One of the most extraordinary recent events in the chip industry has been the saga of Micron’s Italian sackings.
Micron was founded by a bunch of genius memory designers led by Ward Parkinson and Doug Pitman back in 1979 after the group had been seduced, the year before, into working for the UK start-up Inmos whose co-founder was Paul Schroeder who used to be the team’s boss at Mostek.
They were the greatest team of memory designers in the world.
Mostek lured them back with the promise of setting them up as an independent design consultancy.
Then an old college friend of Parkinson, who had a rich Dad called J.R Simplot, persuaded his father to back them, which he did on condition they set up shop in his own back-yard in Boise, Idaho.
“We’re going to have some millionaires out here in the sagebrush,” said Simplot at the time, but he probably never envisaged quite how many. Micron did $14.2 billion in revenues last year and is a major world company.
But, at heart, Micron are still a bunch of genius memory designers – getting the smallest die in the industry at every node.
One remembers Infineon CEO Ulrich Schumacher getting his great pal Steve Appleton, then CEO of Micron, to allow Schumacher to bring his memory designers over to Boise to see how it should be done.
Micron’s designers have always been world-beaters and therein, ironically, lies the genesis of the cock-up in Italy.
Micron’s romantic but unusual beginnings and its non-traditional location for a tech company have isolated it from the norm.
The engineering is world-beating; the support functions are neglected.
No normal company would announce a global 5% workforce reduction but hit one country with a 40% reduction.
No normal company would put out a statement in which the last sentence said it would honour severance pay obligations and then, about half an hour later, put out another statement saying the last sentence should be deleted.
No normal company would then ‘no comment’ a question about whether severance would, or would not, be paid.
No normal company would put managers in charge of the sackings who had no authority to decide issues relating to it.
No normal company would have let the affair drag on for six weeks, making a public spectacle of itself, with the employees continually making their case in the media while the employers don’t make their case publicly at all.
So, for want of a little sensitivity and skill, a major row broke out in Italy involving the President, the Prime Minister, a Vice President of the EC and the founding CEO of STMicroelectronics.
Micron is now a grown-up company but it’s behaving like a start-up. That’s a good attitude for the engineers to have, but a liability when it comes to implementing proper management systems.