|TSMC at the head of history’s tide: two high walls and one sharp knife|
*Note: This is a joint translation by Joy Dantong Ma and Jeffrey Ding -- all credit for the original goes to the authors and the original text linked below. These are informal translations and all credit for the original work goes to the authors. Others are welcome to share excerpts from these translations as long as my original translation is cited. Commenters should be aware that the Google Doc is also publicly shareable by link. These translations are part of the ChinAI newsletter - weekly-updated library of translations from Chinese thinkers on AI-related issues: chinai.substack.com
Author: ?? Chen Shuai, senior analyst
Source: ????? (Yuanchuan research group) -- have never heard of them
Editors: ???/??? (Dai Laoban -- we have covered in a previous translation)
Date: May 31, 2020
Original Mandarin: ?????????:????,????
In December 1989, Taipei's cold rain was drizzling, and Samsung head Lee Kun-hee (???) went to Taiwan for a study trip. He secretly invited Morris Chang (Chinese: ???/Morris Chang [a] [c] [d]), the founder of TSMC, to have breakfast for one purpose: to poach the 58-year-old veteran.
At this time, TSMC has been silently established for two years, and it is still unknown in the industry. Its “foundry” model was not the mainstream approach of the chip field at that time, and people couldn’t understand it. In 1987 when TSMC was founded, Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul (???) passed away, and his third son, Lee Kun-hee, took charge of Samsung. As soon as he took office, he shouted the slogan "Start-up Again (????)" and made a foray into electronics and semiconductors.
Morris Chang is the talent that Lee Kun-hee badly needs. In 1983, he stepped back from the position of "third-in-command" of Texas Instruments. Although he could just enjoy the American dream of "one house, two cars, three dogs,” he was always unwilling. So two years later, when Sun Yun-suan, "Chiang Ching-kuo's successor," invited him to take up the post of president of the Industrial Technology Research Institute in Taiwan, Morris Chang decided to risk it and get out of his comfort zone.
Morris Chang grew up on the mainland and left in 49. He went to the United States to study and work for more than 30 years. He is not familiar with Taiwan, but he can't stand the temptation of “being the top figure” (??????). Only one year after arriving in Taiwan, Morris Chang, 56, decided to go wild again: start a business and become a company that specializes in manufacturing for other chip companies. This model was not favored by peers and investors at the time.
At the dinner table, Lee Kun-hee broke it down: Semiconductors require a lot of capital and talent, and the risks are also great. Samsung is currently developing well. He wanted Morris Chang to come to the Samsung factory and take a look. Lee Kun-hee's words embodied his admiration and sympathy for Zhang, similar to when Cao Cao looked at Liu Bei and said, "?????? (only us two are the strongest)," he wished that Morris Chang would immediately elope with him to Seoul.
Morris Chang was now struggling to get sales/orders, but he was tired of being second and third, and he firmly refused Samsung. Lee Kun-hee did not give up, and invited him to visit Samsung. Morris Chang readily accepted, and after visiting the factory for half a day, he even praised Samsung's production capacity as "impressive", but still refused to leave TSMC. Seeing his firm attitude, Lee Kun-hee had to give up.
After parting ways this time, the trajectory of the two would continue to intersect: TSMC and Samsung have each followed their own routes to rise to become global semiconductor giants, and then launched a bloody duel. At the peak, both sides threw money around, eyes blood-red, and once bought 40% of the world's semiconductor manufacturing equipment. This is both a business war between the two companies and a path to industrial upgrading for these two regions that they had no alternative for.
For quite a long time in the past, and for a long time in the future, TSMC's biggest rival is Samsung, not SMIC.
Part I. Overtaking: From the edge of the industry to the center of the stageAlthough TSMC is a Taiwanese company, Morris Chang injects the "American soul" into it: the management experience from his time at Texas Instruments, IBM-licensed technology, and a large number of talents returning from the United States.
For example, Hu Chenming (???/Calvin Hu), the first technology executive of TSMC, is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and his favorite pupil Liang Mong-Song (???) also switched from AMD to TSMC; R&D team leader Chiang Shang-Yi (???) previously worked in Texas Instruments and HP; Cai Lixing (???/Rick Tsai), who later took over for Morris Chang as CEO, was a PhD graduate from Cornell; Yu Zhenhua (???/Douglas Yu), a core technical figure, also had a PhD. from Georgia Institute of Technology.
TSMC received not only talents but also orders for goods from the United States. The semiconductor industry originated in the United States, and then began to transfer to Japan. As a result, Japanese semiconductor companies have cultivated very strong battle-tested competencies, and in the field of memory chips, relying on shrewd management and cost advantages, had utterly routed American companies. In the late 1980s, six of the world's top ten semiconductor companies were Japanese companies.
