On July 10 Morris Chang, chairman and CEO of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., will be 82 years old. He is expected to step down as CEO in mid-2014, although he may continue as chairman beyond that time.
Chang is without doubt one of the most significant leaders of the semiconductor industry and deserves to be ranked up there with Jack Kilby, Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, Tsugio Makimoto, Pasquale Pistorio and the many other pioneers that have founded and fostered our industry. He has done a superb job helping to create the fabless/foundry business model, then driving it forward and driving the company he founded to its leadership position. But none of us can go on forever and at some point the inevitable must be faced.
It is hard to imagine but Chang was a 25-year veteran at Texas Instrument before he returned to Asia to head up Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in 1985. Chang was already 56 years old when he founded TSMC in 1987.
TSMC is now not only a leader in the foundry business with about 50 percent market share but also a leader in the $300 billion semiconductor industry. It is one of only about half-a-dozen companies that can afford to participate in progressing semiconductor manufacturing at the leading edge.
Chang and TSMC have also done the smart thing of investing when times are good in the adjacent future markets of solar energy conversion and solid-state lighting. These are likely to upcoming high-growth businesses when silicon for information technology is somewhat old and ponderous. Some might argue that has already happened but in 2013 TSMC is on course to set another revenue record with year-to-date sales currently running 23 percent ahead of 2012. It is the foundry market leader in 28-nm CMOS, is tipped to win Apple's processor business, and so everything in the TSMC garden is rosy at present.
But when everything is going so well there is little upside left to be grabbed and observers and analysts start to see the lurking dangers on the downside. And one question that has to be faced is "how will TSMC cope when Chang steps down?" Unless an executive of similar caliber can be found the concern will be that TSMC's performance will deteriorate and Morris Chang will be an almost impossible act to follow.
Mr. Chang's shoes will not be easy to fill, it happens to every company, after the original Entrepreneurs'/founders leave, companies usually cannot sustain the same leadership position.
See what happened to Apple every time Steve Job left or at last died. They have never been able to regain their leadership position.