcade on his way to dispense money, the peasant farmer whispers: 'To us, he is like an emperor.'
It is a comparison that would probably bring a smile to the usually stern features of Terry Gou.
A self-made billionaire who rose from poverty to become one of the world's richest men, the 59-year-old's hero is an emperor - Genghis Khan.
Gou's personal fortune is estimated at £3.7 billion, ranking him number 136 on the Forbes rich list, alongside Apple boss Steve Jobs.Pick up an iPod, an iPhone, an iPad, a Nintendo game, a Dell or Hewlett Packard computer, a Nokia or a Motorola phone in Britain, and the chances are that it will have been made by poor young migrant workers in one of Gou's massive, fortress-like factories.
Dancing king: Terry Gou performs with Chiling Lin in 2007, who was then rumoured to be one of his girlfriends
And his factories possess so many technical and production secrets that some see him, rather than Jobs, as the most important player in Apple's rise to success.
Gou describes his own massively influential business as a 'righteous dictatorship'.
And like the empire of the bloodthirsty Mongolian ruler he so admires, it began inconspicuously in the Far East before spreading its influence across the world with lightning speed.
While Genghis Khan triumphed through terror and attrition, the founder and head of electronics giant Foxconn has conquered by stealth and a ruthless approach to business.
His notoriously tough factories in China employ an astonishing 800,000 workers and make a substantial proportion of the world's consumer electronics.
They have made Gou a king of the British High Street and royalty in the world of retailing.
It is due, in no small part, to Foxconn's phenomenal output that China is poised to become the world's biggest manufacturer.
Last week a group of economists predicted that by 2011, China will overtake the United States as the leading producer of goods, responsible for a fifth of all goods manufactured worldwide.
Former playboy: With second wife Delia on their wedding day in Taipei
It seems their actions were driven at least partly by the harsh working conditions - allegations that Gou denies.
Gou, whose intense secrecy about his factories' working conditions has been a trademark of his close working relationship with companies such as Apple, has found himself thrust into the spotlight.
And that spotlight has been uncomfortably revealing.
A Mail on Sunday investigation into the background of the tycoon reveals a complex and highly-driven individual who considers his life a mission and holds extreme views on how workers should be treated.
He is a man who works 16-hour days and whose company made £41billion last year, yet he refuses to buy designer clothes and scrimps on office furniture to save money.
He recently spent £21 million on a penthouse suite occupying the top three floors of The Palace, the most luxurious housing development in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.
Gou plans to live on the top floor with his wife and children and let friends and business associates stay in the two floors below.
He bought 35 parking spaces to make sure there is room for everyone's limousine.
Under fire: Gou is besieged by media after a spate of suicides at his factories, blamed on harsh working conditions by some commentators
As well as the property at The Palace, he owns a castle in the Czech Republic, where he has two factories, and a private jet worth £40million.
Gou has had a string of beautiful young girlfriends, including one who allegedly tried to blackmail him with a video of them having sex. He is also set to become a father again with his second wife, according to reports.
Gou's extraordinary lifestyle would have been unimaginable to his parents. His father served in the Chinese army in the 1931-45 war with Japan before returning to work as a policeman.
As an official and small landowner, Gou's father would almost certainly have been a supporter of the ruling Kuomintang nationalists and, as such, a target for Mao's brutal army as they seized control of China.
In 1949, he and his wife fled their simple home in Gewan, in Shanxi province, for the island of Taiwan.
Its mountainous backdrop is said to resemble a phoenix, a creature second only to the dragon in importance in Chinese mythology, and one of Gou's driving ambitions is to reverse his ancestral home's decline and see it reborn.
He has spent tens of millions of pounds building a school, a pig farm and a Foxconn factory in a nearby town that employs 20,000 people, despite being warned by advisers that his projects make no business sense.
He has also restored his family's 300-year-old traditional courtyard home.
While Gou may be scrupulously careful with his wealth elsewhere, that hard-nosed business attitude evaporates when it comes to his home province.
