It’s hard to stay on top

It’s always a wild ride at the top of the semiconductor heap…


As part of my fascination with the history of the semiconductor industry, I’ve recently been reviewing data on the annual top 20 semiconductor companies since 1987. Using revenue data compiled by Gartner Dataquest (through 1999) and iSupply (2000 – 2010), it’s been very interesting to see what changes have come about at the top of the heap in our industry. Here is a brief synopsis of some major events in the lives of the top-20 semiconductor companies since 1987:

• SGS-THOMSON was formed with the merger of SGS Microelettronica and Thomson Semiconducteurs in 1987, and changed its name to STMicroelectronics in 1998.
• Harris Semiconductor was formed in 1988 when Harris bought GE’s Solid State division, and was spun out by Harris as Intersil in 1999. GE was a top-20 semiconductor company in 1987, and Harris last saw the top 20 in 1990.
• Matsushita changed its business name to Panasonic in 2008, which bought Sanyo in 2009. Sanyo was last in the top 20 in 1999.
• The memory businesses of NEC and Hitachi were combined and spun out as Elpida Memory in 1999, which then took over the Mitsubishi memory business in 2003.
• The logic business of Hitachi and Mitsubishi were combined to form Renesas Technology in 2003, taking Hitachi and Mitsubishi completely out of the semiconductor business. Renasas then took over the semiconductor business of NEC in 2010 and is now Renesas Electronics. NEC was the #1 semiconductor maker in 1987 – 1991, and has been in the top 20 every year until 2010.
• Hyundai merged with LG Semiconductor in 1999, and changed its semiconductor business name to Hynix Semiconductor in 2001. LG was last listed in the top 20 in 1997. Hyundai first joined the top 20 in 1995.
• Motorola spun out its semiconductor business as Freescale Semiconductor in 2004.
• Philips spun out its semiconductor business as NXP Semiconductors in 2006.
• Siemens spun out its semiconductor business as Infineon Technologies in 1999, which spun out its memory business as Qimonda in 2006, which went bankrupt in 2009. Qimonda was ranked #16 in 2006.
• AMD spun out its Fujitsu joint venture Flash memory business (started in 1993) as Spansion in 2005, and the rest of its semiconductor business as GlobalFoundries in 2009, which merged with Chartered Semiconductor in 2010. Spansion made it as high as 24 in the semiconductor rankings in 2006.
• AT&T spun out its semiconductor business as Lucent Technologies in 1996, which spun out its semiconductor business as Agere Systems in 2000, which was bought by fabless LSI Logic in 2007 (now LSI Corporation). Agere was last in the top 20 in 2001.
• OKI Electric Industry dropped out of the top 20 after 1993, and sold its semiconductor business to Rohm in 2008. Rohm was last in the top 20 in 2008.
• Other companies to drop out of the top 20 were Sharp (last listed in 2009), Analog Devices (2004), Fujitsu (2004), IBM (2005),
• National Semiconductor bought Fairchild Semiconductor in 1987 and spun it out again in 1997, It bought Cyrix in 1997 and sold it 1999. National was last in the top 20 in 1998, and was bought by Texas Instruments in 2011.

And those are just some of the changes in the top 20 over the last 25 years. It’s always a wild ride in the semiconductor business.

Next post, I’ll look at the current make-up of the 2010 semiconductor top-20 list and see what has changed in the last 25 years.