HAKONE, Japan – As Japan’s ailing electronics manufacturers continue to lay off engineers by the thousands, the next move here is a focus of intense speculation around the global electronics industry.
Pontificating doom and gloom for Japan from afar is easy. Harder is to gather together a number of Japanese engineers -- all working at competing electronics companies -- in one room and actually ask them straight questions. What do they think has gone wrong, and what do they believe will be the fate of their employers, their jobs and the whole shootin’ match?
It took a Chinese-American CEO running a design service company in Shanghai to pull that off.
Wayne Dai, CEO of VeriSilicon, invited this past weekend (April 20) a dozen Japanese engineers who hold positions (or previously held positions) at rival companies such as Sony, Renesas, NEC, Hitachi, Panasonic, Fujitsu and MegaChips for a weekend retreat in Hakone -- roughly a two-hour train/cab ride from Tokyo. Also invited were VeriSilicon board members including Clark Jernigan, a venture partner at Austin Ventures, and Marco Landi, former chief operating officer at Apple Inc.
For Dai, once a professor of computer engineering at the University of California at Santa Cruz, the mission of his “Japanese Semiconductor Executive Forum” in Hakone was plain and simple. He wanted to probe the future of Japan’s electronics industry through the eyes of “open-minded Japanese engineers,” as he put it. He encouraged everyone who attended to think and speak freely as individuals, not as corporate spokesmen. Dai sought from his guests, before concluding the retreat, a consensus on five “specific” predictions -- what will happen to Japan’s electronics industry -- in precise language.
That he and his group did.
I was invited as a speaker and a participant -- on one condition. Although I’m allowed to report on the Forum, I agreed not to attribute quotes to any participant by name. Seeing a rare opportunity for a reporter to be a fly in the wall, this stipulation was a no-brainer. But I did exchange business cards with every participant, so I can be sure whom I’m not quoting.
Not everyone originally invited was able to make it to the event, however. An engineer at Fujitsu Semiconductor had to be elsewhere, to discuss his early retirement package with his employer. [Fujitsu has decided to shed 2,000 employees before spinning off its SoC business into a joint fabless design company with Panasonic.] An engineer at Panasonic also begged off, citing personal reasons.
Everyone who came had already given a lot of thought to what’s gone wrong with Japan’s electronics industry.
A Sony engineer observed that the decline of Japan’s SoC business comes down to one thing. “The whole SoC business model has changed to ‘turnkey solutions.’” Japanese semiconductor companies, without a turnkey solution, have no choice but to provide semi-custom SoCs to high-end CE manufacturers whose market share is shrinking. “We’ve been squeezed,” he said.
Maybe you don`t understand the very big picture here. Yes the companies you have listed is well known but I want more significant or heavily involve companies especially in making important contribution. you listed companies like Siemens, Infinion, Zeiss, BASF is like American listed Dow Chemicals, Dupont, HP, TI etc or Japan listed Sony, Fujitsu, Advantest, Toray etc, or Korean with their infamous Samsung, Samsung SDI, LG etc, this all big companies or may I said typical mention companies. This not what I looking for. And I dare to said this German companies not on par on significant with the likes of Japan or USA. Look at Infinion selling their RF business to Intel, why. The demise of Qimonda, Wheres is German semiconductor business is heading, is German semiconductor business is in better shape than Japanese wheres news always follow the fate of its semi industry. How much contribution of German tech companies in the world semi arena. Same as materials is Japanese companies supply the most to semi business not Germany although they have Aixtron. Germany is now where to be mention much everyday is semi industry than Korea, Japan, USA or Taiwan. But in automotive we will heard everyday about their achievement, new products roll out etc. Even German solar manufacturing industry is in weak shape this day and not much talking occur about it. I can move on and on, but this enough. Thanks.
I also wonder about Germany although they are known as high tech manufacturing country but I think they are not so high tech on par with USA or Japan. Yes Germany are well known with their sophisticated looking cars but how advanced or significant are they in field of semiconductors, electronics, aerospace, or advanced materials to compare with USA or Japan because I cannot find any large involvement of this country (one example in civil aerospace, there are more Japanese involvement in latest aircraft than German can I find ) same as semi, materials etc. Their large exports not equal to its involvement .
