Part of the charm of HTC, the fast-growing Taiwanese smartphone company, is that it strives to maintain an air of eager-to-please humbleness – or as its marketing tagline goes, of being “quietly brilliant” – even as it climbs through the ranks of the world’s biggest smartphone makers.
So it was a bit of a surprise when Cheng Hui-ming, chief financial officer, bawled out an analyst during the quarterly results conference call on Thursday for asking what seemed a rather innocuous question.

The Taiwanese analyst (whose name was, perhaps fortunately for him, impossible to catch from the operator’s introduction) had the temerity to compare HTC to Motorola. He suggested that the two companies shared many similarities in its strategies and strengths, with HTC only having an edge in its cash position.

“Faced with such a strong competitor, what strategy does HTC have to compete,” he asked.

This did not sit well with Mr Cheng at all. “I’m not sure how to respond to your question. It reveals a huge misunderstanding you have of our company,” he said. When the analyst tried to repeat the question, Mr Cheng said: “Let me ask you a question, do you know if our revenue is bigger, or theirs?”

Mr Cheng repeated the demand as the embarrassed analyst stammered away, trying to rephrase his original question. The conference call eventually ended on that sour note.

The analyst, however, could hardly be blamed for not answer Mr Cheng’s question. Motorola’s mobile sales in the first quarter were $1.6bn, higher than HTC’s revenue of T$37.95bn ($1.2bn) over the same period. Perhaps he did not mention it because it was not an answer that would have pleased the already irate Mr Cheng.

HTC did surge ahead in the second quarter with revenues of T$60.96bn ($1.93bn), compared to Motorola’s $1.7bn, largely flat from Q1. But the analyst could not have known that at the time – Motorola did not announce its results until several hours after HTC’s conference call ended.

A storm in a teacup, perhaps, but from a PR perspective it seemed neither quiet, nor brilliant.

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