[VIEWPOINT]Time to make choices in IT industryRecently, a newspaper posted an editorial titled “There is no permanent top in the semiconductor industry.” The editorial said that the global semiconductor industry is in turmoil with mergers and alliances as Intel, the leading semiconductor producer, and Micron, the third-largest memory producer, have made a joint venture, while five Japanese companies have formed an alliance in the system LSI business. The editorial warned that Korea’s semiconductor industry is in crisis.
Although they mention various reasons on the surface, these joint efforts are obviously aimed at South Korea. As the country is hard to handle alone, they may have calculated that they should unite to realize their wish to overthrow Korea. Seeing this situation, I am proud, but also heavy-hearted with a sense of crisis, wondering how we should overcome this situation wisely.
Intel, which provides most CPUs in the world’s semiconductor market, has kept its position since its rise to number one in 1992. At that time, Korea’s semiconductor industry ranked below 10th place in the market, but it narrowed the gap by the late 1990s with the production of dynamic RAM chips. Entering the second millennium, our semiconductor industry has risen to rank second for the fourth consecutive year as NAND flash chips have created a new market in the mobile and digital consumer area.
Wishing to rise to first from second place is our instinct. Korea’s semiconductor industry has long worked to realize this wish, by day and night. The market we took the initiative in creating now runs according to our intention, and customers from interntaionally recognized IT businesses line up to buy our products.
At a glance, our future is rosy. Despite this, why is a trace of uneasiness lingering? Our reality is that although we have joined the ranks of IT powers, we are still poor in the information and technology sector except in a few areas. I warn that it is an “optical illusion” that makes us mistakenly think we are doing well in all semiconductor areas. We still have a long way to go in the non-memory area, which accounts for 80 percent of the semiconductor market, and there are serious problems in semiconductor-related industries, particularly among domestic equipment makers.
Joint attacks by rival companies in the memory area, in which we have maintained our lead for over a decade, are challenging also. What concerns us most, however, is the problem of supplying human resources with science and engineering majors, who are the underlying infrastructure of the semiconductor industry. There are many problems to solve in terms of both quality and quantity.
In 1996, when my company constructed a plant in the United States, the state government of Texas, even without our request, built a large road near the plant and named it “Samsung Boulevard.” Their careful attention that even considered emotional matters touched our heart. In Japan, a government-led consortium for next generation semiconductor technology is underway, which underlies the country’s intention to protect its semiconductor industry. I heard the Taiwanese government pays careful attention to the international ranking of the number of theses submitted to the semiconductor academic society. As such, in the semiconductor industry, which is at the heart of information and technology, the paradigm has long changed to competition between countries and there is no country doing business with semiconductors that does not have a comprehensive and dedicated policy to support its semiconductor industry.
It takes tremendous energy and time to become the best, but it takes just a moment to fall behind. If the importance of an industry is such that the fate of a country depends on that industry, there should be harmony, as exquisite as that of an orchestra, between the roles of the government and business. It would be good for government and businesses to make sincere efforts to solve current issues in the industry and operate a government and business-wide system that can form a consensus on solutions.
At present, Korea’s semiconductor industry is at a crossroads. The next two to three years is critical. This period will determine what will happen in the next decade or two. At this time, when we have seized our best opportunity since venturing into this industry, if we leap forward once more and show the formidable power of a synergy of IT, nanotechnology and biotechnology, our dream to build a welfare society with $30,000 per capita national income may come true a little earlier.
We should mull over whether to make steady but not boisterous preparation to become a solid IT power, or to remain a small IT power with a lot of Internet searches and mobile phone text messages.
* The writer is the president and CEO in charge of the semiconductor business at Samsung Electronics. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hwang Chang-gyu