New Hynix CEO takes over a remade company

Former government official to head South Korean memory chip maker

South Korean memory chip maker Hynix Semiconductor appointed a former government official as its new chairman and CEO, Kim Jong-kap.

Kim officially took over the position on Friday, after serving in various posts under the South Korean government for the past 31 years, Hynix said in a statement. Most recently, he was a vice minister in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy, where he worked on a number of IT initiatives and maintained close contacts with the semiconductor industry.

He replaces Woo Eui-jei, CEO since 2002 and a representative of Hynix's largest creditors, which still hold sway over the company thanks to a bailout that was able to keep Hynix afloat through a DRAM (dynamic RAM) industry downturn between 2001 and 2003.

Critics have often said Hynix should have been sold or allowed to go out of business at the time, but that government intervention helped secure vital loans to keep its operations going. The company means thousands of jobs to South Korea, and accounts for billions of dollars in exports each year.

A $3.1 billion bid for Hynix in 2002 by Micron Technology, of Boise, Idaho, was rejected. Soon after, Micron complained to U.S. authorities that the billions of dollars in credit provided to Hynix by South Korean banks was nothing short of a subsidy.

The U.S. agreed, slapping heavy tariffs on South Korean-made Hynix chips. The EU also levied tariffs on imported Hynix chips after Germany's Infineon Technologies filed a complaint.

The scrappy South Korean company not only survived the downturn and tariffs, it thrived. The chip maker beat the tariffs by increasing production at a factory in Oregon to supply its U.S. customers, focusing more sales on China, and inking a contract manufacturing agreement with a Taiwanese company, ProMOS Technologies. Hynix also side-stepped EU tariffs by drop-shipping its DRAM into non-EU member nations in Europe, where they were assembled inside PCs and shipped throughout the continent.

The moves paid off, and an industry rebound capped a long climb back into the top of the DRAM rankings for the company.

Hynix took the second largest share of the DRAM market last year, 16.6 percent, behind local rival Samsung Electronics, which held 28 percent, according to industry researcher iSuppli. Micron came in fourth with an 11 percent share, behind Qimonda, formerly the DRAM division of Infineon, which snatched 15.9 percent of the market.

Hynix's new chairman and CEO said he plans to focus on four main strategies going forward; knowledge management, customer satisfaction, ethics and the environment.

He was officially appointed into his new role on Thursday by a vote at Hynix's Annual General Shareholders' Meeting.

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