If you can’t beat them, change the race track. Thus, the United States withdrew from memory chips and made efforts in logic chips such as CPUs. Unlike the strong requirements for integration in memory chips, the design and production segments of logic chips could be separated, which brings opportunities for TSMC. In 1988, Intel sent the first large order and gave guidance on more than 200 processes, which can be described as "funding to get you on top of the horse and technology to take you far along the ride." [e]
Of course, these benefits were not given in vain. Feedbacks from the fast-growing TSMC redounded to the US semiconductor industry. Because they no longer had to bear the huge costs of independently building fabs, a large number of start-up chip design companies could pack lightly for battle and develop rapidly. American chip companies regained the commanding heights of the global chip industry. Today’s giants such as Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Marvell, etc. all benefited from thi [f]s.
In 1995, Nvidia founder Jensen Huang (???) encountered a commercial bottleneck, so he wrote to Morris Chang for help. Soon, he received a call in his noisy office from Morris. Jensen excitedly said to the people around him: Quiet! Morris called me. Subsequently, TSMC successfully completed Nvidia's order, helping it quickly occupy the market.
Jensen Huang was very moved by this, and had this experience captured in a comic which he gave to Morris Chang  [g].
Although TSMC was finding its wings and its model had gotten recognition from industry, its technology was licensed from IBM, and its (technological) autonomy was lacking, so it was still considered by Silicon Valley companies to be a second-rate company. Morris Chang was reluctant to become a technological vassal of the United States and had been waiting for the opportunity to become the master of his own fate. Finally, the opportunity came, and it came twice: i) a counterattack in copper interconnect technology, ii) a breakthrough in lithography machines.
The counterattack in copper interconnect technology ended IBM's technological hegemony: In 2003, IBM hoped to sell its newly developed copper interconnect technology to TSMC, but Morris Chang believed that IBM’s tech was not mature, and TSMC could do better itself. It was Chiang Shang-Yi who led the team to develop and fully utilize the process management experience learned at Texas Instruments: In order to prevent contaminating the materials, the R&D personnel had to strictly follow the route drawn on the floor even when walking.
More than a year later, TSMC's copper interconnect technology made the lead breakthrough, and it was six people who played a central role: Yu Zhenhua, Liang Mong-Song, Sun Yuancheng, Chiang Shang-Yi, Yang Guanglei, Lin Benjian. IBM's technology had not yet made it out of the laboratory. IBM's technological hegemony in foundries was ended. Ten years later, IBM paid another 1.5 billion US dollars, transferred the foundry business to GlobalFoundries [j] [k], and completely withdrew from this field.
As for the breakthrough in lithography machines, it not only gave TSMC a technological overtaking, but it also helped cultivate a solid equipment ally: In 2004, TSMC decided to develop wet lithography technology through a new method, and the initiator of this technological project, Lin Benjian, also comes from IBM.
This technology runs counter to the dry method scheme at the time, and Lin Benjian was mocked as "standing in the way of an aircraft carrier [l]." The Japanese "lithography machine overlords" Canon and Nikon also resisted the plan. Only the Dutch small factory ASML was willing to try it. In the end, TSMC completed a technological breakthrough, and ASML also quickly rose, becoming an industry giant and defeating Japanese hegemony, and forming a deep friendship with TSMC. [m]
Today, ASML is under the heavy pressure of the United States. This is a pain in the neck for SMIC, and it also limits Huawei's desire to find OEM partners.
Learning from the U.S. and then surpassing, these two “overtakings on a curve” showed that TSMC's foundry technology was extraordinary. In 2004, TSMC won half of the world's chip foundry orders, ranking in the top ten of the semiconductor industry in terms of scale. Ranked second is South Korea’s Samsung, which won 30% of the world’s market share by battling Japan to the death in memory chips, while Japan’s once-brilliant semiconductor industry only had three companies remaining in the top ten.
Seeing that the overall landscape had solidified, Morris Chang was eager to leave more time for his family. So in June 2005, Morris Chang announced his retirement as CEO and stepped back to an advisory post. He got off work exactly at 7 o'clock to accompany his family, eat dinner, and listen to concerts. At this time, his old friend Lee Kun-hee was gathering troops to prepare to enter the hinterland of TSMC. [n] [o]
Part II. Awakened: Lee Kun-hee Attacks, Morris Chang Returns to the FurnaceLee Kun-hee is the chief designer behind Samsung’s semiconductor division. In 1974, he proposed a plan (to set up this division) and went to the United States more than 50 times to bring back technology. This also moved his father Lee Byung-chul to declare that he must start this business before his eyes closed for the last time. However, in the face of Japan -- at the apex of its power -- in the 1980s, up to the death of Lee Byung-chul, Samsung Semiconductor lost 300 million US dollars, with no gain.