Gou has said: 'I can walk away from anywhere if my investment fails - but not Shanxi.'
In his more grandiose moments, he has spoken of his intention to restore the poor province to its late 19th Century glory when it was known in China as the Empire of Silver (in pre-revolutionary China, silver had a higher value than gold).
Indeed, he spent millions funding a lavish costume drama set in the glamorous banking world of the old Shanxi.
In feudal China, Shanxi merchants were famous for their business acumen and appetite for commerce. The province became the country's centre of banking and controlled much of the nation's cashflow.
But after the communist revolution, China's banking industry was deconstructed as the country entered grim decades of collective farms, famine and one-party rule.
Shanxi went from money to minerals - it is now China's main coal-producing region.
The class system of the feudal era is gone. Today, of course, every citizen is equal, though some are more equal than others.
Humble beginnings: The house in Gewan, Shanxi Province, China, where Gou's family lived before they moved to Taiwan
Villagers in Gewan, who all share Gou's family name, idolise him. 'This road used to be a dirt track,' says peasant farmer Gou Quan Shan.
'He built the road, the bridge, the school, you name it. Without Gou, the quality of our lives would be nothing.'
Another villager, Gou She, says: 'When he comes here, he's treated like a king. There are lots of police and security all around him and they clear the road for him and protect him as he comes by. He is a good man. He has helped us so much.
'He visits the temple, his home, and family graves and then leaves to make more money.'
A plaque on the wall of the temple in Gewan describes how Gou gave the equivalent of £1 million to restore the temple and other parts of his village in 2006.
Many young people from the village now work in the Foxconn factory rather than the coal mines.
'He is a role model to me,' says 18-yearold Chan Yan Pei, who spends his days cleaning video camera lenses rather than working down a mine.
Gou first visited Gewan in 1989, a year after he opened his first Foxconn factory in southern China as the country opened up to foreign investment. His determination to leave a legacy in Shanxi appears to have become an obsession.
'Terry's biggest wish is to invest in enterprise here and develop the economy of his home town,' says his cousin Gou Xiaoping. 'He has been told it is not feasible to invest in this area but he has gone ahead all the same.'
If a sense of divine mission is driving Gou, it may have its roots in his childhood in Taipei, where he grew up in a room in an annexe of a temple to Mazu, the Chinese goddess of the sea.
After his family moved on, and long before Gou began to amass his fortune, the room where they lived was converted into a shrine to the Tao religion's five Gods of Fortune - a move Gou must have seen as appropriate when he returned later as a benefactor.
Gou still visits the temple that was his childhood home, paying for lavish pillars to be built and walls to be restored in the 300-year-old building.
Castle: The tycoon's Roztez Chateau in the Czech Republic was bought for a reported £20m in 2001 and includes 10,000 acres of land
'Many people who come here know of the temple's connection with Mr Gou and they pray to the Gods of Fortune that they might be as clever and as wealthy as he has been,' the temple keeper says.
However, it was a shrewd matrimonial match rather than a stroke of business genius that saw Gou's career take off.
Aged 24 and working as a lowly office clerk in Taipei, Gou wooed and married Serena Lin, a girl from a relatively wealthy Taiwanese family.
In 1974, his mother-in-law loaned him a few thousand pounds to start his first business in Taipei - and the Hon Hai empire, parent company of Foxconn, was born.
Hon Hai began by making channel-changing knobs for TV sets and put Gou on his way with a business career that would flourish globally on the cheap, obedient labour of communist China from the late Eighties onwards.
He was quick to see the country's potential. He learned English, travelled to the United States regularly to drum up business and courted visiting businessmen to try to persuade them to use his factory.
His biggest break came in 1996, when Michael Dell, of Dell Computers, visited southern China.
Gou, who a colleague says 'knew Michael Dell was a star of tomorrow', offered to drive him to the airport.
Instead of taking him there directly, Gou made an unscheduled stop at his factory and talked Dell into working with him.
