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TSMC chair steps down in power shift at global chip linchpin

Bloomberg • 3 min read
TSMC chair steps down in power shift at global chip linchpin
Chairman Mark Liu plans to retire in 2024 and cede his role to Chief Executive Officer C.C. Wei. Photo: Bloomberg
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Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Chairman Mark Liu plans to retire in 2024 and cede his role to Chief Executive Officer C.C. Wei, handing the reins of the world’s most important chipmaker to a fellow engineering maven.

The reshuffle means Wei is set to become one of the most influential executives in technology, steering Apple Inc.’s and Nvidia Corp.’s main chipmaking partner while fielding requests for manufacturing investment from governments around the world.

Together, the executives led Taiwan’s largest company through a years-long global chip shortage that helped cement its critical role in the tech industry. In 2021, when Covid-era demand stretched supplies for the semiconductors used in smartphones and automobiles, industry CEOs and heads of state alike reached out to the Taiwanese chipmaker for help in alleviating shortages. 

That episode vaulted TSMC into the global spotlight, transforming the Taiwanese firm from a little-known manufacturer behind the scenes into a celebrated name in the industry. Since 2018, after the two executives assumed their current roles, TSMC has roughly tripled its market value to become Asia’s most valuable company. Wei became co-CEO with Liu in 2013 and by 2022, he was the highest-paid CEO on Taiwan’s main stock index, collecting NT$353.4 million ($15.0 million) in salary and bonuses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Wei “was the driving force in creating TSMC’s advanced packaging business,” said Dylan Patel, founder of the research group SemiAnalysis. That “is what has enabled Nvidia and Google AI chips to be manufactured and create breakthroughs such as ChatGPT.”

Investors give Liu and Wei plenty of credit for that ascendance. Liu has been the public face of TSMC since taking over as chair from founder Morris Chang in 2018, a strong advocate for global expansion at a time of growing tensions with China. During his tenure, the Taiwanese firm initiated plans to invest tens of billions of dollars in new plants from the US to Japan and Germany. The outgoing chairman, a computer science and engineering PhD who joined TSMC in 1993, is a regular on the conference circuit.

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Wei, in contrast, has adopted a lower profile though the CEO is considered a main conduit to investors and customers. He speaks on quarterly earnings conference calls and, like Liu, has an engineering doctorate.

Wei’s appointment will need confirmation from TSMC’s board, which is due for shareholder election in 2024.

See also: InnoTek appoints Angeline Tan Siang Keng as group CFO

Known for his self-deprecating humour, the executive would often crack jokes at his own expense at public events, though sometimes he would also direct critiques at others. 

At the height of the chip shortage, he poked fun at auto firms during a US industry conference, saying he never heard from any of them until the constraints hit.

They reached out to him “and behave like my best friend,” he said, adding that one carmaker called to request an urgent order of 25 wafers while TSMC’s more accustomed to order sizes of 25,000. “No wonder you cannot get the support,” Wei concluded. 

TSMC is now among the biggest investors in technology among its peers, underscoring its conviction in the need to keep upgrading to stay ahead of rivals from Intel Corp. to Samsung Electronics Co. It’s projecting to spend more than US$30 billion in 2023 alone to stay ahead of the curve.

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