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TSMC's new leadership: A picture in contrasts

Two company veterans complement each other well, says retiring chairman Chang

TSMC Chairman Morris Chang, center, is handing over the leadership of the company in June 2018 to co-CEOs Mark Liu, left, and C.C. Wei. (Photo by Cheng Ting-fang)

HSINCHU, Taiwan -- The two executives who will form the dual leadership team when they take the helm at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. next year are well-suited for the challenge, according to Morris Chang, the company's chairman who will retire in June.

Mark Liu and C.C. Wei, currently the company's co-chief executives, both began at TSMC in the 1990s and are now poised to guide one of the world's largest chip manufacturers. Liu, 63, will assume duties as chairman, and Wei, 65, will serve as the sole chief executive.

Wei currently is responsible for dealing with Apple, TSMC's No. 1 customer by revenue contribution, while Liu oversees business from Qualcomm, its No. 2 customer.

"Both are very smart and they complement each other very well," Chang, 86, said at a press conference on Oct. 2, when he announced his retirement plans. "Mark is more reflective, and he would attack an issue from all angles. C.C. is faster when it comes to decision making."

Wei will serve as TSMC's most senior representative to suppliers and customers, with all executives reporting to him. Liu, who will lead the board, will be the final gatekeeper for major decisions such as capital expenditures and the appointments of senior executives. Liu will also be the company's most senior representative to the local government and society.

Wei previously was senior vice president of technology at Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing in Singapore, before starting at TSMC in 1998. He earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Yale.

Liu, who joined TSMC in 1993, has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at Intel and AT&T Bell Laboratories in the U.S.

Chang said that when the two men first became co-chief executives in 2013, he thought they were still thinking too much like engineers and not enough like businessmen, adding that they now are comfortable in their current positions. "I have much more confidence in them now than three to four years ago," he said.

Industry sources said that Wei is more forthright and outgoing, and he is good at closing the gap with others, including his own staff, suppliers and customers.

"Customers really like to meet with Wei -- he spends a lot of time talking to us, and he understands our needs," an executive at Taiwan's MediaTek, the world's second-largest mobile chip provider by revenue, told the Nikkei Asian Review. "He always has time if we want to talk."

Liu, a devout Christian, is described as being more reserved, with an eye for detail and demanding of his staff.

"When making a presentation to Liu, you had better prepare sufficient reference materials to support the points you are making, because he wants to know all the details," according to an industry source.

Industry executives, however, suggested the dual leadership arrangement after Chang's departure next year may be transitory.

While the current board of directors, handpicked by Chang, will stay on for another three-year term after they are confirmed by shareholders in the annual general meeting next June,  sources said a management reshuffle is a possibility after the new board completes its term in 2021.

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