China’s top chip maker SMIC in boardroom shake-up after posting record quarterly results amid ongoing semiconductor shortage

·5-min read

China’s top foundry Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) is undergoing its biggest boardroom shake-up since last December, when it was added to a US trade blacklist, with role changes for high-ranking executives including former Taiwanese semiconductor veterans Chiang Shang-yi and Liang Mong Song.

Chiang, who headed research and development at foundry giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) before retiring in 2006, has resigned from all his duties at SMIC, the Shanghai-based foundry said in a stock filing late Thursday night, citing Chiang’s desire to spend more time with his family.

His resignation comes only 11 months after he was appointed as executive director and vice-chairman of SMIC, and a member of its strategic committee, a move that prompted the company’s co-CEO Liang Mong Song to submit a letter of resignation, which was later withdrawn.

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Contacted via LinkedIn on Thursday evening, Chiang, 74, told the Post that he will soon go to the US to join his family in the San Francisco Bay Area. “[I] Don’t have any plan other than enjoying retirement life,” Chiang said.

Liang, also a former TSMC senior engineer, will remain in his role as SMIC’s co-CEO but has resigned from the board as executive director.

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Zhou Jie and Young Kwang Leei also resigned from the board as non-executive director and independent non-executive director, respectively.

All resignations took effect on Thursday, and SMIC said none of the executives had disagreements with the board.

On Thursday night, the Shanghai Stock Exchange sent a regulatory notice to SMIC after its announcement of the management changes, but the contents of the notice were not publicly available.

In a conference call with analysts on Friday morning, SMIC’s chief financial officer Gao Yonggang said Chiang would continue as an adviser to the company.

When he was first appointed as vice-chairman, SMIC hailed Chiang, who served as an independent non-executive director at SMIC from December 2016 to June 2019, as a pioneer who dedicated his career to advancing the semiconductor industry.

Chiang joined SMIC at a difficult time last December, when the company was navigating uncharted waters after being added to a US trade blacklist.

Chiang Shangyi has resigned as vice chairman of SMIC. Photo: Handout
Chiang Shangyi has resigned as vice chairman of SMIC. Photo: Handout

Chiang’s move to SMIC came just months after he left HSMC, a failed semiconductor project in Wuhan. He told the Post in a written message at the time that his experience at HSMC was a “nightmare”, and that he was unaware of the extent of its financial difficulties until the local government exposed the problem in July 2020.

Chip maker SMIC’s chairman resigns amid expansion initiatives

The boardroom shake-up comes as SMIC, the world’s fourth-largest foundry and China’s most advanced chip maker, reported record high third-quarter revenue of US$1.42 billion, up 30.7 per cent year on year, boosted by a protracted semiconductor shortage.

Co-CEO Zhao Haijun said on Friday’s call that the manufacturing capacity shortage remains severe, which would bode well for the company’s planned capacity expansion of mature technology.

Revenue from advanced FinFet 14-nanometre and 28-nm processes accounted for 18.2 per cent of SMIC’s total wafer revenue in the third quarter, the highest for the year and well above the 14.6 per cent in the same quarter last year.

That means more customers are using the company’s most advanced technology offerings even though its more mature 55-nm and 65-nm processes remain the biggest wafer revenue contributors.

Third-quarter net profits grew 25 per cent year on year to US$321 million, but fell by more than half from second-quarter profits of US$688 million, which were boosted by one-off proceeds from selling a subsidiary for US$231.4 million.

Liang Mong Song, co-CEO of SMIC. Photo: Handout
Liang Mong Song, co-CEO of SMIC. Photo: Handout

Being added to the US blacklist hindered SMIC’s ability to carry out research and development of advanced processes below 10-nm.

Gao said he expects the company’s full-year capital expansion plan of US$4.3 billion will remain on track despite facing constraints from US export license approvals for fab tools, supply chain tightness, and prolonged lead times for equipment.

The majority of capital spending will be allocated to mature nodes of 28-nm and above, with the rest for research and development of advanced nodes like FinFet 14-nm. Third-quarter capital expenditure stood at 7 billion yuan (US$1.1 billion).

SMIC has teamed up with municipal governments in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen to build three 28-nm foundries in each city. The total capacity of the three fabs combined could amount to 600,000 wafers per month, the company said.

At the close of trading on Friday, SMIC’s shares fell 4.04 per cent in Hong Kong and were down 3.92 per cent in Shanghai.

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