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The story behind TSMC's Morris Chang

2017/10/02 21:43:12

CNA file photo

Taipei, Oct. 2 (CNA) The announcement on Monday by Morris Chang (張忠謀), chairman and founder of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC, 台積電), that he would retire next June was surprising, but not unexpected.

The electronics guru, known as the "father of semiconductors" for founding and building TSMC into the world's largest semiconductor foundry, is currently 86 years old.

That's way above the average age of Fortune 500 CEOs. But age has never stopped Chang from pursuing his vision for the company.

He founded TSMC when he was 56 and over the past 30 years, he has turned it into the leading company in this field.

TSMC's customers include leading companies such as Apple Inc., Qualcomm, Nvidia, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), MediaTek, Marvell, STMicroelectronics and Broadcom.

Despite his advanced age, Chang always managed to keep TSMC ahead of its competitors, by expanding and upgrading its manufacturing capability throughout its existence.

This allowed TSMC's market capitalization to surpass that of semiconductor giant Intel for the first time in March 2017, when it hit NT$5.14 trillion (US$168.4 billion), ahead of Intel's US$165.7 billion.

But Chang's devotion to semiconductors didn't just start with TSMC. He has dedicated most of his life to the manufacturing of semiconductors, such as integrated circuits and wafers.

He began his professional career in the industry at Sylvania Semiconductor in the United States in 1955 after obtaining his bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Three years later, he joined Texas Instrument (TI), where he would spend 25 years of his life learning about and making advances in the field of semiconductors. He previously referred to these years, his youth, as the "youth of semiconductors" as well.

Chang rose quickly in ranks at TI, where he ultimately became vice president responsible for the company's worldwide semiconductor business.

In 1985, the Taiwanese government recruited Chang to run the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a decision that perhaps altered the course of Taiwan's development in science and technology forever.

As head of the ITRI, Chang was in charge of promoting industrial and technological development in Taiwan. Being the visionary that he is, he took his experience working in the semiconductor industry and combined it with a rising trend at the time of outsourcing to found TSMC.

Since its founding in 1987, TSMC has become the leading semiconductor foundry, taking up more than 50 percent of the global market share.

Market experts are all in agreement that without Chang or his TSMC, Taiwan's semiconductor industry would not have the success it has today.

TSMC not only lists major companies such as Apple, Qualcomm, and Nvidia as its customers, but a few of its competitors, including Intel, have also outsourced production to the company.

Using a historical analogy, Chang once noted that TSMC's function as a contract chip maker is to the company what Stalingrad was to the Soviet Union, meaning that without this role to play, the company would not exist.

To this end, Chang has repeatedly made sure that TSMC is the leader amongst all pure wafer foundries and the go-to company for production, whether it is through forging international partnerships or investing in new plants abroad.

Chang's clear vision of what he wanted TSMC to be, a pure play foundry that does not compete with its customers, has meant that, as he put it, the company does not have to pivot and change directions even while many companies struggle to stay afloat.

Even as he plans his retirement and talks about reserving more of his time for himself and his family, Chang has already mapped out the future of the company after he leaves. The company will be co-led by Mark Liu (劉德音) as chairman and C.C. Wei (魏哲家) as chief executive officer, two top executives he has helped groom.

With Liu and Wei in charge of the company and a board of mostly the same directors supervising, Chang seems confident that TSMC can continue to lead and innovate in its industry.

Due to his leadership and success in this field, it's not surprising that Chang has won many accolades. The most recent one came last month when the technology tycoon was named by Forbes magazine as one of the most visionary leaders in the world.

In the report, titled "100 Greatest Living Business Minds," Chang was quoted as saying: "Commitment means dedication and loyalty to a task or an organization. Innovation means change. Trust from customers of course has to be earned, and I try to earn it by integrity and commitment."

These core values of integrity and commitment, which Chang lives by and on which TSMC was built, are expected to remain as the company's guiding forces even come next June after the annual shareholders meeting from which point Chang will no longer participate in any of TSMC's management activities.

The man, whom many consumers across the world have to thank for their functioning smartphones, explained his retirement with the following statement:

"The past 30-odd years, during which I founded and devoted myself to TSMC, have been an extraordinarily exciting and happy phase of my life. Now, I want to reserve my remaining years for myself and my family."

In doing so, Chang will be marking the end of a great chapter not only in TSMC's history, but also in the history of Taiwan and the world's high-tech sector.

(By Chung Jung-feng and Kuan-lin Liu)