With a little early help from her brother, ViewSonic founder James Chu, Christine Liang has grown the Bay Area's biggest female-owned business.




t's no secret that the personal computer boom is fueled by inexpensive, reliable components built in Taiwan, Corea and Japan and assembled by U.S.-based "system integrators". Translation -- just about anyone with a garage, a circuit tester and a soldering iron. Big PC companies like Compaq, Dell and Gateway can send executives to Asia to strike multi-billion-dollar deals from the leading manufacturers, but the tens of thousands of systems integrators who sell anywhere from a new dozen to a few thousand computers a year find it much more efficient to turn to distributors who import components and keep them in warehouses for convenient shipment. Among the top handful of such distributors is an attractive woman in her mid thirties named Christine Liang who immigrated from Taiwan barely ten years ago but runs and owns a 51% stake in $350-million-a-year Asia Source Inc.

     It's an impressive feat that isn't diminished by the initial help she got in 1987 from a big brother who happens to be ViewSonic founder James Chu, one of the ten most successful Asian American entrepreneurs of all time.

     "I owe a lot of my success to my brother James," Liang readily acknowledges. "When we were first starting out, he sold us computer monitors and components at his cost. That was a tremendous help." As any fledgling entrepreneur knows, that can of an initial boost is invaluable, but it can't account for the magnitude of Liang's success. She was ranked 17th by the 1996 Working Woman list of the top 50 female-owned companies. That was followed by being named the Bay Area's top female-owned business by the San Jose Mercury News.

     The list of reasons for Liang's success would be long, but foremost among them may be ASI's guarnatee of 24-hour delivery to resellers. Another may be the money and effort she has devoted to creating a beautiful catalog that goes out regularly to the company's 10,000 customers. The catalog's offerings -- monitors, disk drives, keyboards, motherboards, floppy drives -- may not seem glamorous but priced right and presented in a glossy, attractive catalog, they grab the eyeballs and pocketbooks of systems integrators.

     But the catalogs can only take the business so far because the PC components market is fast-paced, with big price fluctuations on the spot market by the hour. A bad volume buy at prices a few percentage points too high could put a reseller or an integrator at a huge competitive disadvantage in a market of highly price-sensitive endusers. That's why ASI's phone lines are humming around the clock to take advantage of changes in the spot market and to service the needs of integrators whose own order desks are every bit as volatile.


     In part to reduce dependence on the lightning-quick market, and in hopes of adding to a wholesaler's slender profit margins, Liang took the gamble of launching a PC line called Nspire which will bear the ASI brand, giving resellers the option of selling a ready-assembled product that will cost them little more than they would spend to buy components and assemble their own PCs.

     Fremont-based ASI has grown aggressively, partly out of the need to locate inventory close to its farflung network of customers and partly to satisfy Liang's stated ambition to "be number one". In recent years she has added warehouses in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas, Los Angeles and Picscataway, New Jersey. Its 120 Bay-Area employees are now only a third of its nationwide workforce of 350. The company generated sales of $326 million in 1995 and an estimated $350 million in 1996. PAGE 2

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Christine Liang is the younger sister of ViewSonic founder James Chu.

“I owe a lot of my success to my brother James. When we were starting out, he sold us computer monitors and components at his cost.”

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