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SCU Engineering News

The Value of Defining Values

Richard Wallace

Richard P. (Rick) Wallace, President and CEO of KLA-Tencor Corp., the world’s fourth largest semiconductor manufacturer, received the School of Engineering’s highest honor when he was recently named the 2010 Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award recipient. At the award ceremony, he shared the story of his career growth and insights gleaned along the way with fellow alumni, students, faculty and staff.

In the mid-1980s armed with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan, Wallace came to Silicon Valley and joined a little start-up called Cypress Semiconductor, working in the manufacturing cleanroom. “Within a few months, it became apparent to me that I knew very little about semiconductors and needed to expand my education,” he said, relating his decision to enter SCU’s graduate electrical engineering program. A desire to become conversant in finance, marketing, and business leadership led to his transfer into the engineering management and leadership program, and upon receiving his master’s degree in 1989, he was recruited by the department chair to create a syllabus and teach a course in global competitiveness, which he did as adjunct lecturer for five years.

By this time, he was part of the management team at KLA-Tencor. He credits his experience as a student and teaching at SCU with helping him form the basis for one of his early successes at KLA-Tencor: the marketing and launch of a new product into production in fabs outside the United States. “Without the framework from SCU, I wouldn’t have had that experience,” he said, also noting that teaching was great preparation for his later role as CEO. “Teaching has a lot in common with management and leadership—you need to educate and bring people up to speed to get the team working together.”

When Wallace was named CEO in 2006, his goal was to build an effective executive team and a corporate culture to promote success. To do this, he and his team needed to define and foster the corporate values that had contributed to KLA-Tencor’s biggest successes over the past 30 years, and identify and relinquish those actions or beliefs that had led to failure. These are the five corporate values his team identified as being imperative to success:

  1. Perseverance. There are no overnight successes; it may take years to bring a project to fruition; be prepared to persevere.
  2. Drive to be better. Never be comfortable or satisfied with standing still.
  3. High-performing teams. Work globally, across cultures and across disciplines. Having high-performing teams with people who can lead them and people who can serve on them is crucial; management must be prepared to do what it takes to support performance.
  4. Be honest, forthright, and behave consistently. Have the courage of conviction to stand up for what you believe, volunteer additional information when it is needed, and cultivate an environment that consistently makes it acceptable for all to do so.
  5. Be indispensible to the customer. Strive to be unique and different—keep evolving.

Concluding his remarks, Wallace noted that these are not just corporate values, but also those he passes along to his children and strives to inculcate for his own self-improvement. When asked by an audience member why he should bother to be forthright when it is so often met with a punishment of some kind, Wallace responded in a manner befitting his Jesuit education: “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

More on KLA-Tencor Corp.

More on the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award.