Rick Wallace, president and CEO of KLA-Tencor, provided the keynote talk at the SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) this year, held Jan 12-15 in Half Moon Bay, CA. He said he believes the semiconductor industry might be facing a “Concorde” moment, referring to the demise of supersonic passenger transport, the last flight of which was on 24 October 2003. “That failed not because of technology but because of economics,” Wallace said. He sees a similar challenge coming down the road for continued scaling. “Moore’s Law is much more likely to die in the boardroom than the laboratory,” said.
Wallace also spoke about “The Road Less Traveled,” seeming to indicate that the more traveled one is that of consolidation, which Wallace said leads to “losses in agility, flexibility and innovation.” He said larger firms are not effective at driving innovation although they are effective at driving continuous improvement. “It’s tough to see how a large scale merger makes a company better,” he said. “Some firms will be too big to fail but my fear is that they will become too big to innovate.”
The solution he said is young people. “We need to attract the young talent if we want real innovation. The longer you’re around the more you see what can’t be done,” he said.
Wallace told a story about explaining to his 10 year old daughter what his company by using the iPad as an example. His daughter thought about it and said she understood: it was the magic behind the gadget.
Part of attracting young people to the semiconductor industry is through education. After Rick’s presentation, Denny McGuirk, president of SEMI, presented an award to Rick and to L.T. Guttadauro, president of the Fab Owners Association, in recognition of their work on SEMI’s High Tech University (HTU). HTU is a career exploration program that encourages student interest in science, technology, engineering and match. Since 2001, the SEMI Foundation has delivered 143 programs to 4800 students and teachers worldwide.
Although some view the semiconductors as a commodity, hopefully efforts such as that of the HTU will explain the magic behind the gadget. “Who doesn’t want to work on magic?” Wallace asked.