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Interview: Christine King of SMSC

06 · 09 · 09

By @geekgirls

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During my sister’s college graduation this summer, I had the pleasure of listening to one of the most inspiring commenceChris_King_Photoment speeches.
Christine King, President and Chief Executive Officer of SMSC, a global supplier of semiconductor solutions, spoke about what an education means to her and how she succeeded in the field of technology.

Unlike most speeches I’ve heard given by successful individuals, King offered an honest and vulnerable story about her personal struggles which lead to her determination to receive an education. She did not have the support that so many of us take for granted and refused to become devoured by self-pity. King did not wait for opportunity to knock; she walked right up to its door and said “Let me in!”

Her story and words of wisdom have truly impacted my life and I felt it was imperative that I relay her message to everyone. Christine King graciously accepted my interview request and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share a glimpse of this truly remarkable geek girl!

 Geek Girls Network: In your SUNY Orange commencement speech, you explained a period of your life as a single mother living in a trailer. What was your motivation to change your situation at that time? How far into your future were you looking?

Christine King: My major motivation is that I had totally run out of money.  I had a one year old son and NO means of support.  I couldn’t find a job as in the 60’s no one would hire a single mom. Getting an education was the only smart option I had. 

I was only looking forward a week or so [into the future].  I had no idea that the path I set at that time would lead me to becoming the first female CEO of a Semiconductor Company and a really wonderful career!

GGN: What aspect of the electrical engineering field interested you initially?

CK: I started out in Electrical Engineering to impress a guy I was dating.  He was an engineer at a radio station.  But when I got into it, I loved the problem solving aspect and the fact that there was ALWAYS an answer.  I love debugging problems and think of myself as a street fighter whether troubleshooting tough circuits or landing a big customer.  More women need to get into this great field and you can make money too!

GGN: During your career at IBM, what pressures did you face, if any, as a woman in the engineering field?

CK: IBM was very supportive of woman in engineering.  Of course, in the early seventies, if you were at the copier machine, it was likely that one of the male engineers would hand you some of his copying because he thought you were a secretary. 

As I advanced though, it got tougher.  If my boss thought I was a threat, he was no longer in my corner.  There truly is a glass ceiling but there were cracks here and there.  I think that even with my performance I had to fight harder and prove myself more.  I worked my way up to one level away from the CEO so I had to get past a lot of egos.

(King served as VP of marketing and field engineering and manager of ASIC products during the beginning of her career at IBM. She later worked her way up to VP of semiconductor products at IBM Microelectronics and VP of the networking technology business unit.)

GGN: What role did you play in building application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) products at IBM?

CK: I started IBM’s ASIC products with about 15 people when I lost my senior management position as the result of a “span of control’ action.  It was the ultimate ‘high tech” start up.  I attracted people that were ready to do something exciting.  I guess you could say I was the mother of the business doing everything from landing almost every customer from Cisco to Apple to Ericsson, developing technical specifications and design flows and setting prices.  We built the business from nothing to $2.5 Billion and #1 in the world in a field with many established semiconductor players.  It was a great time!

GGN: What events/factors led to your position of CEO at AMI Semiconductor?

CK: I took the job as CEO of AMI Semiconductor because I wanted to do more than just be a Senior Executive at a large Company.  Being CEO means you touch everything and get to define the culture.  The buck stops with you on every subject, so it is the ultimate business accountability.  Also I thought there was an opportunity to take the Company public, which we did in 2003.

GGN: What qualities/values do you feel set you apart and propel you forward?

CK: While I think I have good engineering skills I think the main thing that sets me apart was my enthusiasm and drive. I was never able to settle for anything but winning and to win you need to drive all the pieces in a situation forward. These qualities also enabled me to attract a lot of wonderful people to want to work with me, which is always important in getting the job done.

GGN: What tools/skills do you feel are most vital to your successes?

CK: Well, being a good engineer was a vital basic, but also good business sense and a way with numbers.  Communication and leadership skills are key, but also a wiliness to take risks and succeed.  The most important is a passion to learn from every situation.

GGN: Aside from engineering, do you have any other passions?

CK: Well of course family is at the top of the list.  But my fear of being bored drives me to do many exciting things outside of work.  I diary farmed for 12 years when I was bored at IBM.  I didn’t know anything about it and ended up with two cows that were 4th in the world.  Believe me, if you can dairy farm you can do anything. 

My real passion is riding horses.  I own seven and cut cows, which is two and a half minutes of adrenaline sitting on top of a horse with a cow challenging you.  Three minds involved.  It doesn’t get more exciting than that!

GGN: Describe one defining moment of your life?

CK: The defining moment in my life was sitting in a beat up mustang with my one year old son and I didn’t have money for 2 gallons of gas (33 cents at the time).  That was when I decided I had to get an education.  It changed everything.

GGN: What message would you like to give to young women in the field of technology?

CK: Technology is a wonderful field for women.  Learn all you can, set high goals, know you can succeed and drive to the top!

GGN: Do you have any big plans for the future?

CK: I plan to make my current Company, SMSC, bigger and better.  As CEO, it is my job to make sure we give a great financial return to our shareholders, make our customers happy and provide a wonderful place for people to work.  And I am aiming to be a Champion Cow Cutter on my horse.

For additional interviews of Christine King, please see the Winter 2005 issue of FDU Magazine.

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5 comments

  1. Wow, that was a beautiful interview. I really wish so many more people would take the time out of their lives to do something like that. I kind of wish I’d had someone like that speaking during my commencement at OCCC. The guy that they had was a bad ass… really old German dude. Now, what he had to say was amazing. I still remember a good portion of it…but I wish I’d heard someone like Christine King’s story when I first trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I think it would have been helpful. I’m going to pass the word along on this : )


  2. Great interview. Lot’s to learn.

    Ladies, can I suggest you add a widget so I can share your stuff! I wanted to email this post to a couple of people (and will) but a widget would be great.


    • Great Idea! and.. Done 😉


  3. Fantastic! I loved this article and I really enjoyed reading. I would have flunked out of engineering but I know so many women engineers. I salute them all!


  4. Its really to bad she doesn’t mention how she dismantled the workforce at AMIS and left several people without jobs in Pocatello Idaho after she milked the company dry. What a bitch.



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