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TSMC founder Morris Chang says Samsung tried to poach him in 1989

Godfather of Taiwan chip industry upbeat on iPhone X, AI for mobile

TSMC founder Morris Chang acknowledges employees who have worked for the company since it was founded in 1987, at a ceremony on Nov. 4. (Photo by Cheng Ting-Fang)

HSINCHU, Taiwan -- The founding chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Morris Chang, revealed Saturday that Lee Kun-hee, chairman of TSMC's biggest rival, Samsung Electronics, tried to convince him to join the South Korean conglomerate in 1989.

"In 1989, Lee intended to poach me to work for Samsung during a breakfast meeting in Taipei," Chang recalled at a news conference on TSMC's annual employees' sports day. He added that Lee likely did not want Taiwan to build its own chip technologies or companies back then.

"The key message Samsung's founder Lee told me during the meeting was that it would take huge capital spending and many engineers in order to build a successful chip company," Chang said, adding that he was already well aware of Lee's point.

Chang, 86, is known as the godfather of Taiwan's semiconductor industry, the world's second-largest by revenue after that of the U.S. Founded in 1987, TSMC has grown into one of the world's most valuable chip firms, worth $207.6 billion, more than other global names in the region such as Japan's Toyota Motor.  

Chang said Lee also invited him to visit Samsung's chip-making facilities in South Korea, a trip that proved quite impressive.

Chang announced on Oct. 2 he would retire after next June. Samsung's Lee remains hospitalized since a heart attack in 2014.

Samsung, the world's largest memory chipmaker by market share, which makes NAND flash and dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips, is now venturing into logic chips such as core processors, graphic processors, modems, and various sensor chips, where TSMC has a competitive edge. TSMC is the world's No. 1 contract chipmaker overall by market share and revenue.

TSMC is competing neck-in-neck with Samsung in developing the most advanced chip production technologies, vying for orders from Apple and Qualcomm. TSMC is currently the sole supplier of core processor chips for the latest iPhones, while Qualcomm relies on Samsung for its premium mobile chips.

As a key Apple supplier, Chang acclaimed the iPhone X as a great product, a day after the premium handset went on sale worldwide.

The Taiwanese chip veteran was also upbeat on the growth of artificial intelligence for mobile products, saying there would "absolutely" be an increasing range of AI features for mobile.

"TSMC will definitely accumulate more value and benefit from that," he said.

Chang said AI could also well have an impact on health care, such as being able to give advanced warnings about strokes.

TSMC will dedicate a large amount of resources to research and development, and make significant efforts to drive the emerging AI wave, Chang said.

At an event in Taipei in late October to mark TSMC's 30th anniversary, Apple's Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams told a crowd that mobile phones will be a major platform for AI applications, and AI would open the way for great changes in health care and help doctors to do their jobs better.

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