I wonder if there are similar developments in other countries? How about Germany? I don't see a future for semiconductor manufacturing there anymore. Do they face similar issues than the engineers in Japan?
Biggest problem for Japan is: It is an Island! Not because of geographics but because of thinking - which may be a result of it. Attempts to make business in the rest of the world often fail, because communication is so difficult and, japanese tend to think that the japanese way must work everywhere. Unfortunately it ONLY works in Japan. Local developed items like a Toyota car or a WII can be selled over the world but development with a customer abroad requires global thinking and understanding which is not in Japans focus.
Most conceivable customers want turnkey solutions from suppliers. Why not? Just pay the materials but not the home-grown R&D fixed cost, and get the solutions (SW, HW, system, or whatever necessary).
The missing part, and this is critical, is: global thinking!
If the end-customer is selling globally, then the solutions must have the global needs (EMEA, Asia, Japan, USA) in mind. Because each specific geography has its own need, local customization is needed. Collapse of the Japanese semiconductor (actually, mainly digital & mixed-signal SOCs right now) industry is partly because of the failure of their OEM customers like Sony / Panasonic / NEC / Sharp / Sanyo / ... They also fared badly in the last 10 years.
If the Japanese semiconductor companies designed their products with the global needs in mind, had the right process to incorporate the market information from the qualified individuals (should be mostly local people, not expatriates) in all the geographies, and the right development engineering process which closely monitor schedule / resources / cost / requirements etc, they could quickly sell variants of products designed for the failed Sony FPTV to LG or TPV or TCL!
In my life, I saw multiple (i.e. not one) instances of bloated resources, excessive schedule delay, incompetent lead engineering, incompetent workwide marketing & sales because the unqualified and incompetent senior people at the Japan headquarters want to control everything! In my 16 years of dealing with one of the big Japan semiconductor companies, such kind of stupidity kept repeating itself.
From the report by Junko, these senior people still don't know why Japan semiconductor industry failed!
Bert, I believe that a big problem in US is the ridiculous compensation given to the top few people (mainly the CEO) in a company. Further, the finance people can so manipulated the economy (collapse in CY2009), ripped most of the rewards, mostly unpunished, yet the middle-class collapsed.
I recall the 10 years I was in England (1979-1989), not many young people want the career of EE because the jobs were typically not well rewarded and engineers had a low corporate status compared to those in management/accounting/business/law etc. Looking at how powerful banks and their allies in Washington are, what is the future for engineers? My crystal ball is muddy!
If you look deeply into what'd happened, "over-work" could be superficial and skin-deep. Many "over-work" results from "over-drink" to build up social relationship. And, in the past, over-work lead to 1.5x/2x of normal pay for those ranked below assistant manager. Given the high cost of living in Japan, many engineers especially the junior simply need to over-work. So, when the junior engineers worked over office hours, their managers have to stay behind, hence a crowd effect.
At the end of the day, if over-work and super-efficiency can be achieved, Japanese semiconductor engineers will be super-productive. Are they? We should all have the answers without asking!
I havent seen a single mention of the effect of culture, of the samurai, of Japanese xenophobia, of a single ethnicity unaffected by diversity. Can you imagine where the US would be today without immigrant engineers and scientists? After Sputnik catalyzed the huge 1960s production of homegrown engineers, leading to the success of our space program, homegrown production of engineers dried up. For a more than a generation, the best and brightest went into finance and Wall Street. Fundamental research at companies like ATT and IBM has virtually dried up. The flow of the best and brightest immigrant engineers has dried up, thanks to 9/11 paranoia, and host companies waking up, and stopping the brain drain. Meanwhile, Japan never had any influx of immigrant brainpower, merely an aging population immersed in the samurai culture of obedience and anti-individualism. And a P.S. to Les: DEC failed because of the hubris brought by momentary success, and Ken Olsen's ignorance of marketing.
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