When Jason Chen took over as chief executive at Acer a year ago, he was handed a three-page, colour-coded list of problems at the ailing PC maker. He shoved the memo in a drawer and never looked at it again.
Instead, the 53-year-old focused on the positive. Chen crafted a 100-day plan after reading books about turnarounds at IBM and Japan Airlines. He met employees at Acer's Taipei headquarters to share ideas and then went overseas to bolster morale.
Defying predictions of a PC industry in decline as consumers shift to mobile devices, Acer is betting on next-generation models, including inexpensive laptops that run Google Chrome software and tablet-laptop hybrids, while expanding into phones and cloud computing. The company's share price rose 17 per cent last year, and Chen is declaring his turnaround complete, predicting a return to sales growth.
"Any and every company has a lot of problems," he said.
"I pay much more attention to what are the strengths of the company and how do we use the strengths to capture opportunity."
Acer hadn't seen much of Chen's brand of optimism. In the three years before he joined, the company's stock tumbled 80 per cent as the PC market slid and profits evaporated.
The company ultimately took US$450 million in write-offs, and the previous management team resigned.
Chen has "delivered what's needed to take the first step in turning around the company," said Vincent Chen, at Yuanta Financial Holding, who rates Acer a hold.
"He's been successful in controlling the losses and turning to profit."
Jason Chen was born in Taiwan and has travelled the world for his career. He has worked at IBM, Intel and most recently Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing before joining Acer. A salesman by training, he emphasises words such as "optimise" and "stabilise".
Asked why he accepted the proposal from Acer founder Stan Shih to lead the company, Chen said the size of the undertaking attracted him.
"The key word was 'challenge. The highest-level challenge in business is turnaround."
Acer's experience was in the "not-so-comfortable" business of making PCs, he said. Rather than shifting to completely new businesses, he wanted to make steady improvements within PCs while expanding in related areas.
By exploiting the core business, Chen said Acer would return to annual revenue growth this year for the first time in five years.
"The turnaround is pretty much done," he said. This year, "we should no longer talk about turnaround."