A lot has happened in fifty years, particularly when it comes to the microelectronics industry. Founded in 1970 by a group of semiconductor industry pioneers who believed that co-opetition — instead of traditional competition—would produce a more vibrant emerging industry, SEMI was born as an industry association.
It's fitting during this week’s 50th annual SEMICON West (July 20-23, 2020) — a virtual event for the first time — that SEMI Chief of Staff Bettina Weiss offers her perspectives on the evolution of SEMI from one of the best seats in the house: the 24 years that she has spent helping the association change and grow.
Vetrano: You’ve enjoyed a long rich history with SEMI, and now serve as the association’s first chief of staff. What roles have you played at SEMI up to this point?
Weiss: I cut my teeth at SEMI by joining SEMI Standards, first serving as standards coordinator at SEMI Europe from ’96-’97. Over the next 11 years, I held a variety of positions at SEMI Standards, culminating with director of international standards from 2003-2008. Given that experience, I have to admit that SEMI Standards are still near and dear to my heart.
I moved on to several leadership positions in our former global photovoltaics/solar business through 2014, and toward the end of that stint, I assumed additional responsibilities, becoming vice president of business development. That’s where I dove headfirst into expanding SEMI into emerging regions, including Vietnam, India and Latin America. SEMI goes where members see (or want to better understand) new opportunities, especially in places that had ambitious plans for fabs for microelectronics, including semiconductors and MEMS.
In 2018, I became SEMI chief of staff, reporting directly to our president and CEO Ajit Manocha.
Vetrano: Now I hardly know where to start! Since I have to decide, what does it mean to be SEMI chief of staff?
Weiss: As the first chief of staff, I’ve been able to shape the position, combining the support of critical efforts driven by Ajit with additional project management responsibilities like our Smart Mobility initiative.
Working with experienced leaders in our industry, such as the Board of Industry Leaders (BIL), is one of the more rewarding parts of my role at SEMI. The BIL is a group of global executives tasked with advising SEMI on strategic planning, especially when it comes to future-looking initiatives like Smart Mobility, Smart MedTech, Smart Manufacturing, and Smart Data/AI.
A lot of the other things I do are meant to support the whole SEMI organization, in partnership with other senior leaders such as Michael Ciesinski, vice president of technology communities, as we create business plans and examine new revenue models that will keep SEMI sustainable and viable for the future. This includes issues as varied as workforce development and diversity and inclusion, and the new digital platforms we use to engage with our members.
Vetrano: How does SEMI Smart Mobility initiative exemplify the model of engaging end customers in vertical markets that are important to members?
Weiss: When you look at the rapidly increasing number of chips and sensors in and around vehicles, Smart Mobility at its core brings together both the semiconductor/sensor and automotive/mobility supply chains for a more transparent dialogue about needs and wants along the entire supply chain. We are thrilled to count automotive OEMs Volkswagen and Audi as SEMI members. We also work with Tier 1 suppliers such as Continental and many others to promote the open exchange of ideas and foster collaboration among all stakeholders.
Smart Mobility is a good example of how SEMI connects two worlds that are now interdependent for the mutual benefit of all players. Automotive companies and component suppliers want to better understand new technology capabilities that enable tomorrow’s infotainment, safety, security and communication protocols. And semiconductor, sensor and component companies see huge upside in supplying the equipment, materials, devices and subsystems that enable the future of mobility. Smart Mobility is a win-win, and the founding concept of our Global Automotive Advisory Council (GAAC).
Vetrano: As we look to COVID-19, the single most important event to influence the microelectronics industry — and every other industry — why is SEMI membership more important now than ever?
Weiss: Our industry is facing a triple whammy of challenges: a global pandemic, ongoing global trade tensions that impact interdependent supply chains, and a global economic crisis. All these challenges will require our members’ ingenuity, innovation and collective action to overcome them. But inherent in those challenges are tremendous opportunities, and I have no doubt that our members and the entire global electronics ecosystems will find ways to help everyone prosper and advance.
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our members. From the onset of the pandemic, we’ve provided our members with resources including best business practices, insights and data from industry experts to help them respond to a virus that has already changed so many things we took for granted before March. Additionally, SEMI has also advocated with governments around the world on behalf of the industry for essential business status and essential travel to sustain operations. Visit SEMI COVID-19 Resource page for information on industry best practices and much more.
Vetrano: Before we look forward, what has changed dramatically in microelectronics since you started at SEMI?
Weiss: Through my work with SEMI, I’ve witnessed dynamic, dramatic and sustained change in the microelectronics supply chain. Into the late 1990s, SEMI represented primarily semiconductor equipment and materials suppliers, and we worked with chipmakers – our members’ customers. That’s where a lot of important Standards work happened, for example, and the supplier-device maker relationship was pretty much our world.
Over the years, we saw significant change in how companies partner and do business with one another. The digital transformation we’ve been witnessing for the past few years was the impetus for expanding our reach to bring companies in the extended electronics manufacturing and design supply chain together, from sand to system, so to speak. That was also when we invited associations representing flexible hybrid and printed electronics (FlexTech), MEMS and sensors (MSIG), and electronic system design (ESD Alliance) companies to join SEMI and our other technology communities for maximum cross-pollination. That’s because everything needs microelectronic devices and systems.
Vetrano: Looking ahead now, what is can the microelectronics industry do to benefit humanity?
Weiss: Semiconductors and sensors are often the unsung heroes of progress. Microelectronics can help bring prosperity to the billions of people now struggling on our planet. It can improve access to education for people through e-learning, it can advance agricultural production and streamline the food supply chain to help feed the world’s hungry, it can monitor the quality of the water we drink and the air we breathe, and it can get you in front of a doctor even in the most remote village in India.
The beauty of microelectronics is that we are not gated by innovation. As the brilliant visionary Arthur C. Clarke once said, “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”
As an industry association that helps technologists to venture beyond “the limits of the possible,” I invite like-minded technology adventurers to engage with SEMI, starting with registration to this week’s SEMICON West – our first virtual show.
As chief of staff, Bettina Weiss reports to SEMI President and CEO Ajit Manocha and manages a broad portfolio of responsibilities. Major focus areas include advancing specific global strategic initiatives such as thought leadership (Think Tanks) and SEMI Smart Transportation vertical application platform, improving organizational efficiency, alignment and financial sustainability, acting as senior liaison to SEMI Board of Industry Leaders, leading strategic partnerships and M&A activity, and supporting Manocha in creating a highly effective, agile global association.
Maria Vetrano is a PR consultant at SEMI.