Rick Howarth of Intel

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When AmCham China expanded last fall, Rick Howarth stepped up as Northeast China Chapter Chairman to welcome the new members of Shenyang. Howarth is the General Manager of Intel Semiconductor Dalian, and has more than three decades of experience in the high-tech industry. He’s worked for Intel since 1997, first in the US, and then in Shanghai for what was supposed to be a two-year international assignment. That turned into 11 years and counting in Asia for Howarth, taking him from Shanghai to Vietnam to his current leadership position in Dalian.

Howarth spoke with Business Now about how to keep employees from running away with a company’s intellectual property and how fatherhood has changed his golf game.

Q: Why was Shenyang an important step for Northeast China Chapter?

A: Shenyang is bringing a lot of foreign investment in. When you look at the size of the Korean chamber in Shenyang, it’s huge – more than 1,000 member companies.

We have a small team of excited and passionate AmCham China members there, and (Chapter Manager) Tracy Pan helping to open the office. Early on, we’re seeing hotels joining. We’re seeing several companies around agriculture and a fair amount from automotive.

And with this office so close to the [US] consulate, we’re going to do much more with them. They’re a wealth of information for us.

Q: What are your current goals for the Shenyang office?

A: Our goal as a chapter is to double our membership, and most or all of that will come from the Shenyang region.

Tracy Pan’s key focus is to connect more strongly with the other, non-American chambers of commerce. The easiest way to start to do that is with networking. For example, last year we hosted a joint golf tournament with the Japanese, Korean and European chambers. There’s a need to keep thinking about advocacy, a need to look at common issues across chambers. If we unite chapters together, our voices can be better heard.

Q: What are your priorities at Intel right now?

A: My priorities are phasing out the older product portfolio and starting to ready the organization for what the future might hold. That’s not been fully defined yet. What we do know is this fab (fabrication facility) is a strategic component of Intel’s overall China strategy. Intel has more than 8,000 employees in China. In its 30-year history in China, Intel has invested about $5 billion.

We spent a lot of time last year giving back to the communities in which we work and live through our corporate social responsibility. In 2014, we exceeded our 25,000 hours goal, committing 33,000 hours with greater than 95 percent participation from our employees. We go into schools and we help teachers use technology to better teach their students. We also hold engineering robotics contests to develop the practical engineering skills necessary for the industry. Besides that, we did some things to improve an elderly care facility [and did a] beach cleaning and tree planting.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: Whether the China ecosystem is really capable of supporting us. It goes beyond the supply chain, such as within customs regulations. We import a fair number of reused tools from other Intel factories around the world. The tools that we buy are tens of millions of dollars, and there are some very onerous requirements by the China Commodity Inspection Bureau that add weeks of throughput time and additional cost. The other thing that keeps me up is if we can become cost competitive with these limitations.

Another factor is IP (intellectual property) protection. I read the articles that lead you to believe that it is getting better, but I haven’t seen any measurable or quantifiable improvements. Recent complaints between Samsung and TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) were because people were leaving one organization, going to another and bringing some of their IP with them, helping to close the technology gap. Developing technologies costs billions and billions of dollars, so if another company can get these technologies by simply hiring an employee, it saves them a lot of time and investment.

Q: What do you do to prevent employees leaving with Intel’s IP?

A: Although we are in a tier-two city, we benchmark against tier-one cities and pay tier-one salaries. We have internal training called Intel University. The program offers thousands of courses from learning how to do public speaking to microprocessor design. We provide fabulous facilities such as a 24-hour gym that’s as good as any in the US. We try to provide a combination of career growth, learning and development opportunities and the chance to make a difference in the community. Our turnover rates are below the average in China, typically close to 5 to 6 percent on an annual basis.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

A: The opportunity to go down to Vietnam and start a new Intel site in Ho Chi Minh City. It certainly was a career aspiration to turn an old piece of farm field into a high-tech facility, complete the construction, hire the more than 1,000 employees, start up the factory and produce products that were equal to, if not better than, other Intel products from around the world.

Q: You went from China to Vietnam and back. Can you speak to the difference in the business environments between these two countries?

A: The big challenge for Vietnam is that China has well-regarded universities and it’s able to produce engineers and Ph.D.s to bring into higher tech industries. In Vietnam, the universities are way behind. I worked very hard trying to transform the education system, and was able to put together a consortium of industry, academia and government to support that transformation. As HEEAP (Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program), we worked with six universities around the country with the goal of transforming their programs into the equivalent of a US engineering education, with hands-on practical application, labs, teams, projects for industry. The program is still alive and well, and continues to grow with the support of American universities such as Arizona State.

Q: What kind of a boss do you try to be?

A: One that listens. I’m not the expert in everything, and I really rely on our senior people to be able to voice their opinions and ideas so that we can collectively make the right decisions. I try to turn that traditional leadership pyramid upside down to where the organization isn’t serving me, but I’m really serving the organization, because at the end of the day, that’s really who is going to be delivering the results.

Q: As a father, how do you maintain a work/life balance?

A: Coming to Asia, (my wife and I) had no children, and along the way, we adopted twin Chinese girls. They actually joined us while we were living in Vietnam. When we left Ho Chi Minh City, they were 7, and now they’re 9.

When I’m at work, I’m 100 percent at work, and when I’m at home with the family, I’m 100 percent at home with the family. Our normal office hours here are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., so I try very hard to leave the office by 4:30, and then my daughters go to bed at 8, so between 4:30 and 8, it’s all about family – time with my wife and with my daughters, helping to cook, reading with them. My daughters love music, so I sit down and help them with their music. When they go to bed, I’ll go back and do some more work. My secret is to segregate those and try not to mix the two together.

Q: You’ve been spotted at many an AmCham China golf tournament. What’s your favorite golf course in the world?

A: I’ve played at St. Andrews, Pebble Beach, a couple of courses in Vietnam that were just spectacular. There’s one that is probably my favorite on the southern coast of Oregon called Bandon Dunes. It’s right on the ocean, a spectacular course. It’s kind of a throwback course to the way golf was originally – no golf carts.

Q: What kind of a golfer are you?

A:  I used to be pretty decent before my daughters came along; I was a 4 to 5 handicap. That has ballooned a bit, and I’m probably about a 12 handicap. I can get around and hit the ball and have fun. Now, the beauty of golf to me is the relaxing environment. It’s more about using it as an opportunity to have fun with friends and enjoy the natural beauty, and less about being a perfectionist of the game.