FDU Magazine Online, Winter/Spring 2005
PHOTO: Christine King

 Christine’s KINGdom Stacked With Chips

Alumna Becomes First Female Semiconductor CEO

As the only woman in all her engineering classes, Christine King, BS’76 (T), knew she would be under close scrutiny and that she had better be good. She was better than good — then and now. Then, she was earning As in bunches, graduating at the top of her class with a perfect 4.00 average.

Now, she has become the semiconductor industry’s first female CEO and heads a $450-million global firm, AMI Semiconductor (AMIS). But in an industry labeled the toughest high-tech area for women, King doesn’t dwell on gender. “It’s a great honor to be the first female semiconductor CEO, but I’m so driven by results, I don’t even think about it.” 

Those results, during a remarkable three-decade long career, speak for themselves. She spent 23 years at IBM, rising through the ranks and becoming the first female executive in its semiconductor business [semiconductors, most commonly silicon, transmit and control electric currents, and are used to power various electronic devices]. Then, in September 2001, she was named to the top spot at AMIS, where, in a little more than three years, she has helped the company double in size.

Firmly in the Forefront

Headquartered in Pocatello, Idaho, AMIS has more than 2,500 employees worldwide, with European corporate offices in Belgium and a network of sales and design centers in key markets of the United States, Europe and the Asian Pacific region. The firm is the leading supplier of silicon to the medical industry and is in the top five providers for the automotive and industrial markets.

As King explains, “AMIS provides what we call ‘silicon solutions for the real world.’ These are silicon ‘chips’ that you find everywhere in your daily life.”

She further describes, “Some of our components are part of devices in the medical market such as pacemakers, glucose meters and X-ray machines. You will find many of our components in your automobile, powering your automatic braking systems, your airbags and your headlights — even inside your cylinders. And, they can be found in security systems. So we really bring intelligence to the things you encounter in your everyday life.”

Within the first two years of her AMIS tenure, she led the firm through a $600-million initial public offering (IPO) on the NASDAQ, the largest and most well-received IPO of the semiconductor industry in 2003. She also has added significant resources through several successful acquisitions, including the mixed-signal business of Alcatel Microlectronics [mixed signals combine analog and digital circuitry on one chip], the micro-power products division of Microsemi Corp. and Dspfactory Ltd, a leading provider of ultra-low power digital signal processing technology for digital hearing aids and other medical devices.

The company is currently working on a number of important innovations. King says, “Some of the exciting products we are working with enable new medical treatments such as implantable glucose metering and stroke-recovery devices. AMIS pioneered imaging technology used in military night vision that is also being applied to other areas like firefighting.”



“It seemed like there was
always a way, and if there wasn’t I had to create it.”

Enabled Through Education

Being in the forefront of a high-tech industry was not always foremost in Christine King’s mind. In 1967, King was a single mother whose husband had left her and her baby son. With no money and no job, she realized that “the only way out was an education.” She arranged with her welfare caseworker to use her money for child-care so she could return to school.

“Education was the enabler,” she recalls. “I think that hitting some tough times early in life gave me the drive to win and use that education. My parents were great role models and always encouraged me.”

Despite the early challenges, King says, “It seemed like there was always a way, and if there wasn’t I had to create it. I can’t say there were tough obstacles. It’s just like a business, create a plan and follow it.”

Her plan started at New York’s Orange County Community College, where she took electrical engineering classes as electives. She says she felt like “a duck in water” and quickly realized this was the path for her. After gaining a two-year engineering degree, she joined IBM in 1973 as a staff engineer and held a variety of engineering positions.

The native of Ridgewood, N.J., later began taking courses at FDU leading to her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology. King says her college lessons “gave me the basis for analytical thinking. I took some graduate computer architecture courses that were great, and I built a microprocessor-based computer as a special project. It was ahead of its time.”

One of her influential mentors was engineering technology professor Lee Rosenthal, who, she says, was “very interested in helping students focus on industry-related activities and learn how to apply technology to the real world.”

In 1980, she left IBM to form her own company in Vermont, Expedition Electronics, which focused on microprocessor systems and developed hardware and software systems for semiconductor and medical clients. There, King gained valuable experience running all aspects of a business; experience that would pay off when she returned to IBM in 1985.

“Persistence pays and when you can’t go through in the most direct way, go around glass ceilings and other obstacles.”

Taking Charge

During this second stint at IBM, King was instrumental in building the company’s strength in application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) products. She launched the ASIC business in 1993 and led its development into the number-one ASIC business in the world with $1.7 billion in revenue. She later led the creation of IBM’s networking business in 1998.

King also held the positions of vice president of worldwide marketing and vice president of wired communications. In 2000, she was named vice president of semiconductor products for IBM Microelectronics, a multi-billion dollar business.

PHOTO: Christine King at AMISAs her responsibilities grew at IBM, so did her reputation; and when the opportunity arose at AMIS, she didn’t hesitate. “I always wanted to be a CEO,” she says. “I wanted to be in charge.” Being in charge, she adds, means the added responsibility of knowing that “the ‘buck stops here,’ but it also means I can shape the company and really make a difference for many people.”

King explains that there really is no such thing as a typical day as CEO. “The great thing about the job is that it is different every day and you have the ability to make decisions in every area. That includes engineering, finance, legal, marketing, leadership, human resources and the list goes on.”

She also regularly travels throughout the world. “I make a big effort to spend a lot of face time with customers, employees and investors.”

Describing her management style, King says, “I delegate to my team whenever I can, but I will get down into the details when needed.  I am enthusiastic and hate to lose.” That may be an understatement. She adds that her rule of thumb has been, “Persistence pays and when you can’t go through in the most direct way, go around glass ceilings and other obstacles.”


A Jump on the Competition

King’s intensity extends beyond the realm of business and is evident in her choice of “leisurely” pursuits. “I like hobbies that are hard work but also fun, and I tend to be very competitive.” She calls herself “horse crazy.” She’s been riding horses since she was 2 years old and, while growing up, rode horses in jumping competitions and even competed at Madison Square Garden.

She later bought a farm in Vermont and built up a herd of 25 Brown Swiss dairy cows, which, she says, “taught me more about life than any other experience.” She says that taking care of the animals involves many problem-solving activities using everything from science to psychology. And the results are instantly determined, in terms of how much milk is generated. “It’s a humbling experience,” she says, “that keeps you honest.” 

Now that she is living in Idaho, she is riding horses again, only now “I am chasing cows instead of jumping hurdles.” One of her childhood dreams was to have her own stable of horses, and today she owns several quarterhorses.

Despite working and playing hard, King is devoted above all to her family. Her husband, Jack Telefus, is a former IBM engineer. She met him in class at Orange County Community College. Her son, Eric, designs animated Web sites, and her daughter, Megan, recently earned her PhD in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania. “Family is what counts most,” King says. “I am proud of being a daughter, wife and mother.”

She adds that she also is “proud of building a successful family known as the people of AMI Semiconductor.” And, her sights remain firmly set on continuing “to make things happen in business” — she hopes to again double the size of the company — and spending time with her family and horses.

As a female pioneer in her industry, she also wants to continue to be a role model and help provide encouragement and advancement opportunities for qualified women. She regularly speaks to groups advocating more opportunities for women in engineering and plans on directly mentoring women in her profession. After all, she says, “Women make great engineers!”

— A.C.


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