The U.S. is working to ramp up domestic semiconductor manufacturing, and passage of the $52 billion CHIPS and Science Act this year is helping to attract investment from companies like Intel, Samsung, GlobalFoundries, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, better known as TSMC extension.
Another Taiwan-based industrial supplier preparing to invest in the US is GlobalWafers, one of the world’s largest producers of silicon wafers used in chip manufacturing. In June, it said it would invest up to $5 billion in a plant in Sherman, Texas, creating up to 1,500 jobs. The grand opening of the first US-built silicon wafer plant in two decades will be held on December 1. GlobalWafers already has factories in the United States, mainland China, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Denmark and Italy; it competes with the likes of Shin-Etsu, Sumco and Siltronic and boasts a client list that includes IBM, Sharp and Panasonic.
Building on her success to date, GlobalWafers CEO Doris Hsu has made the Asia Power 2022 Women Entrepreneur list unveiled by Forbes Asia this month. On Wednesday, I spoke with the holder of a computer science degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana via Zoom from the company’s headquarters in Hsinchu. We discussed the new Texas project, how geopolitics are affecting the company’s investments, and Hsu’s tips for success. “Don’t measure yourself by what you’ve already achieved,” she said. “You have to measure yourself by what you can achieve with your skills.” Amended excerpts follow.
Flannery: How did you choose Sherman for your latest US investment? You already have another factory there.
Hsu: That’s correct. We have a silicon epi (epitaxial) wafer operation in Sherman that was established in 1999. At the time, we were just one of the small shareholders in the company. But in 2008 we bought 100% of the shares. It’s now a very important entity to us in the United States and is by far the largest eight-inch silicon wafer epi operation in the industry. It is very successful and all of our management team members are previously from Texas Instruments. This is a good team.
Why make the new investment in the United States? On February 1, we announced that we were unable to acquire a German company, Siltronic. We therefore immediately chose plan B: organic growth. This means we have to do a lot of expansion on our existing brownfield campuses. We are now expanding to six countries, but that’s not enough because our customers want to get more from us; another very important point for customers is geopolitical concerns. Many clients are inviting us to build an operation in their country. They don’t want to see a big Taiwanese company, GlobalWafers, build another new fab in Taiwan. They prefer to have a fabulous venue.
So we have been invited from different countries, including Korea, Taiwan, Japan, USA and European customers. We care a lot about the total cost competitiveness no matter which side we choose. Ultimately, we sell wafers; the wafer must certainly be of good quality and also of a competitive cost. Cost competitiveness is one of the very important factors for us.
A second is something everyone is talking about: ESG and green solutions. We have found that we need to be as green as possible. This means that we would do better to choose a place where energy and electricity resources do not come 100% from coal.
Also, proximity is very important – you need to be as close to your customer as possible. Given all these factors, we have found that the United States is the best choice. We have many US customers and the silicon wafer capacity is very small. There are big companies like Apple, Amazon, Intel and Micron and so many big foundries and IDMs (embedded device manufacturers), but there is very little advanced silicon wafer capability. The last silicon wafer factory in the United States was built 20 years ago. We are the very first in the last 20 years and we will also build the best and largest in the US. I think it’s good.
What’s even more interesting to us is that President Biden passed the CHIPS Act. This made this more attractive because overall construction costs in the US are almost five times higher than in Taiwan or Asia. The equipment price is similar, but the build price is too high. If we can get government support, that will surely make the whole project more commercially sensible for us. The CHIPS Act helps a lot from a cost competitiveness point of view.
Another reason we chose the United States is that it is not so easy to find a large plot of land and sufficient power supply in Taiwan. For silicon wafers, you need a lot of space. We have found that Texas is a good location for us because we can find space there quite easily as well.
Flannery: This year you made the Forbes Asia Power Businesswomen List for your success in the tech industry. How has your professional interest in a STEM field evolved?
Hsu: I really liked physics and math when I was young. Also, I remember learning from one of our professors (CL Liu of the University of Illinois) that nothing in high technology or science is easy. It’s very difficult. Only the best can climb to the top and stay there. I thought I would really like to stay there (laughs). I thought, “Maybe I can try some of this.” That was the background.
Flannery: With so many opportunities in STEM fields, what kind of career advice do you give students and graduates, especially women?
Hsu: A couple of months ago, I was invited to give a talk at one of the top-rated girls’ high schools in Taiwan. My closing to the young ladies was: “Dare to dream: you can surely achieve much more than you can imagine.” It doesn’t matter whether you are a girl or a boy, as long as you dare to dream, you can achieve much more than you can imagine.
Also, I tell our team – which includes a lot of women – and what I remind myself is, “Don’t measure yourself against what you’ve already achieved. You have to measure yourself against what you can achieve with your skills. I believe we can always do much better than we imagine ourselves.
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