IT MAY NOT BE the most exciting of accolades, but ASM Pacific takes some pride in being the world's No 1 chip assembly and machine maker. And in a slumping semiconductor industry, the company has fared pretty well. Just two weeks ago, it announced a 23 per cent rise in net profit to US$36.5 million. Yes, this is down almost 74 per cent from its most profitable time two years ago, but it was enough to keep the company at the top of its league - most of its major competitors are deep in the red. Managing director Patrick Lam See-pong took some time out recently to explain how the company has been fighting back amid the severe downturn. Q: What has been the key to your success so far? A: For a high-technology company the most important asset is talent. Talent is not something you can easily find on the street. It is something that takes years to accumulate and nurture. With our own home-grown talent, we incorporated new technology, which speeded up our growth. That is why we managed to become the top company three years ahead of our target. Q: What do you think you have managed to get right in the last five years? A: Every country will groom its own talent, but the question is who the best people work for. We were so lucky. In the early 1980s when we started our business, the job market was favourable to us. At that time the best people went for science and the best science people had chosen engineering. Engineering graduates became engineers, and they joined ASM. Had we started our business 10 years later, we would have been missing all this talent because the best people in the 90s went into the financial field. Q: How do you continue hiring such talent? A: The job market again seems conducive to us. We have over 50 PhDs in our company. In the past, no one went for PhDs, but the bad economy pushed more people into studying. Ten years ago a PhD meant a tenure in the academic world, but now it takes a strong academic background and a famous school name to become a professor. So many make ASM their home. Q: What have you done that your rivals have not? A: Unlike consumer products, which gain market share in a very short time, it takes us a comparatively long time to gain on others. We offered diversified products. Our competitors tried but without success. Their focus was more short term, mainly through acquisitions. If the acquisition did not work, they cut out. Q: Is that the reason ASM is not keen on acquisitions? A: With acquisitions, it takes so much time to integrate the different parts of the business, and they might not have the synergies one would have thought. It is not easy to gain access into a new market through acquisitions either. For a company that has had presence in the market for this long, we do not need acquisitions for growth. Q: How are you coping with the trend to move to China? A: Of our five largest customers, two already have China set-ups with another two Taiwanese companies having plans to set up in China. If our clients move to China, we can help them with the process.