In the 1980s, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. was barely on the radar screen in the semiconductor industry. At that time, the South Korean company was considered a bit of a laughing stock in ICs.
No one is laughing now. Today, Samsung is the world's second largest semiconductor company, behind Intel Corp. And the Korean powerhouse does not appear to be resting on its laurels.
Chang-Gyu Hwang, president and chief executive of Samsung's Semiconductor Business, recently raised eyebrows, when he announced that the company would invest $24 billion in the IC sector by 2010.
Hwang, in fact, is fast becoming one of the "movers and shakers" in the IC industry. From 1985 to 1989, he was a research associate in the Integrated Circuit Laboratory at Stanford University. Then, in 1989, he joined Samsung's semiconductor unit as director of device technology development.
With Hwang at the helm, Samsung has evolved from a commodity supplier of DRAMs for PCs, to a broad-based memory solutions provider for computer, mobile and other applications, company insiders say.
Today, Samsung is the world's largest supplier of DRAMs, flash memories, and SRAMs. It is also looking to make waves in the logic, silicon foundry and other non-memory markets.
Paul Leming, an analyst with Princeton Tech Research, is impressed. "Samsung is on a roll," Leming says. "They have been the fastest growing semiconductor company by a wide margin over the last five-to-six years."
This is not to say that Samsung is isolated from the IC cycles. And like all chip makers, it faces some challenges, including falling memory prices and losses at its LCD unit, analysts say.
Still, the company has dropped hints that it is on a collision course with Intel in various chip markets. In doing so, Samsung appears to be chanting the famous saying by baseball legend Satchel Paige: "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."