Lee Kok Choy
I currently hold a Master’s degree in Engineering (Microelectronics) and a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the National University of Singapore. I remember when I first joined as a Semiconductor Assembly and Packaging Engineer in wire-bonding in 1977 – I knew nothing of the memory business then, but because it was a growing industry I was happy to participate in it.
My first job after graduation was at Texas Instruments Singapore and the 4 kilobits DRAM was the first chip I worked on. Interestingly enough, the chips we manufacture in a Micron factory in Singapore right now have 64 gigabits in the same amount of silicon space as the chips I was working with back then!
All in the manual
When I first started out in my career in Texas Instruments, I was appointed as a Semiconductor Assembly and Packaging Engineer in wire-bonding. I was given a manual and was shown the machines and processes I was in charge of. On the first 2 days of my job, I was made the engineerin-charge. I learned by reading the manual and every piece of documentation I could get my hands on, asked my technicians about their experience, and then proceeded to apply all the engineering education I had gained in university to solve problems on the production line.
Looking back, I would not have wanted it any other way – there was no spoon feeding, no training, I used all the knowledge I gained through my education, applied all my street wisdom and proceeded to tackle the unknown.
Working with wafers
The turning point came when I was given the chance to start up the first 200mm Wafer Fab in Singapore as VP of Operations of TECH Semiconductor Singapore Pte. Ltd. I had to learn advanced semiconductor wafer fab engineering from ground zero, but at the same time was given the freedom to build an organisation from scratch. This included appointing all managers, hiring all operations staff, putting in place all policies that were required, as well as hand picking every piece of production equipment.
Later on, I had to convert TECH’s 200mm wafer fab into a 300mm wafer fab without shutting it down. It was never done before and has never been done a second time to this day. We were tight on cash as a company and could not afford the risk of shutting down the fab to convert it. The detailed planning and creative solutions which made this possible were the results of the sheer tenacity and brilliance of every TECH team member who participated.
My advice for future leaders
For a leader, important skills include being extremely knowledgeable in the profession you choose, as well as a keen understanding of human nature, basic finance, and the principles of law. On top of these skills, a leader will also need to possess curiosity, courage, tenacity and a genuine care for their people.
If possible, do your best to start your career in the profession that you were trained in. Let your curiosity lead you in your career growth, and find the courage to make the leap when opportunities present themselves.