And in 1987 when Lee Kun-hee took over, the opportunity for Samsung Semiconductor finally came. That year, the secret of Japan’s Toshiba’s private sale of equipment to the Soviet Union was discovered by the United States. [p]The United States, which had been crushed by Japanese semiconductors, immediately took the opportunity to wield the sanctions stick. Not only did it impose a 100% tariff on Japanese memory chips, it also launched a "301" investigation that made many trading nations frightened. [q]
Thrilled and rejoicing at the news that Japanese semiconductors were being pressed to the ground by the United States, Samsung rushed over and also pressed its foot down.
The secret to Lee Kun-hee's success is "buy people at high prices and sell goods at low prices": he paid at triple their wages to hollow out Toshiba’s engineers, quickly upgraded Samsung’s technology, and then launched an offensive by selling at very low prices. He also played the “emotional” card, calling for overseas Korean engineers to return home and join the fray. Chae Dae Je, a technical backbone (key talent) who worked at IBM for 7 years, was swept up with excitement after hearing the call, and immediately returned to Korea to join the battle.
During the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Samsung still maintained high capital expenditures, dared to fight price wars, and used counter-cyclical investment methods to invest more even as it was losing more money. Finally, in 2004, it overwhelmed companies such as Toshiba of Japan and became the overlord of memory chips. Subsequently, Lee Kun-hee waved his hand, and directed his artillery fire to TSMC, thereby beginning a march on chip foundries.
Lee Kun-hee's strategy is very simple, take advantage of Samsung's diversified advantages, fan out from single points into a whole expanse, to break free from encirclement. For example, in facing Qualcomm, the largest customer of TSMC, Samsung adopted the method of "using purchasing to find selling opportunities," having Samsung phones buy Qualcomm chips, and then persuading Qualcomm to hand over the chip manufacturing to Samsung. For Apple, Samsung bundled together storage chips, display panels, and chip foundries in a sales strategy, the so-called strategy of “selling a cabbage and giving away some spring onions.”
Samsung's bundling strategy is a common way for semiconductor companies to develop business. For example, Qualcomm also uses the advantages of baseband processing to pair unsalable goods up with goods that sell well; AMD also sells CPUs and GPUs together. Samsung’s foundry revenue was only $75 million in 2006, but four years later it tripled, with A-series chips for Apple’s foundry accounting for 85%. It can be said that Samsung's chip division grew up by eating apples one by one.
In 2009, Samsung, which had a winning streak, held an internal meeting, and Lee Kun-hee’s eldest son, Lee [r] (Jae-yong), ambitiously announced a plan: Kill Taiwan, i.e., first eliminate Taiwan’s panel and memory chip industry, and then to defeat TSMC -- the Mount Everest in Taiwan -- to allow Samsung to completely dominate the advanced electronics industry and also to lay the foundation for his own succession to take over the power of his father.
It was only in 2013 that this plan was disclosed by Taiwan’s “New Weekly.” By then, Taiwan’s panel and memory chip industries were all chopped down by Samsung, leaving only TSMC.
Looking at the situation in 2009, it was not impossible for Samsung to defeat TSMC  [s]. At that time, TSMC's leaky house was suffering from continuous rain: after the 2009 financial crisis, profits fell sharply and it was forced to lay off workers. The chief architect of the layoffs was CEO Cai Lixing, who had been working for TSMC for nearly 20 years. He had done things calmly and had strong execution. He once led TSMC's first 8-inch fab, and was known as "a mini-Morris Chang".
Cai Lixing implemented a stricter performance evaluation system than in the Morris Chang era. For the bottom 5% of employees, per the evaluation, he canceled the previous observation period and directly announced layoffs. The fast cut to optimize costs was, in essence, a routine operation, but it angered people because it was not carried out in a humane way.
An employee who had worked for more than ten years and had received excellent rewards was thrown into the elimination list because he could not “996 [t]” since he needed to take care of his pregnant wife. This employee’s elderly father wrote a letter to Morris Chang in tears, urging the company not to lay off his son. Some people even posted banners on the door of Morris Chang’s house, accusing him for being dishonest. Embarrassed by this stain on his reputation, he hurriedly told his wife to send pastries and condolences.