With Dell, and later with Apple and other global brands, a mutually profitable relationship flourished.
Here was a man capable of producing the electronic gadgets the world was switching on to, and doing it efficiently, on a vast scale and under the high-security conditions vital to protect commercial interests.
That secrecy persists today. When we tried to visit Gou at Hon Hai's headquarters on the outskirts of Taipei, security guards ordered us to leave and Gou's aides refused to meet us.
'Mr Gou is in China and will not do any interviews,' his spokesman, Arthur Huang, told us.
The regime within Gou's factories is focused on iron discipline - workers perform military-style drills and are penalised for talking on production lines or for taking too many lavatory breaks.
A joke directed at employees is: 'You work at Foxconn? Are you wearing a nappy?'
Gou's rule within his empire is absolute. Executives carry copies of his book, The Sayings Of Terry Gou, which outlines his somewhat alarming personal philosophy.
It reads more like Chairman Mao's Little Red Book than a business manual. The long-winded addresses to executives provide a fascinating insight into the tough-mindedness and the uncompromisingly disciplinarian nature of the man.
Apple products: Terry Gou's Chinese factories are responsible for the production of i-Phones
He assures employees: 'Behind every accomplished disciple, there is a stern mentor.'
Elsewhere he tells his ' disciples': 'You can't go wrong trying to stick with the strictest and most demanding boss.'
According to former employees, when Gou addresses his executives, usually by jabbing impatiently at a blackboard with a marker pen, he orders them to stand to attention if they say anything to displease him, telling them: 'I'm not punishing you because I'm standing too.'
Geoff Crothall, of China Labour Bulletin, a group that monitors factory conditions in China, says Foxconn is 'an extreme example' of the approach of Taiwanese-managed companies in mainland China.
'In the Seventies and Eighties in Taiwan, the Taiwanese workers were treated the same way,' says Crothall.
'They were very badly treated but it is a successful production model, and that model has simply been exported from Taiwan to mainland China.'
Outside his factories, Gou leads a playboy lifestyle. He has at times made as many headlines in Taiwan's gossip pages as in the business sections of newspapers.
Gou's first wife Serena, with whom he had two children, died from cancer in 2005. He married his current wife, dancer Delia Tseng, 36, in 2008.
He performed 30 push-ups to applause from guests after the master of ceremonies cracked coarse jokes about his age.
The honorary chairman of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party was chief witness, though this was probably a sign more of Gou's strong political connections rather than of his forebears' political allegiances.
Prior to the wedding, Gou was linked to a string of glamorous women. He dated Hong Kong movie star Carina Lau, 45, telling reporters in 2007 that his feelings for her were 'genuine and serious'.
At the same time, he was close to Taiwanese model Lin Chi-ling, 35, whom he flew around in his private jet to help him host business parties.
At one Foxconn function, they wowed guests with a particularly exotic and energetic dancefloor routine.
In the same year, allegations surfaced that Gou had cheated on Serena during their marriage and was blackmailed by a girlfriend who was said to have secretly shot a video of them having sex.
Gou, who denied all this, was said to have called in police after being blackmailed for £100,000 by the woman, former stock dealer Chen Chung-mei, when he allegedly ended a four-year affair with her. According to unproven claims, Chen Chung-mei was jailed for four months for blackmail.
Cheap labour: Gou's Foxconn produces products for computer giant Dell using poverty-struck workers
She sent Gou an outline of the book, Burned By The Scorching Sun - What You Didn't Know About Terry Gou, which, a court heard, contained details of alleged tax evasion and other illegal activities by Hon Hai.
When Gou - who has always denied the allegations - objected, Tsang and her boyfriend demanded $1 million not to write the book.
She was arrested in a sting after going to a meeting with Gou's representatives where she took the money from a safety deposit box in a bank's VIP room.
Tsang was jailed for 22 months and her boyfriend for two years. Another journalist who helped their scheme was jailed for six months.
Whatever the truth of Gou's liaisons, they have done little to damage his image in Asia's largely sexist and money-worshipping business environment.
