Almost 4.8 million people live in the vibrant metropolis of Singapore, 1.2 million of them foreign workers from around the world. It takes just an hour to cross the island by car, but, despite being crowded, the Southeast Asian island nation is a place of harmony. This is where, in an industrial zone, WACKER subsidiary Siltronic and the Samsung Group have set up a 300 mm silicon wafer fab. Singapore’s multicultural melting pot is the perfect location for this multinational enterprise. Here in Singapore, WACKER is showing just how top-notch global collaboration ought to work. German-Korean subsidiary Siltronic Samsung Wafer (SSW) is headed by an American, two Koreans and a Japanese. Singapore offers optimal access to the growing Asian market, in particular to major customers in Taiwan, China, South Korea, Singapore and Japan. Three quarters of global 300 mm wafer production is used in Asia.
A last piece of bright orange, ripe papaya, a sip of chilled cola and David Wilhoit has finished his lunch. The 41-year-old leans back and looks around the room. The air is filled with the smell of curry, soy sauce and fresh fruit. Wilhoit exchanges a few words with a Chinese staff member, rises and picks up his tray. The American executive walks past Koreans, Germans, Austrians, Chinese, Japanese, Indians and Malaysians seated at long tables, to the end of the canteen, where he pauses for a moment. Signs saying “halal” and “non-halal” hang above the tray racks – the Muslim faith not only forbids the consumption of pork, but also the use of plates or trays on which pork has been served. A visit to the canteen at Siltronic Samsung Wafer (SSW) illustrates what it is that makes the Singapore-based German-Korean joint venture so unusual – its colorful mix of religions, nationalities and cultures. David Wilhoit is CEO of a business which, in the final expansion phase, willemploy 800 staff to manufacture around 300,000 of the latest generation of 300 mm wafers per month. Managing an enterprise with 13 nationalities, six religions, and over ten languages and dialects requires intercultural understanding, skill and tact in dealing with people, and a willingness to reach mutual agreement, explains Wilhoit. The only decorations in his spartan office are some photographs in a display cabinet of his wife and two daughters and a mirror-smooth ball of silicon. Wilhoit is the right man for this job – he has worked for WACKER in the US, Singapore and Japan for 18 years. When two successful companies come together, international experience is essential. “The process doesn’t just take care of itself,” notes Wilhoit, who prepared himself for Korean business culture with an intercultural training course – where he learned a great deal.
Trust Matters. Wilhoit reports, for example, that when it comes to working together with Koreans, it is essential to establish a close relationship before getting down to actual negotiations. “There were lots of informal meetings between marketing, finance and technology managers, which were all about building trust.” The entire senior management team still goes for a game of mini golf together or organizes a golf tournament in which different departments are mixed to compete against each other. “A lot of minor issues can be handled quickly and easily at an informal level,” says Wilhoit, who co-heads the enterprise together with a Japanese colleague from Siltronic and two Koreans from Samsung.
First Listen, then Decide. What sounds like a recipe for gridlock at the senior management level is, in Wilhoit’s view, an advantage in helping to bridge the gap between the two corporate cultures, “The division of responsibility forces us to work together closely and not make decisions over each other’s heads.” This requires good listening and communication skills, explains the seasoned executive. This approach is generally pretty straightforward, primarily because the two equal partners enjoy plenty of benefits from the arrangement. Despite the fluctuations in the semiconductor industry, SSW is, even during slower periods, able to make adequate use of fab capacity, keep costs to a minimum and work efficiently, explains Wilhoit, adding, “We’re also sufficiently flexible and agile to be able to maximize output during the stronger periods.” WACKER and Siltronic ensure a reliable supply of raw materials and provide wafer technology; Samsung pur-chases a large portion of the output. This is the first time a wafer manufacturer and a semiconductor manufacturer have worked so closely together.
Learning from One Another. SSW sells the remainder of its output to other customers, including some of Samsung’s competitors. “Only having one customer tends to give you tunnel vision,” asserts Wilhoit. A wider range of customers lets you keep a better eye on the market and predict market developments. The flip side is that specific precautions need to be taken, “We have to conform to strict confidentiality regulations to ensure that Samsung’s and our other wafer customers’ proprietary information remains confidential.” Fab design is another area where Samsung and Siltronic have learned from each other. The basic design makes use of WACKER subsidiary Siltronic’s substantial experience in this area. “On the other hand, Samsung, as our partner and major customer, has contributed its production expertise,” says David Wilhoit. Factory automation using overhead hoist transport and FDC (fault detection and classification) methodology, for example, are new to Siltronic. Our customers expect high-quality products – something which is definitely not up for negotiation. Quality of staff is also crucial to SSW’s success and was a key factor in deciding on a location for the fab. “Engineers in Singapore are very well trained,” says Wilhoit, adding that the success of Singapore’s business policy also has a downside. Because the economy is growing so strongly, there’s a real fight for talented people, “We work hard to retain people once we’ve got them.” His approach includes meeting new staff in person on their first day, outlining corporate philosophy, and making sure they get to know him and the company. With a smile, the SSW president recalls one particular introduction. Shortly after he joined, the company rented a cinema for the staff. “The film we watched was ‘Meet Dave’ with Eddie Murphy,” explains David Wilhoit. “No one seemed to believe me that it was just pure coincidence.”