At the same time, the yield rate of the company's new production line has not been improved, and customers have even cancelled orders. Morris Chang was anxious in his heart: the menacing Samsung was about to fight its way to his house gates, and Cai Lixing was still trying to show off his financial reporting skills in suppressing costs and increasing profits! In mid-June, TSMC held a board of directors meeting, and in less than ten minutes Morris Chang assigned Cai Lixing over to a photovoltaic department with less than ten people.
Then, the 78-year-old announced that he would return to the furnace, though he didn’t set a deadline.
After the return, Morris Chang did two things: he expanded the army and the equipment. He declared that the previous layoffs were invalid. Those who were willing to come back to work could immediately return to their posts, and he also invited the retired Chiang Shang-Yi to eat a meal in his office -- did not discuss salary or compensation -- and only gave an order for him to come back and spend the company’s new R&D budget increase of USD 1 billion as soon as possible.
In order to boost morale, Morris Chang even quoted Shakespeare's verse describing Henry V’s battle during his speech to TSMC employees: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends?" Henry V was regarded as a national hero by the British. He led a weak infantry force of less than 6,000 men and defeated the elite French troops that had six times the number of men. Morris Chang's referenced him for obvious reasons, in hopes that TSMC can also create a miracle of weak over strong.
The veteran took the lead, doing the work of two people. TSMC got customers to return and upgraded its technology. Especially in the key technology of the 28-nanometer process, Chiang Shang-Yi chose the gate-last scheme (high-k/metal gate -- HKMG) instead of the gate-first scheme (HKMG) that Samsung was developing. With correct judgment and strict process, the yield of TSMC greatly improved, whereas Samsung did not make progress.
However, at this time, Morris Chang did not unfurrow his eyebrows. He knew that to defeat Samsung and eliminate future troubles, the decisive point was not in Seoul but thousands of miles away on the West Coast of the United States, where there was a super customer that could support any foundry to get to the pinnacle of the world.
PART III. Uprising: Apple Fights Against Korea, TSMC Hands Over A Knife
In 2010, Morris Chang received a special guest at home: Apple's COO Jeff Williams. The two talked about building a factory over red wine, and after a long discussion, reached a cooperation agreement: Apple would order its entire generation of chips from TSMC, provided that TSMC secured US$9 billion in funding to build factories and 6,000 workers to ensure production capacity.
The meeting was much welcomed by both parties as Apple was struggling for air with Samsung’s hands on its neck. From 2008 to 2011, the global share of Samsung's smartphones increased 6 times, reaching 20%. However, more than half of Apple’s key parts needed to be purchased from Samsung. Apple gasped for air while gradually setting in motion a plan to replace Samsung as a supplier. In 2008, Apple shifted orders for flash memory chips from Samsung to Toshiba. Two years later, Apple diverted part of its screen order to Sharp.
In April 2011, Apple filed 16 accusations at one go against Samsung, alleging that Samsung's mobile phone plagiarized Apple’s. However, Samsung, who held Apple's lifeline of key component supplies, refused to surrender and immediately countered Apple’s claims. It accused Apple of infringing on 10 Samsung’s patents and demanded a complete stop of iPhone sales in the US. Apple was fighting in court with a hand on its neck and urged TSMC to accelerate its R&D. Chang sent out TSMC’s top troops at the year end of 2011 - “one team. ”
This team was composed of more than a hundred inter-departmental R&D engineers. They quietly flew to the US from Taipei, Hsinchu and other places and stationed at the Apple headquarters in Cupertino. Cupertino happens to be Hsinchu’s sister city and is less than 10 miles from Samsung and Apple’s courts. These engineers signed strict confidentiality agreements, and their secret task is to develop A8 chips with Apple, bypassing Samsung’s patents.
Since Samsung held many core patents, if TSMC used similar technologies, Samsung would sue TSMC until the latter went bankrupt. Therefore, this task had to be kept as a secret. Samsung was not shy about their plan either. Whenever they communicate with stock analysts, they would emphasize, “if TSMC dares to do so, we will sue them without a doubt.” In order to dispel Apple's concerns, TSMC first participated in the design of A6 chip to show its capabilities, and shared all of its own patents with Apple for verification without reservation.
In order to ensure success, TSMC specially developed two A8 versions for Apple to choose from, vowing to never stop until completely bypassing Samsung’s patent wall. At the same time, TSMC expanded its infrastructure at unprecedented speed and ramped up production capacity. Factory No.12 in Hsinchu, No.15 in Taichung and No.14 in Tainan were expanding at nearly three times the usual speed. Over the western coastline of Taiwan, planes transported chip manufacturing equipment from Europe, America and Japan non-stop.
