Culture & People

Building a World-Class FAB with Safety and Happiness: Interview with Sang-hwa Lee, Head of Wuxi FAB

By October 7, 2021 October 19th, 2021 No Comments

In 2005, SK hynix arrived in Wuxi, where it built a semiconductor manufacturing plant. Over a decade later, the Wuxi FAB has now become SK hynix’s largest FAB in China. At the same time, SK hynix has continued to expand its presence in Wuxi, China, enhancing economic value while making efforts to continuously provide social value for local communities.

We are honoured to have had an in-depth conversation with Sang-hwa Lee, the head of Wuxi FAB, and get to know his story of 26 years with SK hynix. In this interview, Mr. Lee also revealed his vision of establishing Wuxi FAB as a world-class production base with safety and happiness, fulfilling corporate responsibilities and giving back to the local community.

Hand in Hand for 26 years: Growing Together with SK hynix

Could you please introduce yourself?

My name is Sang-hwa Lee. The Korean pronunciation of my name is the same as that of a famous person in Korea, so it is very easy to remember.1 After graduating with a master’s degree in 1996, I joined the Hyundai Electronics Co., Ltd, the predecessor of SK hynix. I have been working in the company for nearly 26 years and currently serve as the head of SK hynix Wuxi FAB.

What kind of positions have you held during your time at SK hynix?

At the beginning, I worked as a semiconductor process engineer in the research institute, and progressed on to a manufacturing FAB technical engineer. I worked at the institute in two separate periods for a total of 10 years. For the rest of the time, I have worked on projects such as FAB construction and renovation of the cleanroom etc.. After joining the company, I got married and raised two children. Looking back now, SK hynix has been with me for almost half of my life.

Could you please tell us about some of the beneficial internal trainings that you have received during your years at SK hynix?

Among the company’s internal education programs, the ones that impressed me the most were the “Phoenix Leadership Education” from a long time ago, and the “Executive Guidance Program” in 2018. The notes I took during the “Phoenix Leadership Education” are still in my desk. In one of the notes, I wrote down the story of the 67-year-old founder of KFC, Colonel Harland Sanders, who finally found success on his 1,010th attempt2! I share these notes with younger generations in the hope that the principles and stories will inspire them. During my temporary return to Korea in 2018, I participated in the “Executive Guidance Program”, an education project targeted at company leaders. This educational project not only gave me a lot of new ideas, but also strengthened my values and allowed me to further mature.

How did you overcome the difficulties and challenges you have encountered at work?

I never give up no matter how difficult the conditions may be. When facing new challenges, I would constantly discuss with team members to formulate plans and refine them, trying my best to find a way to solve the problems. In my opinion, as long as we focus on the two solutions instead of the other 998 excuses to fail, and work together with people we trust, we can overcome any difficulties.

Mr. Lee’s notes during his training at “Phoenix Leadership Education”

Attending SK hynix’s Happiness Talks to improve communication with employees

Leading Wuxi FAB: Building a world-class production base

In your opinion, what is the key to building Wuxi FAB into a world-class production base?

First, SECURITY. I will try to find and improve the problem areas across the entire workplace. We want employees to be able to do their jobs in a safe working environment, so that they can clock on, clock off and return home in safety, which is actually way more important than it may sound like. In addition, we must have strict safety regulations and abide by them, while improving everyone’s safety awareness by encouraging good habits in their daily lives.

Second, QUALITY. Our quality management organizes and manages the quality of raw materials and products. And we spare no effort or resources to create world-class quality, ensuring the quality indicators are at the highest level.

Third, COST COMPETITIVENESS. Due to the nature of manufacturing industry, in order to maximize operating profit, we are focusing on reducing input costs and increasing production while maintaining quality.

How have your years of working at SK hynix helped with your leadership skills?

In the regular executive surveys, there is usually a section set aside for feedback. Feedbacks are often divided into three parts: strengths, weaknesses, and areas with the biggest room for improvement. It is amazing that “communication” appeared in all three parts of my feedbacks. I am quite trusting and have a strong tendency to communicate in many ways. This brings both advantages and disadvantages: the advantages are the ability to communicate actively, while the weakness is that my communication can sometimes be overly forceful. In this way, the area where I need to improve is also “communication.”

Working together to conquer “the highest peak of happiness”

SK hynix has long adhered to the SHE management system. How does the Wuxi FAB improve employee happiness?

This year, we launched the “Happiness Climbing Line” activity. In order to embody the abstract concept of happiness, we established the goal of “conquering the highest peak of happiness.” For Wuxi FAB, this is a new challenge in the pursuit of happiness!

The first stage of the “Happiness Climbing Line” is to launch happiness activities centered on leadership: firstly, leaders offer monthly one-on-one mentoring, assistance and check-ups for team members with a focus on their work; secondly, through Happiness Talks within the team, members discuss how they pursue happiness in the workplace; thirdly, collaborations between teams are organized to strengthen the organization; fourthly, gratitude is expressed through the Hy-thanks system; last but not least, in order to improve the happiness of team members, we are reducing unnecessary business activities. We also conduct surveys on a regular basis to obtain feedbacks and evaluate the current “Altitude of Happiness” in order to better boost employee happiness.

In addition to this, in May this year, to motivate members who have worked for the company for over 10 years, we held the “We Are SK hynix” event. At the dinner that day, feeling the happiness of those who have worked at SK hynix for more than 10 years, and the warmth of their families’ unconditional support, I was also filled with happiness.

Mr. Lee at the We Are SK hynix event for members who have worked for the company over 10 years

Mr. Lee at the 2021 Happiness Sports Meeting at Wuxi FAB

Responsibility, Gratitude and Giving Back: striving to enhance social value

What are the efforts made by the Wuxi FAB in order to carry out environmental protection and cope with climate change?

For those who need to use a lot of electricity to produce semiconductors, utilization of renewable energy is an urgent task and an important part of the “Green 2030” plan. Wuxi FAB has been cooperating with the head office’s renewable energy team since 2020, and have pledged to achieve 100% renewable energy use by 2022. This will serve as a leading force to achieve the goal of 100% renewable energy use in Icheon/Cheongju/Chongqing/Wuxi. At the same time, Wuxi FAB has also continued to carry out activities to save water resources, such as: subdividing management from the production stage, introducing advanced equipments and technologies, and using deionized recycled water, water from steam condensation, and cooling water for air-conditioning. Through these measures, as of 2020, 28% of the total water usage in Wuxi FAB will be externally recycled water.

What do you hope to give back to the local community in Wuxi through the SK hynix Wuxi Foreign Language School?

In order to promote the sustainable development of Wuxi FAB, we are exploring various ways to produce social value while creating economic value. As part of this, the SK Hynix Foreign Language School, which was established in September this year, is committed to providing better education for children of SK hynix employees and local residents, as well as to contribute to cultivating international elites. Here I would like to first sincerely express my best wishes to all the students who have entered SK hynix Wuxi Foreign Language School! I also look forward to seeing these future elites enjoying their healthy school life, and pursuing their own dreams!

The opening day of SK hynix Wuxi Foreign Language School


1Sang-hwa Lee is also the name of a former South Korean speed skater who was a gold medalist in the 500-meter sprint at the 2010 Sochi Winter Olympics, and a legendary figure in Korean women’s speed skating, known as the “Ice Queen “.
2KFC founder Colonel Harland Sanders spent two years attempting to sell his fried chicken recipe to 1,009 restaurants in the early days of his business, but was rejected. It was not until his 1010th attempt that a restaurant finally accepted his secret recipe, and he went on to become successful.