Micron Technology Inc. grew to prominence cranking out billions of memory chips and scattering them across the marketplace.
Then it diversified its chips and pumped out a broad portfolio of memory for customers in the automotive, industrial and computing sectors.
Today, Microns vision is to create products to meet the select needs of customers looking for memory products tailored just for them.
Mark Durcan, Microns CEO since February, is the man trying to lead the company there. Hes finding the road a bit bumpy.
Right now, the market for dynamic random-access memory a category of chips used heavily in personal computers is lousy, Durcan says. PC sales are stagnant, dragging down demand, even though only 15 percent of Microns DRAM chips go into PCs.
And Microns bid to buy bankrupt Japanese chipmaker Elpida Memory Inc. for $2.5 billion lost some of its luster as the DRAM market imploded. The purchase would nearly double the companys share of the worldwide market to 20 percent or more. Durcan insists there are still plenty of upsides to the purchase. The combination of Micron and Elpida really does create the worlds best memory portfolio and the worlds strongest technology company, he told analysts at a meeting Friday in Boise.
The Statesman talked with Durcan after the meeting.
Q: Whats the greatest challenge this company faces?
A: The memory landscape is changing. On a go-forward basis, we need to be better at some things that historically havent been as important to us. That involves this concept of being much closer to our customers, much more involved in understanding what their end systems are and what they are trying to accomplish. And much more capable of delivering system solutions to them.
That means we have to change on a number of fronts what we are good at (and) the skill set we have. It means we have to be larger, hence part of the rationale for the Elpida decision. But really (it means making) that transition from being a commodity component manufacturer, focused on driving our products into a lot of different market segments, into a company that is actually trying (to change) so that products are more system-oriented for specific classes of customers. Something that will really potentially pay big dividends for the company over the long haul but requires significant new skills and capability.
Q: Can you take me through a decision you have had to wrangle with during the last eight months?
A: Acquiring Elpida. Deciding whether or not to sign that sponsorship agreement is a big decision for the company. Its a fork in the road. As in all decisions, there are pros and cons. And there are risks in either direction. Those types of decisions are going to impact the company for years to come. While a decision like that (has) input from the board, there is a lot (for which) they look to the CEO for judgment. Thats one that has absolutely taken a lot of thought and consideration and is one where as president and COO I would certainly have had an opinion about and would have advised the CEO what I thought the best direction is. But it is very, very different being the decision-maker.
Q: Is that a decision you make on your own? Whose counsel did you seek for Elpida?
A: A lot of the officers in the company as well as senior managers and the board of directors.
Q: We know about the upsides of Elpida. You get a bigger share of the market. You get access to some of their technology. Are there downsides to this?
A: We are taking on more debt, which is a risk. Obviously we have tried to structure the deal in a way that contains that risk. We will have larger exposure to the DRAM market, which is quite soft right now. So there is risk associated with that. There are risks associated with not doing it. If we dont do it and somebody else does acquire those assets, perhaps they have the scale we otherwise would have and have more customer buy-in (that) we could have had.
Q: You said at the analyst meeting that the Elpida deal doesnt look quite as good now as it did when you first signed the agreement. Talk about that.
A: The market is softer today than I think we would have thought it would be at this point. That doesnt mean the long-term rationale or all the strategic reasons for doing the deal dont make sense. If you look in terms of how much money will be on the balance sheet when we close or how much value will be there when we close the transaction, my view of that today is slightly different than it was when I signed the deal because the market environment has been softer.
Q: You were president of Micron and now you are the CEO. Whats the difference?
A: As president and chief operating officer, I was essentially running the company from the inside. But at the end of the day, the CEO is the ultimate decision-maker other than for things that go to the board. What I found is that as a CEO the decisions at the end of the day are your decisions. What I found that does it sharpens your mind a little bit more to whats the risk of a decision I am making right now.
Q: As a CEO there are a lot of constituencies you have to look after: stockholders, board members, employees. How do you deal with all of those interest groups?
A: First and foremost, I look at my responsibilities stewarding the company toward long-term success. That will ultimately be in the best interest of all those groups. How do I weigh that? I always look to the long term. Im not looking to what benefits Micron in any short-term horizon, which over one period of time might be beneficial to employees or another period of time be beneficial to shareholders. As long as I do that, all those interests come to the same vector, because the long-term success of the company is also the long-term benefit of the employees and the community and the board.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts