Steve Appleton, who died Friday Feb.3, 2012, in a plane crash, worked for Micron Technology Inc. throughout his professional career. And soon after he took the top job there in 1994 he became boss of the last U.S. DRAM maker. As such it was a highly politicized position and it suited him; a robust operator who could be vocal against overseas competition.
Throughout his career he sought to grow Micron's scale by picking up businesses here and wafer fabs there, as others lost their appetite for the hard graft. It can be seen that Appleton was a conservative who used U.S. strategic considerations to his company's advantage but who, with his untimely death, has left Micron holding the bag on DRAM and half in and half out of NAND flash memory via a joint venture with Intel.
Appleton was already at Micron in the 1980s, but not yet in a senior position, when anti-dumping suits against Japanese DRAM manufacturers – led by Micron – and SIA petitions to the U.S. government started to have their effect. In September 1986, a semiconductor trade agreement was signed that addressed concerns over dumping of chips at below cost in the U.S. market and access to the Japanese market for U.S. companies. The Japanese specifically undertook to increase foreign companies' market share to 20 percent within five years.
It may well have been these maneuvers that colored Appleton's approach during the next major DRAM crisis.
But in June 1998, soon after Appleton had risen to the position of chairman and CEO at Micron, he was looking to build Micron's position. The company agreed to take over the DRAM business of Texas Instruments Inc., increasing market share but at a time when Micron was making losses due to collapsing selling prices for DRAMs.
It's not possible to encapsulate the life of a man in two pages, but as far as Appleton's career in the semiconductor business, this hits the highs and lows as well as it possibly could. It's a very sad day for the chip industry.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.