If anything, his relationships with lovers sometimes half his age seem to have enhanced his reputation among his supporters in Taiwan.
And while associates in China undoubtedly regard communism as the highest form of society, the egalitarian ideal towards which the river of human history inexorably flows, they also have a sneaking admiration for ageing billionaires who bed pretty young women.
'The old bull seeks fresh grass,' as the Chinese saying goes.
However Gou's domain is not limited to Asia. Foxconn also has factories in the Czech Republic and Hungary - perhaps not coincidentally the last country the Mongol empire conquered before retreating east.
More than anything else, Gou's castle in the Czech Republic - a chateau with nearly 10,000 acres of parkland bought for a reported £20 million in 2001 - represents the high-water mark of his quest to become a world leader in manufacturing.
Roztez Chateau was built in the 17th Century as a fabulous and lavish hunting lodge.
After buying it as a dilapidated ruin, Gou completely refurbished it and named it Casa Serena after his first wife. In the surrounding countryside, he built a championship golf course.
Just 30 miles outside Prague and close to two Foxconn factories Gou has built in Kutna Hora and Pardubice, the chateau is now Gou's fortress in the West.
It is used exclusively by his family, his executives and business clients. Its purchase was a potent signal that he had arrived.
Its opulence is sharply at odds with the austerity of his factories in China and his own personal spending in Asia, where he is said to keep lights switched off to save money and replaced his own rusty office chair only when his doctor ordered him to.
Now, as the scandal of the suicides in Foxconn's China factories raises searching questions, Gou has been forced to turn his attentions back east to try to restore his company's reputation as Apple and other clients fret.
In a highly unusual move, Gou visited his factories and took reporters and photographers on tightly controlled tours.
'It was completely out of character and a desperate attempt at damage-limitation,' Geoff Crothall says.
Gou's subsequent decision to double workers' pay, hire psychological counsellors and put up safety nets to stop people jumping might smack of expediency to outsiders, but not to his adoring public in Taiwan.
Without a hint of irony, the island's biggest-selling business magazine praised him for looking after his troubled workers and said his compassion showed he was not only a great entrepreneur, but also a great humanitarian.
Gou himself could not help saying in a candid, self-pitying moment: 'If a worker in Taiwan commits suicide because of emotional problems, his employer won't be held responsible, but we are taken to task in China because they are living and sleeping in our dormitories.'
The deeper worry for Gou, whose business has thrived on good relations with Chinese officials, is that the political tide may also be turning against him.
Until now he has enjoyed such an intimate relationship with China's communist leadership that he is the only person allowed to fly a private jet across the politically sensitive Taiwan Straits separating the island from mainland China.
However, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao recently declared that workers' conditions must improve and factory bosses should treat poor migrant workers 'as they would treat their own children'.
In these troubling times, Gou may well reflect that 'the most skilled sailor is forged by the strongest headwinds'. Confucius? No, one of The Sayings Of Terry Gou.
But like any great tactician, Gou has taken steps to safeguard against possible future difficulties in the Chinese factories that earned him his fortune.
Last year Foxconn opened a huge new plant just outside Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, where wages are a third lower than in China.
The company is also rumoured to be preparing to switch at least part of its operations to less developed provinces of China.
'Many inland provinces in China are still very investor-friendly,' Crothall says. 'They would welcome Foxconn with open arms despite the suicide profile. A Foxconn plant would be such a big deal for a town in a province such as Hubei.
'So even if Foxconn can't carry on the way it has been in southern China, there are plenty of provinces elsewhere in China, and in places such as Vietnam, where they can run their factories in the same way as before.'
While Gou mulls his next move, he has also been seen returning to the temple of his childhood in Taipei and - for the first time anyone can remember - praying to the gods at a time outside his annual New Year visit.
The months ahead will determine whether the tycoon's prayers are answered or whether his all-conquering empire, like Shanxi's Empire of Silver, is ultimately heading for a long and painful decline.