GlobalFoundries and Cultural Diversity
By David Lammers
In 2006, I had an interesting interview with Jim Doran about cultural diversity and chip manufacturing. Doran, who held manufacturing executive positions during a long career at Intel, AMD, Spansion, and finally GlobalFoundries, made several points that bear a brief retelling:
“This industry is an interesting mix of business, science and people,” Doran noted. “We all deal with electrons that move around in the same way, but there is a huge difference in how companies get value out of their asset base — company to company,” he said, detailing several methods he found useful to bring out the best in people from different cultures.
For example: Spansion, where Doran worked at the time of the 2006 interview, needed to come up with common metrics to measure productivity at its fabs in Austin and northeastern Japan, such as line yield, cycle times, and labor productivity.
I asked Doran if Japanese engineers, imbued with a pride in things Made in Japan, were “stubborn.”
Doran replied that “it often does take a longer time to get our Japanese colleagues to accept a new or radical idea. Any culture has pride and wants to be successful, and wants to build on that success. So yes, their first choice tends to be resistance. The other side of that is, once you do get an idea accepted, there is going to be a march-to-the-goal-line kind of thing, in a very dedicated way. You have to spend more time up front building consensus in Japan, but once you do, by my observation, then you just have to get out of the way.”
Doran’s answers were accurate, insightful, and extremely credible, given his experience building and managing fabs around the world.
GlobalFoundries is not the only multi-cultural company in the semiconductor industry, of course, but it may be unique in that among its 11,000 employees it has an almost equal-parts mix of Americans (which involves several dozen different nationalities, for example, currently working at the Malta, N.Y. Fab 8), Germans at the Dresden Fab 1 complex, and the Singaporeans with their hard-won foundry management experience. And now we can add people from Abu Dhabi and the Middle East, with a likelihood that the eventual Abu Dhabi fab will be staffed with hundreds of engineers from India and the other nations in the sub-continent.
What other company is so decidedly multi-cultural in its ownership, management, and overall workforce?
At the GlobalFoundries technology event in Santa Clara, the multi-cultural theme kept popping up. Because managers from the former Chartered had experience running multi-product fabs, a team of ex-Chartered managers transferred to Dresden to infuse the multi-product culture into the German engineers there.
The senior executive at Dresden currently is Kay Chai Ang, in charge of 300mm fab operations at GlobalFoundries. GlobalFoundries recently hired an ex-NXP fab manager, Rutger Wijburg, as the new general manager of the Dresden operation. Wijburg, a Dutchman who speaks several European languagues fluently, will report to Ang. Interim CEO Ajit Manocha said he is spending much of his time in Dresden to manage the ramp there.
The mix of cultures is bound to be a long-term positive for GlobalFoundries. It should not be overlooked that Singapore itself is a multi-cultural society, with the dominant Chinese co-existing profitably with Western expats, a large infusion of Malaysians who provide much of the fab labor, and people of Indian heritage.
The German workers bring a dedication to quality. Just as Germany’s car industry has done well at the high-performance end of Audi, Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes Benz, Germany’s semiconductor engineers bring a similar devotion to engineering excellence. For GlobalFoundries Dresden, that was expressed in the manufacture of AMD’s microprocessors, a high-performance product line.
The question facing the Dresden work force is whether it can increase its flexibility, ranging from the ability to make multiple and lower-cost products to an ability to work well with non-German engineers who might have a different view of how problems can be solved.
For the Singaporeans, creativity is a challenge. In Confucian cultures such as China and Japan, the social hierarchy is important. Coming up with new and innovative solutions to chip manufacturing challenges perhaps doesn’t come quite as naturally to the Singaporeans as it needs to.
Since I know very little about Abu Dhabi or the people there, I had best refrain from saying anything about the subject.
The cultural diversity of GlobalFoundries is its greatest asset. Developing an openness to the unique characteristics shared by people from other cultures is something that doesn’t come naturally to all problem solvers. But it must be a top priority for this global foundry as it searches for a new CEO.