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Success in the High-tech Industry and the Marathon of Life
"Life is like a lifetime marathon; it's fine to start at a slow pace, as long as you remember to keep running." This is the philosophy of Mr. Po-wen Yen, CEO of United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC) and the winner of the 2016 SEMI Sustainable Manufacturing Leadership Award.
The 2016 SEMI Sustainable Manufacturing Leadership Award was conferred by President Tsai Ying-wen at SEMI’s annual Leadership Gala Dinner, which was recently held in Taipei. “Yen exemplifies outstanding leadership and commitment to sustainable manufacturing issues. He approaches environmental protection in a holistic way, thinking broadly and then setting up the infrastructure to institutionalize the change while staying involved each step of the way," said Denny McGuirk, president and CEO of SEMI. In this age of global warming and a looming energy crisis, this award represents a major affirmation of not only an individual, but also the entire industry.
Yen earned his bachelor’s degree from NTHU’s Department of Chemical Engineering in 1980, and his master’s degree from National Taiwan University’s Department of Chemical Engineering in 1982. In 1986 he began working at UMC, and has been there ever since. During these 30 years he has made sustainable development one of the core values at UMC, thereby helping the company to become a global leader in the semiconductor industry. In addition to the application of environmental principles to the workplace, for many years Yen has been promoting recycling in the wider community.
As for his approach to work, Yen is very practical, often reminding people, "It’s not enough to have an ideal; you have to put it into practice!” He says that his motto is “Learn by doing; gain insight by learning.”
Recycling is Like Finding Hidden Treasure
Yen says that it was in 2009 that he made his first trip to a recycling center. He was rather shocked by the sight of so many unfinished drink containers, which makes the recycling process more labor intensive and expensive. As a result, he committed to properly recycle as much as possible, both at home and at work.
Comparing recycling to one of today’s highly popular games, Yen says, “Those treasures you find in Pokémon Go aren’t genuine; the real treasures are recycled resources.”
Without his knowledge, one of his colleagues nominated Yen for the SEMI Sustainable Manufacturing Leadership Award. He attributes winning the honor to a concerted team effort. In his view, in the technology industry, small changes in methodology can have a major positive impact on the environment.
More than a decade ago, when Yen was a fab director, he began to advocate for reductions in fluoride (PFC) emissions. For him, even if employees don’t have strong views on environmental issues, it is still essential for management to do as much as possible to reduce the production of toxic waste.
"Of course, these measures can be very costly and have to be verified through repeated trials," points out Yen, “But, the company has to understand that the results are very important.”
Strength through Challenge
Mr. Yen worked in the chemical industry for two years before moving to semiconductors. He reflects, "It was from real world experience that I came to understand the importance of formal education." He says that in the electronics industry there is a new breakthrough every two and a half years, and this continuous innovation brings him a great sense of accomplishment. Even though there are many setbacks, he loves the challenging nature of his work.
"Both technical and managerial positions entail numerous challenges in personnel management and corporate governance, because people are complex and hard to understand.” Yen is also grateful to his supervisors for their trust and guidance; in addition, he points out the importance of religious beliefs for providing him with the inner strength to persevere during tough times. As for the frequent accusations leveled at the semiconductor industry by environmental groups, Yen says, “You have to identify each crisis as an opportunity to make necessary changes. We grow stronger by facing challenges with a positive attitude.”
He also points out the increased motivation that comes from having a clear sense of altruism. For example, developing a technology that extends battery life or reduces energy consumption is good for the environment, so it benefits everyone. When you think about how your work is beneficial to the society as a whole, it becomes a lot easier to deal with the setbacks and pressure inherent in any job.
Learning from Mistakes
Recalling his university days, Yen describes himself as being “muddled and slow,” and says that this sometimes resulted in problems. However, with the help of good friends, he matured and learned valuable lessons. He holds many fond memories about his exemplary teachers at NTHU, especially Dr. Chun-shan Shen, who later became University President. Mr. Yen highly admired Dr. Shen not only for his academic abilities, but also for his active involvement in social and campus activities including athletics, Go and Bridge tournaments.
Yen readily admits his share of mistakes along the way, but adds that these same mistakes have taught him much, such as how to recover from setbacks. For Mr. Yen, "Life is like a lifetime marathon; it's fine to start at a slow pace, as long as you remember to keep running.” He also encourages students who are still unclear about their direction in life by saying, “Don’t be afraid of making mistakes—just remember to learn from them!”
NTHU President Hong Hocheng said that Yen’s promotion of environmental awareness makes him an asset to the semiconductor industry and is a fine example of the NTHU spirit.
Mr. Po-wen Yen, CEO of UMC

Mr. Po-wen Yen, CEO of UMC


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