Between 2011 and 2013, there were only three newly built ultra-large 12-inch foundries in the world, and TSMC alone built a new one and expanded two. In 2013, half of TSMC's revenue was poured into expansion. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say, Chang bet all his chips. Samsung, while not aware of the secret deal between Apple and TSMC, saw all of the expansion and came up with a plan.
Samsung contacted TSMC proactively, and expressed its intention to have TSMC manufacture Samsung’s 4G chip. The order was just a facade. What Samsung really hoped to achieve was to test TSMC’s technologies, process and production capacity. It was clear to Chang where Samsung’s real intention lay. Therefore, he asked Samsung to work with a Taiwanese chip design company, and then the design company could cooperate with TSMC. This way, there wouldn’t be any direct interaction between Samsung and TSMC. Samsung had to drop its plan.
In 2014, Apple finally announced the list of foundries for its A8 chip: TSMC was the one and only. The share price of TSMC soared, and the employees were relieved, "if it were not for the sense of honor and hope to defeat Samsung, who would want to be separated from their families for so long.” Taiwanese media reported with enthusiasm, “mobile phone saves Taiwan” [v], “Morris Chang unravels Samsung.”
But who would know, a few months later, a man who claimed to have TSMC in his blood, stood with Samsung and pushed TSMC to the edge of a cliff, yet again.
PART IV. Setbacks: Samsung Blessed with One General, TSMC Faced One Failure After Another.
Chang had a picture of his wife and himself in the office. The person who took the picture was one of Chang’s favorite pupils, Liang Mong-Song .
Liang was a student of TSMC’s first CTO, Chiang Shang-Yi, and a critical member during TSMC’s breakthrough in copper interconnect technology in 2002, ranking second in Taiwan authorities’ award list. He was the most promising candidate to succeed Chiang as director of R&D. However, just four months before Morris Chang returned in 2009, Liang handed in his resignation, and left TSMC after his 17-year tenure.
Liang did not leave TSMC because of poor performance; instead, he felt he was pushed out of the company. When Chiang retired in 2006, Liang considered himself the best successor in the company. What came next, however, was not a promotion, but an order to transfer him to lead a new initiative called “Beyond Moore [w] [x](‘s Law).” This plan sounded fancy, but had only a small office that could fit four people. It was later only implemented in two less-advanced foundries.
The office started to feel like an icebox for Liang. For more than eight months, he sat in the office alone, without stepping out or seeing colleagues. Liang felt embarrassed and insulted. But in fact the current CEO Wei Zhejia (???/Dr. C. C. Wei) also used to lead the “Beyond Moore” initiative. Wei started with one order after another, and eventually revived these two small factories. This “initiative” might have been a test to Liang from Morris Chang.
Whether it was an icebox or a test, Liang lost all hopes and decided to resign in February 2009. Liang taught at National Tsing Hua University for a few months after the resignation. Before long, he was introduced by his wife’s family (who are Korean) to teach telecommunication at Sungkyunkwan University. Two years later, Liang’s non-competition agreement expired, and he found a new employer - TSMC's old rival Samsung - as the technical lead of its semiconductor division.
Samsung had a thirst for talents like Liang. Liang’s annual salary was rumored to be as high as NT$135 million, tripling the standard amount at TSMC and even exceeding Samsung's co-CEO. Lee Kun-hee often said that three Bill Gates could elevate South Korea, and his task was to find three such geniuses. This kind of emphasis on talent regardless of cost is undoubtedly worth studying for mainland China 10 years later.
However, the gift from Samsung hadn’t been in Liang’s hands for three months, a cold complaint from TSMC arrived. The complaint was sternly worded, demanding that Liang stop divulging secrets and immediately resign from Samsung. Looking at the complaint, Liang might have wondered: shouldn’t there be no more contact from his previous employer?
TSMC filed the stern complaint because they noticed - Samsung had changed.
Morris Chang called Samsung a "300-pound gorilla" in the marketplace, but a “black dot in the radar” when it came to technology. However, since Liang’s resignation, Samsung seemed to have gotten a secret cookbook and achieved technology breakthroughs one after another every year: 45nm, 32nm, 28nm. In 2011, it was almost on par with TSMC. For the same catch-up, SMIC in mainland China spent more than 7 years.
Coincident or not, after some investigations, TSMC did find a lot of clues that Liang might have violated the non-compete agreement: The Sungkyunkwan University that Liang taught at is known as South Korea’s Tsinghua and is funded by Samsung; its campus is inside Samsung headquarters; the actual location of Liang’s classes was inside Samsung factory. In the past few years, whenever Liang traveled between Korea and Taiwan, it was all by Samsung’s private plane.
