A retrospective on the career of Steve Appleton, Chairman and CEO of memory chip vendor Micron Technology, who died Friday in a plane crash.
In the late 1990s, as in the 1980s, accusations of DRAM dumping were being made, but this time against South
Korean chip companies. Korean DRAM maker Hyundai, which became Hynix,
faced bankruptcy and Appleton was vociferous in his condemnation of
moves to support Hynix and other South Korean companies.
In February 1998 Appleton accused the Korean government of already violating the conditions of the bailout package to the country provided by the International Monetary Fund. He told a House Banking Committee hearing: "We should not send tax dollars to Korea to brace up insolvent companies, on the one hand, while turning a blind eye to their export surge strategies that are harming U.S. companies, on the other." Appleton added: "If these were companies operating in the United States, they would have two choices – bankruptcy or undertake a massive belt tightening by cutting capital spending and bringing output back into line with current demand."
In December 2001, after another difficult year for DRAM, Micron agreed to acquire the commodity DRAM business of Toshiba, including the company's Dominion Semiconductor LLC manufacturing facility in Manassas,Virginia. . At the same time Hynix and Micron announced the companies had agreed to hold preliminary discussions to explore a possible strategic alliance or "other transaction."
In February 2002 the deal was proving difficult to make with leaks from Hynix to the Korean press that the company's debtors wanted $4.8 billion while Appleton who had started with an offer of around $2 billion had only been prepared to go to $3.8 billion. At the time Hynix owed about $6.5 billion in debt.
Despite what may have been attempts to force his hand Appleton signed a non-binding agreement to buy Hynix memory operations for $3.2 billion in stock and a $200-million cash investment for 15 percent of Hynix non-memory activities. Almost immediately, at the beginning of May 2002 the deal fell through.
As we now know the deal, which could have been a defining moment in Appleton's career, never happened and in the end Hynix' debt was converted into equity by the banks, a legacy which in part hangs over the company to this day.
Meanwhile, the rocky DRAM road continued to take its toll and in 2003 the company announced the intention to lay off roughly 1,800 workers, or 10 percent of its workforce, in a bid to return to profitability in the unforgiving world of commodity PC memory.
Intel, which to help it sell PC processors needed DRAMs for in package cache memory, was the savior of Micron. Intel invested $450 million in Micron in September 2003 to help it expand 300-mm wafer production and DDR2 production.
In July 2004, Appleton's love of adrenalin-fueled activities caught up with him when his stunt plane crashed in the desert east of Boise. Appleton was injured in that incident but managed to get away with an injured back, cuts and bruises. One other passenger, Micron employee Michael Duffy, was reported to have injuries of a "similar severity" at the time.