Here’s Jane Liu’s secret to success.
“I think I’m very brave and very naïve,” says Liu, a venture capitalist and founder of global medical device company New Deantronics. “And, also, I am always a very optimistic person.”
Case in point: When she first started out in 1985, Liu was hungry for knowledge. So, she hounded the leaders in the industry to learn from them. One day she called a San Francisco Bay Area company that sold surgical pencils, and the owner said, “Oh, I was going to call you anyway.”
He didn’t want to share his knowledge; he had a problem. A vendor in Taiwan—Liu’s home country—could not supply the surgical cables it had promised. Sitting together in his office, the owner asked if Liu could supply the cables. She began asking questions and scribbling calculations: what he was paying his vendor, shipping costs, the volume needed, frequency of deliveries. When she was done, the owner put a hand on Liu’s shoulder and said, “You got a deal.”
Liu had a problem now. She’d never manufactured a surgical cable in her life!
The Power of Good Luck
Today, she laughs. “I always say, ‘If you help others, you can always get good luck.'”
The good luck came. A friend of her father’s was in San Francisco for a trade show. She helped him because he didn’t speak English. His company in Taiwan manufactured cables. When Liu explained the opportunity she had, he wanted her to represent his company in the US. Instead, she persuaded him to manufacture cables for her company.
—Jane Liu, founder of New Deantronics
Liu’s blend of bravery, naivete, and optimism has been just part of a winning business philosophy for the former-law-student-turned-entrepreneur. Thirty-seven years later, Liu’s company New Deantronics is a global leader in designing, developing, and manufacturing medical devices used in general surgery, neurosurgery, cardiology, and orthopedics. The company supplies specialized surgical instruments to some of the largest medical equipment brands, including Medtronic and Johnson & Johnson. The company Liu built from scratch has been described as one of Taiwan’s “hidden champions”—inconspicuous compared to Taiwan-based goliaths like Foxconn or Foxlink, but a dominant manufacturer of certain specialized health care products, such as electrocautery instruments.
Recently, Liu took time from a busy schedule to talk about her career and share wisdom gained from building a multinational company with operations in Taiwan, the US, and the EU. In 2019, the Taipei-based company completed a 460,000-square-foot facility in Chiayi, in southern Taiwan. The company’s latest expansion is a $40-million, 14-acre campus in Sparks, Nevada, for research, design, and manufacturing. The location serves as the company’s US headquarters. New Deantronics is a Bank of the West customer through the bank’s Pacific Rim Division that specializes in serving Asian and Asian-American individuals and companies.
Liu handed off CEO duties a year ago to 35-year-old Ivon Liu, who has been with the company for 15 years. Now, the founder of the company focuses on supporting the new CEO and leading a venture fund that is financing medical device startups.
An Entrepreneur’s Journey
Forty years ago, Liu was on her way to a life as a lawyer or a judge in Taiwan when in her final year of law school, her grandmother called her aside. She explained that their family had never been involved in the legal profession or government, and her granddaughter should not start. “’Think about something else,'” Liu recalls her grandmother suggested. “I never really listened well, but I took that seriously. I took it as an order.”
Her grandmother’s order set Liu on an entrepreneurial journey that continues today. With her father’s support, she came to America and pivoted from law to business studies at the University of San Francisco.
Fresh from USF with an MBA in marketing and international business, she was invited to work for a Bay Area business founded by her great uncle. Liu said no. She wanted her own business that would support her financially and give her the freedom she found so appealing in the United States, but also allow her to remain close to her family in Taiwan.
“As a businessperson, I didn’t have any technical background. I had a different strategy—to follow the leaders so you can learn as much as you can.”
—Jane Liu, founder of New Deantronics
She chose medical devices. At the time, the US government was encouraging Asia-Pacific trade in medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, and she landed an opportunity to help at a trade show, in part because she spoke fluent Mandarin and English. The trade show led to research and the realization that it was very expensive to start a medical device company—a hurdle she liked since it created a barrier to entry for future competition.
To learn the business, she studied the top companies in the field and started contacting executives at industry leaders like Valley Labs.
“As a businessperson, I didn’t have any technical background,” she explained. “I had a different strategy—to follow the leaders so you can learn as much as you can.”