The thought of Liang violating his non-compete and working for Samsung enraged TSMC. Liang on the other hand also felt wronged by TSMC. In a courtroom that’s often confrational and combative, Liang poured out all of his sorrows.
Liang almost choked up and said [y], “based on my seniority, on what grounds did I get sent to a small unit that was so limiting? I felt deceived and insulted. The leadership at TSMC simply forgot about me. Why is TSMC so ruthless? For a person who has dedicated his life to TSMC, I hoped to once again fight for the TSMC but silence was the only response I received.”
He passionately continued, “I’m a man of my word, not a rebel who fled to the enemy’s camp like the media pictured. This narrative is a great insult to me and caused great harm to my family.”
Liang’s passionate demonstration of his frustration was moving. In the end, the judge ruled that Liang had resigned for two years, which had long passed the period of non-compete agreement. TSMC’s complaint was dismissed. TSMC was hit hard by the ruling, and before it could recover, another shock piled up. The Apple A9 chip order, which TSMC thought was a sure deal, went to Samsung. What scored this order for Samsung was an unmatched technology - the world's first 14nm FinFET process.
Hu Chenming is the inventor of FinFET and led TSMC’s effort to productionize FinFET. FinFET is a type of 3D transistors, a technology TSMC had been working on for nearly a decade. It was widely recognized as the key to unlock processes under 20nm. Hu’s favorite student was no others but Liang Mong-Song. Who could have known that Liang’s switch from TSMC to Samsung enabled the latter to jump ahead. It is just like the old saying – master taught the apprentice, only to be defeated and starved.
Taiwanese media regretfully commented, "the technical advantages of TSMC have been wiped out overnight."
After Apple turned to Samsung, Qualcomm followed suit and handed its latest chip OEM order to Samsung. When clients left, investors started to worry. Credit Suisse, who had been optimistic about TSMC for five consecutive years, gave a negative rating for the first time; Lyon Securities projected that TSMC would lose 80% of Apple's orders and more than $1 billion.
At the shareholders meeting in January 2015, Chang looked into the camera and admitted solemnly, "yes, we are a bit behind."
PART V. Counterattack: 100,000 youths, 100,000 livers
On the date Chang admitted TSMC’s disadvantage, its stock rose by 8%. Investors believed that Morris was very angry and there would be serious consequences. Indeed, TSMC started preparing for a multi-front counterattack.
Stand up where one falls down. So did TSMC. The company assembled an unprecedented R&D team in the industry: the Nightingale Army - a team that worked at night. TSMC learned from Foxconn assembly line and built a three-shift R&D department to ensure 24-hour uninterrupted R&D. Nightingale's salary was much higher than assembly workers or regular R&D personnel - 30% increase in base salary and 50% in dividend.
Attracted by the rewards, before long the Nightingale quickly gathered more than 400 people. Because staying up late harms the liver, the nightingale model is also called "liver buster.” A few sayings started to spread in Taiwan, “100,000 young people, 100,000 livers”, “the tougher the liver, the more money." [z]In 2014, the total annual working hours of Taiwanese laborers was 2135 hours, far exceeding the rest of the world. When Intel was defeated by TSMC’s technology in 2017, some Intel employees went to TSMC to figure out why, and the answer was: you snooze you lose [aa]; you’ve been sleeping too much for too long.
After putting in place the technical charging team, Chang turned to the lawyers and ordered them to "fight to the end". A new judge who had a Korean husband and was familiar with Korean cases replaced the old judge. TSMC’s lawyers also dug up a lot of crucial evidence, including that 10 of Liang’s students were senior engineers at Samsung; Liang started using Samsung's internal mailbox as early as 2009; 7 key features of Samsung’s process were similar to TSMC’s.
In the end, the court ruled that Liang could not return to Samsung until the end of 2015. This was the first ruling in Taiwan that even after an non-compete period ended, an former employee was still prohibited from working for a competitor. TSMC’s victory was a joint effort of Taiwanese commercial, political and legal circles. [ab] Taiwan specifically revised its Trade Secrets Act and included industrial espionage. The judge even declared publicly, “if we don’t protect companies like TSMC, who will we protect?” [ac]
Liang, of course, disagreed with the ruling and appealed to the Supreme Court of Taiwan. The lawsuit dragged on until August 2015 and Liang lost again. At this point, Liang could simply wait four months and then go back to work at Samsung, but another shock was awaiting: as Liang was tied up in the lawsuit, Samsung rushed the production and floundered on A9 chips.
