Leader Interview: Hideichi Sato

 

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Senior Executive Officer Hideichi Sato

[Q] How will Gigaphoton’s business evolve in the future?

The constant pursuit of creating smaller, higher density chips has been the driving force of the semiconductor industry’s growth for decades, but I think one day this will eventually reach its limit.  When this happens, the market for semiconductor manufacturing equipment will be greatly impacted.  The demand for new, more advanced tools will diminish because chip makers are no longer following this roadmap and demanding new process technologies.  As long as there is demand for creating smaller and denser chips, new enabling technologies will be required - thus new equipment sales.  However, in the absence of such technology demand, the same tools will generally be used for a long time, and the triggers for new equipment purchases will only come from things such as capacity increase - at which point, lasers will essentially become commoditized.

I think we are at the borderline of this scenario today.  On one hand, customers longing for EUV to take us to the next level of semiconductor manufacturing will purchase these tools even at enormous prices.  On the other hand, we will provide eco-lasers to customers seeking to reduce their total cost of ownership and drive "green" initiatives.  Both are very important, and we will continue to develop EUV technology, and support the industry’s HVM needs by delivering eco-lasers.  It’s quite challenging, but both are essential to our business. 

[Q] What are some of Gigaphoton’s key strategies for global business?

I think Asia will be a key focus area for us.  Japan, Korea and Taiwan are currently our primary business regions in Asia today, but foreign companies are starting to set up many factories in China as well.  Many highly experienced Engineers and Scientists are necessary to build up a semiconductor industry, and it takes a very long time to train or educate such people as well, so I think some level of government intervention and policy-making is necessary for something like this to succeed.  I think China, Korea and Taiwan will become the world’s primary production base for semiconductors going forward.  With respect to China, we are working very closely with our parent company, Komatsu, and its local subsidiary to go after the market opportunities there.  Furthermore, Gigaphoton also has direct subsidiaries in Korea and Taiwan, so I believe we need to put even more effort into all of these operations going forward.

[Q] What things do you pay close attention to in your current role?

I would have to say “compliance” – first and foremost.  Compliance is generally understood as abiding by laws, policies and regulations, but for us it has a broader scope and meaning, including vague concepts such as company reputation.  It requires a lot of attention because most of the time you can easily identify clear cases of violations, but some things are not so clear and gray areas do exists where it may be difficult to determine whether some action is in violation or not.

There is a Chinese proverb “when you are walking under your neighbor’s plum tree, don’t adjust your cap” that speaks about avoiding even the appearance of wrongdoing.  I think in a broad sense this is an important message to keep in mind when thinking about corporate compliance.

A well-run company technically should not even have to deal with gray areas when doing business, and I feel it is important for us to establish an operational structure that facilitates such an environment.

[Q] What kinds of skills or talent are needed at Gigaphoton going forward?

The percentage of our revenue coming from foreign countries is growing more and more, so we definitely need employees who can work well with people abroad.  I think relatively broad-minded people with high tolerance levels, would be suitable for this kind of role.  When doing business overseas you have to be ready for almost anything.  We need people who can adapt their thinking to different cultures, quickly assess situations and have the flexibility and creativity to address virtually any issues.

Flexibility is an important quality for Engineers as well.  Even if you are a technical expert in some field today, in a few years we may need an expert in some other technology.  We need people who can adapt to these changes with flexibility and creativity.  Finding the exact kinds of people you need is does not an easy task for any company.  Therefore, it is important that we continue to nurture and educate our people, and promote an atmosphere of valuing flexibility and creativity within the company. 

[Q] What is Gigaphoton’s biggest strength?

I think our excellent in teamwork is Gigaphoton’s number one strength.  We are able to work effectively and efficiently as a team both internally and externally.  We are not a large company, so it is very important that we work through highly efficient teams in order to maintain our competitiveness.

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In terms of technology, companies like Gigaphoton that are capable of producing very large devices are extremely rare worldwide.  There are companies skilled at designing optical devices with knowledge about plasma effects and there are companies that are skilled at creating huge machinery, but very few companies have the skill to do both.

For example, machine-etching techniques can provide accuracy of up to 1 micron, but when you are seeking accuracy in the order of 3 nanometers, traditional machine etching techniques alone cannot do the job – you have to combine it with complex optical technology to achieve this level of accuracy.  This makes things a lot more difficult.  You need scientific knowledge of Excimer lasers and all kinds of other technologies to create such a device.

This was no easy task for Gigaphoton either.  We spent many years gathering technology and repeating many experiments to get to where we are today.  Typically the first try is bound to fail, but we believed in our hearts that if we remained true to our vision and we strive to make solid progress, big or small, one step at a time that we will ultimately succeed.  Our people pursue and overcome difficult challenges that many others would normally give up on, through excellent internal and external teamwork.  I believe this is the foundation of our company’s strength.