Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) chairman and chief executive officer Morris Chang (張忠謀) said yesterday his most urgent task is to find two to three co-chief executive officers to maintain the company’s leadership on the world stage.
The technology heavyweight prescribed “opening” the nation to boost its competitiveness, but cast doubt over the viability of Taiwanese firms that move manufacturing facilities overseas in pursuit of cheap labor now that the advantage is rapidly disappearing.
“My most urgent task is to find two to three co-chief executive officers … We now have three co-chief operating officers,” 80-year-old Chang said in Taipei after giving a speech on learning and innovation.
The board of TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker, in March approved the promotions of vice presidents Chiang Shang-yi (蔣尚義), Mark Liu (劉德音) and C.C. Wei (魏哲家) to co-chief operating officers, fueling speculation that Chang was paving the way for his retirement.
The widely esteemed Chang dismissed the speculation in a conference days later, saying that there is no timetable for his departure.
Chang resumed the position of chief executive officer in the summer of 2009 after an interval of four years when TSMC and the global economy started to emerge from the global financial crisis caused by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the previous fall.
Chang, whose remarks carry weight within the industry and among policymakers, yesterday suggested the government start aggressive liberalization, especially in allowing foreign professionals to work in Taiwan, in order to boost the nation’s international competitiveness.
While some pitch opening the economy as a means to achieve economic growth, Chang said he views it as necessary in encouraging competition, through which progress is gained.
To that end, the government must move more actively toward liberalization as long as doing so will not compromise the principles of democracy, human rights and freedom, he said, adding that current rules make it difficult to import talent from abroad.
Chang said he has no suggestion for companies that are struggling to cope with fast-growing labor costs in China and other Southeast Asian countries.
“Leave those companies to figure out solutions for themselves,” he said. “I stand by my view that setting up manufacturing facilities in places with cheap labor is not a viable strategy.”
The short-sighted practice may work for a while, but in the end, the key to success lies in developing and encouraging innovation and only the leader in an industry can survive in the long run, as exemplified by TSMC, Chang said.
Chang reiterated his confidence that TSMC can outperform Intel Corp and Samsung Electronics Co because it earns better customer trust and maintains a manufacturing edge over Intel and a technology advantage over Samsung.
He also shrugged off recent media reports that major customer Qualcomm Inc had shifted orders to United Microelectronics Corp (聯電), the world’s No. 2 contract chipmaker.
“Stealing orders takes place daily in the technology realm,” he said, adding that “TSMC maintains close, friendly ties with its customers.”