Netizens found that Samsung’s foundry’s iPhone 6s chip lasted 2 hours less than TSMC’s, and the temperature rose by more than 10%. There were even tutorials online showing how to distinguish iPhones with Samsung chips so that buyers could return the product as soon as possible. Although Apple denied the performance difference, it quietly transferred the A9 order from Samsung to TSMC. On the list of foundries after A10, only TSMC was left.
TSMC once again won more than half of the OEM market share, becoming the backbone of Taiwan’s economy, stock market, and even population. TSMC's new foundry consumed a third of Taiwan's newly generated power; its 40,000 plus employees also contributed more than 1% of total newborns in Taiwan in 2019 [ad]. On average, Taiwan had one large foundry per 1,000 square kilometers, making it the leading region in foundry density globally.
In June 2018, the 86-year-old Chang announced his retirement the second time. At his last shareholder meeting, he said affectionately in applause, “TSMC's miracle will never stop!” Chang left the industry with success and achievement, while his old rival Lee Kun-hee had been ill since 2014 and until this date, hasn’t stepped out of Samsung Medical Center. Lee’s eldest son Lee Jae-yong, the de facto head of Samsung was imprisoned for bribery in 2017, and released 6 months later.
In July 2019, Japan cut off the supply of semiconductor materials to Samsung, and Lee Jae-yong had to rush to Taiwan to plead for the purchase of raw materials. This signaled the complete bankruptcy of his plan to “Kill Taiwan.” In December, TSMC's market value briefly surpassed Samsung and became the global semiconductor leader. The showdown since 2004 had gone through four stages and finally, the curtains fell.
However, just as Chang advised, what TSMC won was merely a battle. The entire semiconductor industry has been fighting since the 1970s and why won’t the war continue?
TSMC becomes a totem in Taiwan, which is attributed to Chang’s personal charm, independent R&D strategy, hardworking spirit, and the principles Chang set at the beginning – staying neutral to serve, winning trust from partners.
It is based on trust that not only Apple can hand over orders without worry, but also Huawei may rest assured. All Kirin chips are all manufactured by TSMC, which contributes more than 10% of TSMC’s total orders. In this regard, Taiwanese IT Godfather Shi Zhenrong (???/Stan Shih) once said, “Taiwan is a friend of the world, while Samsung is the enemy of the world.” - meaning that Taiwan is determined to specialize and work for technology companies all over the world, while Samsung wants to expand across the sector. [ae] [af] [ag]
Of course, TSMC is still too young. When the Pacific’s tectonic plates begin to collide, mainland China and the United States are like two invisible walls. At this time, can TSMC really make friends as it pleases?
Looking back at history, four treasures at the beginning of TSMC were talents from Berkeley, management experiences from Texas Instruments, IBM's technology licensing, and orders from American chip companies. It is Apple and the United States behind it that decided the balance between Samsung and TSMC, and TSMC’s shareholders are mostly on Wall Street, holding 80% of total equity [ah] [ai].
Behind TSMC, there is always that sharp knife of Samsung. Although Samsung floundered on the 7nm process and lags behind TSMC by quite a lot, Apple and Qualcomm fear TSMC’s hegemony and will never completely discard Samsung. History of the electronics industry tells us: never underestimate the madness and guts of Koreans.
When there are high walls on both sides and a sharp knife behind the back, can TSMC maintain its commanding heights of the global chip industry? Can TSMC enjoy its neutral position as before? No one can answer that. Morris Chang can no longer come back to the battles, but his old colleagues and subordinates are standing across the strait and jumping into the torrent of history.
At the end of 2016, Chiang Shang-Yi, TSMC's No. 2, knocked on Chang’s office and told him that he would join SMIC as a director. A month later, Chiang’s entire family moved to the mainland.
Six months later, Liang Mong-Song, who resigned from Samsung, accepted an annual salary of only $200,000 and joined SMIC with his team as a co-chief executive. In only three quarters, Liang and his team brought an important 14nm technological breakthrough to SMIC.
In 2019, Yang Guanglei, who was among TSMC’s “Six R&D Gentlemen” during its defeat of IBM, took over Chiang Shang-Yi’s post as an independent board director and moved to mainland China.
Chiang’s next post is the CEO of HSMC in Wuhan. At a summit last year, he commented, "Moore's Law is slowing down. This offers an excellent opportunity to China's mainland semiconductor companies to catch and take over."