It took several years, and then it happened, Liu says. One day, Valley Labs’ vice president of operations said they were interested in doing business with her.
“So, tell me,” he asked, “what do you have to offer?”
There were four other suppliers in Taiwan, so how could this young Taiwanese entrepreneur compete? In her head, she ran through the usual attributes: efficiency, good customer service, quality, enthusiasm.
“Inside my mind, I say to myself, ‘This is not attractive at all!’ So, I pause and use my marketing skills. I look at him with eye-to-eye contact, and I tell him, “You know what? You asked me what do I have. I’m telling you what I do not have, and I do not have the opportunity. That’s all in your hands. So, the VP looks at this young Taiwanese girl, and she’s begging for an opportunity. How can he say no to me? That’s how I got the business with Valley Labs, and it’s been 37 years.”
A Plan + Passion = Entrepreneurship
Looking back, would she encourage an aspiring entrepreneur to take the early risks she took?
“If I want to tell another person, ‘How do you start your business?’ I share with people a quality-control tool called PDCA: Plan, Do, Check, and Action. Definitely, you need to have a business plan. On the other hand, you need to have that persistence and passion. I will always say to others: ‘Be yourself, be strong, and never give up.'”
At a time when cost-cutting and layoffs dominate US corporate news headlines, Liu talks about the culture of caring at New Deantronics, or New Dean, as she calls it. Last year the company surpassed its financial goals and shared over half its profits with its more than 1,000 employees.
A Culture of Caring
“This is a life science industry, so caring is my mission: Caring for people, caring for our products, caring for this Earth, this planet that we love.”
Asked if this care for employees might be a cultural difference in Taiwan compared to US corporate culture, she doesn’t hesitate. “If you asked me is Taiwan culture or US culture any different, I think that really it depends on the individual. We are all human beings. We have our heart, we have our feelings. I have to promise my employees not only to offer a comfortable working environment and job security, also I should help them to move forward with their career goals.”
When Liu stepped down as CEO a year ago, she was following a succession plan she crafted more than a decade ago. It is based on what she calls The 5Cs: Capital, or financial strength; Capability, based on technology; Capacity to meet growth plans for the next decade; Culture; and Core values. Importantly, the plan also called for handing the reigns to a younger leader who could steer the company for the next 30 years.
Liu is in the midst of her own transition. Now, Liu devotes her energy to ForMED Ventures, established in 2015 to fund and nurture medical device startups. ForMED has invested in early-stage companies in Taiwan, the US, and Israel.
She expects to fully retire in a few more years, but for now, she plans to contribute in the area she knows best, which is the medical device field. ForMED allows her to help the next generation of companies by sharing her experience, her knowledge of marketing, and her connections with the big players in the market.
Her closing advice to entrepreneurs following in her footsteps?
“Be positive, be passionate, and be persistent. And you will make your way. Never give up.”
Jane Liu is known for her curiosity. So we turned the tables on her.
A mentor in your life?
I always think about my mom. She was a very wise woman. When I wanted to start my own manufacturing, my dad says, ‘No, that’s too hard for a girl.’ And my mom says to me, ‘Success for an entrepreneur is you know how to start it, and you know how to end it. That’s my advice to you.’ So, I follow that. She told me that to be conservative. Later in her life, she told me, ‘Jane, follow your heart. I’m not going to give you any restrictions anymore. Because you proved to me that you work hard, and you know how to manage your business.’ That’s my mom.”
Advice on marketing:
There are several ways to practice your marketing, but the principle is the same: Create a need. There’s always only one problem, but there are so many ways to solve the one problem.
How do you relax outside of work?
Easy. I am a person who when I’m working, I concentrate on what I do. If I’m out of the office, then out of sight out of mind. I know how to relax.
Your favorite piece of clothing?
I like jeans. I wear jeans a lot, and that was against my mom’s education for me. She always wanted to dress us nice, but jeans are my favorite. Any clothing—cotton, t-shirts, or whatever—that makes me feel comfortable.
A woman leader you’d like to meet?
I think any people who have their successful stories or are up and down. You don’t only learn from people who are successful. You can learn from someone who has a failure story but is still positive and working to come up. Those are all the people I want to meet.
What are you reading right now?
“If you help others, you can always get good luck.”