As he tells the story, what was originally estimated as a six-month process before they could possibly restart the Naka fab was cut in half. By early June, Naka’s 200mm line began operation and, a week later, the 300-mm line restarted. This was because “to get Renesas up and running was a national priority – at least one of the national priorities – to the Japanese government,” he explained. But more important, the goal was achieved through extraordinary measures by suppliers, contractors – and even sometimes competitors who made no bones about diverting necessary equipment deliveries to Renesas.
At the peak of its recovery efforts in April, 2,500 people were working shifts around the clock, 24/7, all running a thousand different tasks in parallel, Mahoney explained.
Considering the magnitude of a disaster in which many employees lost their homes, Renesas management wouldn’t have dared demand a swift return from any of its employees in the area.
But in reality, as soon as these employees dealt with their own life and death issues, they all wanted to come back, said Mahoney. Each seemed to view the success of the company – getting Renesas back – as a personal goal.
Mahoney was visiting Japan just a week before the earthquake hit on March 11th. He found himself already back in Japan in mid-April, as he led a group of customers who requested the trip to get the first-hand information on Renesas.
Comparing Renesas before and after the quake, Mahoney observed a fresh energy among Renesas employees, dedicating themselves to the company’s full recovery. He said misfortune has turned a traditional, conservative and sometimes stodgy chip maker into “a new company.”
What did Renesas learn from this experience?
First, he said, “I personally learned the real power of teamwork. Everyone saw firsthand the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts.”
After giving a few moments to his own thoughts, Mahoney added, “Second, again, personally I learned that the fairness, integrity and transparency in our treatment of customers can draw us much closer to them.” Mahoney added, “We learned the importance of respecting and trusting our customers to handle the truth.”
Yasushi Akao, President of Renesas Electronics in Japan, made a conscious effort, since the day one after the quake, to not play favorites in dealing with customers. He banned preferential treatment to Japanese custimers, just because they are in Japan. The Japanese semiconductor company allocated parts based on pre-earthquake demand and forecast among every customer – including its smallest customers – scattered around North America, Europe, China and Asia. Keeping the trust of customers abroad was the top priority for Akao, Mahoney explained.
Third, earthquakes can happen anywhere, said Mahoney. The whole experience “has given us the opportunity to re-evaluate the importance of redundancy in manufacturing capability.”
Of course, none of these things negate the hard truth that the Japanese earthquake continues to plague the semiconductor industry. Revenues and forecasts are still affected by the disaster.