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’”.

 

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4 Comments

  1. david manners
    August 10, 2014 20:06

    yes Qimonda made a big deal of buried wordline when they were struggling to find a buyer but it didn’t save them. In the end you survive in DRAM by hoarding cash in the good times to see you through the bad times. Somehow Infineon/Qimonda never quite got the hang of that.

  2. Mike Bryant
    August 10, 2014 19:13

    But by the time of their failure Infineon and then Qimondo had invented buried wordline which would have kept them in the game had they had the funding needed. Even to this day, several DRAM companies are paying royalties into their administrators.

  3. david manners
    August 10, 2014 13:57

    Yes indeed Marcus, licensing is not usually as enduring a strategy as home-grown technology although Taiwan did well from its CMOS licence with RCA and Samsung did well with its flash licence from Toshiba. I suppose at some point you have to take responsibility for fundamental technology development if you are to succeed long-term. Interesting about Nokia – they got on top when the European-developed GSM was the world standard then fell when the world went for Qualcomm’s CDMA technology. Europe seemed to give up after its success with GSM.

  4. marcus
    August 10, 2014 13:23

    Yes buying technology is a short-term success and long-term failure. Why infineon had to quit memory? because it had no proper roots in memory, all of their products were copies of Japanese and Americans’ know how. similar tragedy happened in Nokia. we Europeans taking bad habits in capitalism while American companies like Micron take a long-term view grow.

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