In addition to these executives, countless Taiwanese engineers rushed to the mainland and joined in writing history of the chip industry. From HiSilicon in Shenzhen to XMC in Wuhan, from JCET in Jiangyin to CXMT in Hefei, streams of engineers return from overseas, forming a turbulent wave and contributing to the last battle of China’s industries. [aj]
Therefore, TSMC is caught in between the US and China's technology war. It benefits from both sides but also faces a dilemma. It wants to be “neutral” but hard to achieve so. It is after all founded by the descendants of Yan Di and Huang Di [ak] (the Chinese people), and how can it truly be "neutral"?
[a]previous translation had this profile of Zhang Zhongmou: "At about the same time that Zhang Rujing was taken to Taiwan by his parents, 17-year-old Zhang Zhongmou, a native of Ningbo in Zhejiang, also boarded a ship in Shanghai, crammed into a narrow cabin room with his family, and set off for Hong Kong.
After staying in Hong Kong for a few months, Zhang Zhongmou immediately applied to Harvard University, becoming the only Chinese student among the school’s 1,000 or so freshmen. He later transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and obtained a master's degree. In 1958, Zhang Zhongmou joined Texas Instruments, and worked his way to the company's No. 3 position. Zhang Rujing, who joined Texas Instruments in 1977, nominally had a "colleague" relationship with Zhang Zhongmou for eight years, but contrary to the media hype, their paths did not intersect during this period.
In 1985, Zhang Zhongmou resigned from a high-paying position at Texas Instruments and returned to Taiwan to become president of the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan. Prior to this, Zhang Zhongmou, who was in his fifties, had never lived in Taiwan for a long time. In 1987, Zhang Zhongmou founded TSMC and received strong support from the government. By the time Zhang Rujing resigned from Texas Instruments and returned to Taiwan, Zhang Zhongmou had already become the industrial hero of Taiwan in the same way as Akio Morita of Japan.
Thanks for the heads up! I was translating it into Morris Chang according to TSMC press release but can change it pretty easily. One thought is maybe at the first mention of him, we can include both names since Morris is the name that's more widely reported and used in western media (forbes, qz, etc.). That way we can make sure people know who he is.
[c]Oh wow I didn't even register that the first time around translating -- yeah Morris Chang is definitely better to use actually
[d]yeah, i think Chinese folks know him as Zhongmou while American know him as Morris. There are few more names like that in this article. And it gets a bit messier when you mix in Taiwanese spelling coz it's different than pinyin.. I will highlight them all once I finish the second part translation and we can streamline them.
[g]endnote 2: Jensen Huang talks about Morris Chang, chairman of TSMC; a solid partner and a sincere friend -- Nvidia's Official Blog 2018
[h]A really cool anecdote
Full resolution: blogs.nvidia.com.tw
[j]GlobalFoundries, a key part of US DoD's Trusted Foundry Program, is an UAE-owned company
[k]Fascinating. Thank you for this context.
[n]another example of what I call "techlore" language
[o]And this! is very hard to translate lol
[q]301 Investigation also ignited US-China trade/tech war in march 2018. Very interesting.
[r]Lee Jae-yong (???)
[s]footnote 3: Declassification of Samsung's plan to destroy Taiwan - Business Today Taiwan 2013
[t]a working schedule of 9am-9pm, 6 days a week.
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Apple COO: Giving Apple Chip Order to TSMC Was A Gamble - Sino Technology.
[v]how much an industry champion means for entire Taiwan.
[w]Should this be "Beyond Moore" (i.e., Moore's Law)?
[x]Yep great catch -- thanks!
?????? ????????-???? 2011
TSMC Former Director Liang Mong-Song Complained in Tears of Being Pushed Out - Business Times
[z]more techlore -- this is written in like a heroic epic poem style
[aa]I can't help myself... lolll
????-??????????? -???? 2015
Hunting Rebel - Demystifying Liang Mong-Song's Exertion in Samsung - Tianxia Magazine 2015.
2018 TSMC Corporate Social Responsibility Report
[af]Very interesting perception of Samsung's business model. Question: How does that fit to Samsung's plans to ramp up their contract foundry business? taipeitimes.com
[ag]i wonder if this is more of a "we also want to do foundry business" or "we are going to *exclusively* focus on foundry business." as long as samsung spans across the entire supply chain (aka making both chips and phones), the collaborative-competitive dynamic persists.
[ah]This paragraph is confusingly worded. What is the connection between Apple deciding it and TSMC shareholders?
[ai]I changed the "Whereas" to "and" -- I think the connection is just that there's a lot of American capital behind TSMC -- whether it's human capital, investments, chip orders, etc.
[aj]the last block of the industrialization pyramid.
[ak]???? -- Yan Di and Huang Di were two legendary rulers of remote antiquity