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October 28, 2016 – Arthur del Prado Passes: Art was a real visionary for our industry and considered by many to be the father of Europe’s equipment industry. A real visionary, Art had that rare ability to see a future that spanned technology, markets, people, and business models. He was also bold enough to execute against the longest of odds. When he started Advanced Semiconductor Materials (ASM) in 1964 in Bilthoven, Philips was the only chip company in the nation — and they made lots of their own equipment. You have to realize that back then there was no EU and certainly no sense of being European. If you wanted to sell in France, you had to look French. In Germany, you had to look German. Moreover, the center of the semiconductor world was the United States. Yet he took on the challenge and built what would be one of the scrappiest and most innovative companies in our industry. One that is still independent today, which is a real accomplishment.
To understand his accomplishments, you have to understand his background: Born in the Dutch West Indies, he was interned as a child by the Japanese without his family in WWII.1 He was around 11 years old when this happened, so no wonder that I would later find him to be one of the most intense senior executives that I have ever met. When I first met him, ASM was about to take the world by storm with PECVD. I had no idea, when he audaciously proclaimed that ASM was going to double in size for the next five years, that he would actually pull it off. It should also come as no surprise that he lead the way into Asia for the equipment industry. He founded ASM Pacific, by angel funding Patrick Lam to start that company up. Art remained Chairman of ASMPT until May of this year. He also was the first non-Japanese equipment exec to establish a productive R&D center in Japan. One that remains productive to this day.
Art also played a critical role in the founding of ASML, when Philips was restructuring during the tumultuous times of the mid-eighties. Philips was flailing in semiconductors and it certainly didn’t want to be in equipment. At the time, they wrongly decided the future was in e-beam direct-write and spun the stepper group out to the dogs. While you can’t say that ASML’s success today is the result of Art’s efforts, you can say that he steered through what were the stormiest waters that were sinking companies right and left. Moreover, there was glut of stepper companies at the time and ASML was like a captive animal released in the wild. The Philips spin-off couldn’t sell snow cones on a hot day in Hawaii. In all likelihood, ASML would have died an early death without Art’s bold move. And think about what the world today would mean without ASML. Moore’s Law would have stopped for real.
The bottom line is that the semiconductor industry would be a lot less successful without Arthur del Prado. He was an inspiration to many and many will miss him. I certainly will. One thing I did miss was not naming him to VLSI’s Chip Making Hall of Fame when he was still alive. For that, I apologize to everyone at ASM and to Art’s family. This will be fixed this year, as he certainly belongs there.
1 To better contextualize what this meant, check out the movie, ‘Empire of the Sun.’ To read more about Art’s life click here: https://www.asm.com/Pages/arthur-del-prado.aspx