Rumors swirl that TSMC chairman Mark Liu was forced to retire over Arizona fab debacle

TSMC Chairman Mark Liu
(Image credit: TSMC)

On December 19, TSMC announced the retirement of chairman Mark Liu, but there has been increasing speculation that the chairman's five-year tenure might have been ended forcibly (via Wealth Magazine). Taiwanese media voices theorize that Liu's abrupt departure from the company is related to the construction delays for TSMC's Arizona fab, which Liu spent much of 2023 trying to keep on track.

Retirement isn't unusual for someone who's been working for roughly forty years, but there are two main reasons why Liu's retirement has stirred up speculation. The first is that it was very sudden; there was very little warning at all. Additionally, the press release surrounding his retirement came from TSMC and not Liu himself. By contrast, TSMC founder Morris Chang, who served as both chairman and CEO, announced his own retirement in 2018 and made his own statements.

According to industry rumors, the immediate cause for Liu's removal was problems surrounding Fab 21. The construction for Fab 21 in Arizona has been troubled since it began in April 2021, and chairman Liu blamed local Arizonan workers for the delays. His solution to get Fab 21 back on track was to send experienced TSMC workers from Taiwan, but this only angered the locals and unions. Eventually, the chairman backtracked on his comments about American workers and made concessions to the unions to end the conflict that had started half a year ago.

But beyond that, it is reported that Liu's position in TSMC was already fragile due to Chang's disapproval of U.S. collaboration. Although TSMC's founder has held no official position at the company since 2018, he is apparently personally influential enough for his opinion to matter. Chang has been skeptical of the CHIPS Act and attempts to build new fabs in America, and this reflected poorly on Liu's position. According to this theory, the chairman was already on thin ice with his support for TSMC-U.S. cooperation, and the problems at Fab 21 were the final straw.

After announcing his retirement, the board of directors recommended that current TSMC CEO C.C. Wei should succeed Liu as chairman. This would end the dual-rule arrangement set up after the retirement of Morris Chang, unless Wei resigns as CEO upon his accession as chairman.

However, Wei might hold onto both positions to face the challenges ahead. TSMC has invested billions of dollars into Fab 21 and the wider project to revive semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S., but the company hasn't yet received subsidies from the federal government. Chairman Liu allegedly got the boot for not fixing this situation, so Wei must get everything back on track, or he could face similar consequences. 

Matthew Connatser

Matthew Connatser is a freelancing writer for Tom's Hardware US. He writes articles about CPUs, GPUs, SSDs, and computers in general.

  • thisisaname
    Fun times ahead.
  • TomMariner
    I worked for Morris Chang when he was CEO of General Instrument. No nonsense and believed that Asian workers would work harder and longer and learn quicker than their US chip counterparts.
  • pswaterspirit
    I worked for TMSC for 20 years in their fab in Camas Washington as an engineer. They also have one in New York. He gave us all stock in TSMC America when he set it up. They really have no option but to offshore some of their fabs and they know that. While the Chinese are certainly an issue, earthquakes are a bigger one. The last major quake they had about 7 years ago damaged 3 fabs and pretty much destroyed another. While they were shut down for repair the bottle neck was gigantic. Most of these were down for months. To stabilize output they have to move some of their work out of Taiwan. In the years I worked there this happened three different times. This Fab has been going through planning for at least 5 years. There are several slated for this country over time. With the chips act I can see Morris not liking it. Things change with the wind in our current climate. It would not be out of the realm of possibility that a new president would pull the plug and leave them holding the bag