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The First TSMC CEO James E. Dykes

The First TSMC CEO James E. Dykes
by Daniel Nenni on 08-25-2023 at 6:00 am

Most people ( including ChatGPT) think Morris Chang was the first TSMC CEO but it was in fact Jim Dykes, a very interesting character in the semiconductor industry.

James Dykes TSMC CEO (1)

According to his eulogy: Jim came from the humblest of beginnings, easily sharing that he grew up in a house without running water and never had a bed of his own. But because of his own drive, coupled with compassion, leadership, and intelligence, he was indeed a genuine “success story.” He was honored in his profession with awards too numerous to list. During his long career he held leadership positions in several companies, including Radiation, Harris, General Electric, Philips North America and TSMC in Taiwan. His work took him to locales in Florida, California, North Carolina and Texas as well as overseas, but he returned to his Florida roots to retire, living both in Fort McCoy and St. Augustine.

Jim was known around the semiconductor industry as a friendly, funny, approachable person. I did not know him but some of my inner circle did. According to semiconductor lore, Jim Dykes was forced on Morris Chang by the TSMC Board of Directors due to his GE Semiconductor experience and Philips connections. Unfortunately Jim and Morris were polar opposites and didn’t get along. Jim left TSMC inside the two year mark and was replaced by Morris himself. Morris didn’t like Philips looking over his shoulder and stated that the TSMC CEO must be Taiwanese and he was not wrong in my opinion. Morris then hired Don Brooks as President of TSMC. I will write more about Don Brooks next because he had a lasting influence on TSMC that is not generally known.

One thing Jim left behind that is searchable is industry presentations. My good friend and co-author Paul McLellan covered Jim’s “Four Little Dragons of the Orient and an Emerging Role Model for Semiconductor Companies” presentation quite nicely HERE. This presentation was made in January of 1988 while Jim was just starting as CEO of TSMC. I have a PDF copy in case you are interested.

“I maintain we are no less than a precursor of an entirely new way of doing business in semiconductors. We are a value-added manufacturer with a unique charter… We can have no designs or product of our own. T-S-M-C was established to bridge the gap between what our customers can design and what they can market.”

“We consider ourselves to be a strategic manufacturing resource, not an opportunistic one. We exist because today’s semiconductor companies and users need a manufacturing partner they can trust and our approach, where we and our customers in effect spread costs among many users, yet achieve the economics each seeks, makes it a win-win for everyone.”

So from the very beginning TSMC’s goal was to be the Trusted Foundry Partner which still stands today. From the current TSMC vision and mission statement:

“Our mission is to be the trusted technology and capacity provider of the global logic IC industry for years to come.”

Another interesting Jim Dykes presentation “TSMC Outlook May 1988” is on SemiWiki. It is more about Taiwan than TSMC but interesting  just the same.

“Taiwan, by comparison, is more like Silicon Valley. You find in Taiwan the same entrepreneurial spirit the same willingness to trade hard work for business success and the opportunities to make it happen, that you find in Santa Clara County, and here in the Valley of the Sun. Even Taiwan’s version of Wall Street will seem familiar to many of you. There’s a red-hot stock market where an entrepreneur can take a company public and become rich overnight.”

I agree with this statement 100% and experienced it first hand in the 1990s through today, absolutely.

I was also able to dig up a Jim Dykes presentation “TO BE OR NOT TO BE” from 1982 when he was VP of the Semiconductor Division at GE. In this paper Jim talks about the pros and cons of being a captive semiconductor manufacturer. Captive is what we now call system fabless companies or companies that make their own chips for complete systems they sell (Apple). Remember, at the time, computer system companies were driving the semiconductor industry and had their own fabs: IBM, HP, DEC, DG, etc… so we have come full circle with systems companies making their own chips again.

Soul of New Machine Tracy KidderSpeaking of DG (Data General), I read Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder during my undergraduate studies and absolutely fell in love with the technology. In fact, after graduating, I went to work for DG which was featured in the book.

I have a PDF copy of Jim’s “TO BE OR NOT TO BE” presentation in case you are interested.

Also read:

How Philips Saved TSMC

Morris Chang’s Journey to Taiwan and TSMC

How Taiwan Saved the Semiconductor Industry

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