SHANGHAI — Nobody questions that Tzu-Yin Chiu, CEO of Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC), who took the company's helm in 2011, has brought much needed stability, confidence, and focus to China's largest foundry, its employees, its shareholders, and the global semiconductor market.
SMIC, based in Shanghai, is no longer the loss-making entity that was plagued with management turmoil back in 2011 when Chiu took the helm.
The company's revenue in 2013 reached a record high of $2.07 billion, showing 21.6% growth over 2012. Its net profit also reached a historical high of $173 million, compared to $22.8 million in 2012.
SMIC's revenue growth
Blue: Revenue; Red: Net Profit
In the midst of SMIC's financial achievements, Chiu last week received the coveted Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) leadership award from SEMI, the global semiconductor industry association.
With breathing room at last, SMIC now talks about the company's various milestones in its environmental, safety, and philanthropy activities. Chiu touched upon a "SMIC Liver Transplant Program for Children," an initiative launched last year to contribute 2 million RMB to fund liver transplants for impoverished children in China.
During a one-on-one interview with EE Times last week, Chiu didn't hesitate to express SMIC's interest in expansion -- beyond China.
Asked about IBM fabs that may be up for sale, as Big Blue executes its plan to withdraw from the semiconductor business, Chiu said he's interested. "Never rule out the possibility," he said. However, he quickly added, "Of course, we are aware of some of the issues... IBM is, after all, the jewel of the United States."
SMIC is rehabilitated. China's leading foundry's operation is much more stable. The company is building its revenue and profit growth based on, not a wild, but a modest, capacity buildup of 6.7% per year.
But is this all we can expect? Is this as high as SMIC gets?
SMIC's critics worry that SMIC, under Chiu's leadership, might have already given up the dream of directly competing with the world's Tier 1 foundries such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), Samsung, and Intel.
One long-time semiconductor industry observer based in Shanghai, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told EE Times, "The gap between SMIC and TSMC is not narrowing, but rather, widening larger in the last few years."
Indeed, while leading fab owners are busy talking about a 14 nm process node, SMIC says its 28 nm process node is "now frozen," allowing potential customers to test and verify SMIC's newest node.
If this is not a concern for SMIC, what other priorities does the company have in mind? How will SMIC compete in the long run?
EE Times recently sat down with SMIC's CEO in its Shanghai headquarters. Here's an edited version of that Q&A.