The United States is working to boost domestic semiconductor production, and passage of the $52 billion CHIPS and Science Act this year is helping attract investment from Intel, Samsung, GlobalFoundries and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, better known as TSMC.
Another Taiwan-based industrial supplier preparing to invest in the United States is GlobalWafers, one of the world’s largest producers of silicon wafers used in chip manufacturing. In June, it announced it would invest up to $5 billion in a factory in Sherman, Texas, creating up to 1,500 jobs. The groundbreaking for the first silicon wafer factory to be built in the United States in two decades will take place on December 1. GlobalWafers already has factories in the United States, mainland China, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Denmark and Italy; it competes with Shin-Etsu, Sumco, and Siltronic, and has a client list that includes IBM, Sharp, and Panasonic.
Based on her success to date, GlobalWafers Chairman and CEO Doris Hsu made the 2022 Asia Power Businesswomen list unveiled by Forbes Asia this month. I spoke to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana graduate computer science graduate Wednesday via Zoom from company headquarters in Hsinchu. We discussed the new Texas project, the influence of geopolitics on the company’s investments and Hsu’s success tips. “Don’t measure yourself by what you’ve already accomplished,” she said. “You have to measure yourself against what you can achieve with your abilities.” Edited excerpts follow.
Flannery: How did you choose Sherman for your latest investment in the United States? You already have another factory there.
Hsu: That’s right. We have an epi (epitaxial) wafer operation in Sherman established in 1999. At that time, we were only one of the small shareholders in the company. But in 2008, we bought 100% of the shares. It is now a very important entity for us in the United States and is by far the largest eight-inch wafer cob operation in the industry. It’s been very successful and all of our management team members come from Texas Instruments. It’s 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 then immediately chose plan B – organic growth. This means that we have to do a lot of expansion on our existing campuses. We are now growing in six countries, but that is not enough because our customers want to get more from us; another very important point for customers is geopolitical concerns. Many customers invite us to build an operation in their country. They don’t want to see a big Taiwanese company, GlobalWafers, build another new factory in Taiwan. They prefer to have a local fab.
So we have been invited by several countries including Korea, Taiwan, Japan, American and European customers. We care a lot about total cost competitiveness, whichever side we choose. Ultimately, we’re selling wafers; the wafer must absolutely be of good quality and also at a competitive price. 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 had better choose a place where the energy and electricity resources are not 100% coal.
In addition, proximity is very important: you must be as close as possible to your customer. Considering all these factors, we have found that the United States is the best choice. We have a lot of customers in the United States and there is very little wafer capacity there. 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 capacity. 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 biggest in the United States. I think that it’s good.
What’s even more interesting to us is that President Biden approved the CHIPS Act. This made it more interesting because the overall construction costs in the United States are almost five times higher than in Taiwan or Asia. The price of equipment is similar, but the price of construction is too high. If we can get support from the government, that will definitely make the whole project more commercially logical for us. The CHIPS Act helps a lot from a cost competitiveness perspective.
Another reason we chose the United States is that in Taiwan, it is not so easy to find a large land and sufficient power supply. For wafers you need a lot of space. We have found Texas to be a good place for us because we can find space there quite easily too.
Flannery: This year, you made Forbes Asia’s list of powerful businesswomen because of 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. And also, I remember learning from one of our professors (CL Liu at the University of Illinois) that nothing is easy in high tech or science. It’s very difficult. Only the best can climb to the top and stay there. I thought I would love to stay there (laughs). I thought, “Maybe I can try some of that.” It was the context.
Flannery: With so many opportunities in STEM-related fields, what kind of career advice do you give to students and graduates, especially women?
Hsu: A few months ago, I was invited to give a lecture at one of the very good girls’ high schools in Taiwan. My conclusion to the young girls was: “Dare to dream – you can certainly achieve much more than you can imagine.” It doesn’t matter if you are girls or boys, as long as you dare to dream, you can achieve much more than you can imagine.
So I say to our team – which includes many women – and what I remember is, “Don’t measure yourself by what you’ve already achieved. You have to measure yourself against what you can accomplish with your abilities. I believe that we can always do much better than we imagine.
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