Ruminations on the electronics industry from David Manners, Senior Components Editor on Electronics Weekly.
The Visionary CFO
Back in the mid-1980s, Siemens and Philips got together to get up to speed in ICs. They would collaborate on process while Siemens would build a 1Mbit DRAM and Philips would build a 256Kbit SRAM.
Jurgen Knorr, CEO of Siemens Semiconductors at the time, realised that the timescales the industry was working to on the 1Mbit DRAM were too short for him to match. So he looked around for help.
“We went to Japan and discussed with NEC, Fujitsu and Mitsubishi if they were willing to co-operate on the 1Mbit”, recounts Knorr, ” but the only person who was really aware of the possibilities was Tsuyoshi Kawanishi of Toshiba – one of the brightest thinkers in the industry. So we took over the 1Mbit from Toshiba.”
Taking public money to develop the chip, then calling in the Japanese to supply the technology gave the German press a field day.
“They criticised us heavily – they were crazy – they didn’t understand”, says Knorr.
“Toshiba was the master of manufacturing CMOS. We spent half a billion deutschmarks bringing up the Regensburg wafer fab and Toshiba taught us how to manufacture in it,” remembers Knorr.
New problems, however, were never far away. “Philips, at that time, was running into problems. They decided to pull out of the Megaproject”, recounts Knorr. So, for the third time, he looked around for help.
“We came together with IBM and started co-development of the 64Mbit”, continues Knorr. Again he ran into critical flak for going with an American partner when he was taking money from the German government and from Europe’s JESSI programme.
“The German government chucked us out of the funding when we went with IBM”, recalls Knorr, “we told them it was the cheapest way of funding the technology but they cut off the funds – crazy guys. We had no more funding from JESSI as a result of that. But our chief financial officer said: ‘Leave governments alone; what you want you get from my pocket’”.