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Meet Rollin Kocher, New KLA Leader in Taiwan

Nov 28, 2023 7 min read

Six months into his new role as KLA Taiwan leader, Rollin Kocher reflects on the semiconductor industry in Asia, evolving customer needs and his own goals during a Q&A with Advance.

You have deep technology and business experience in Asia, most recently as KLA’s country president in South Korea. What’s the current state of the electronics business globally and how does it relate to East Asia?

“Although there’s been overall softness in the semiconductor industry worldwide, the East Asia region continues to play a critical role producing more than 60% of the world’s semiconductors contract manufacturing and over 90% of the most advance chips. As industry dynamics change, some companies here in Taiwan are becoming more global with increased offshoring and expansion into other parts of the world.”

Rollin Kocher, KLA Taiwan leader
Rollin, who was previously president, KLA Korea, assumed the leadership position at KLA Taiwan in July 2023.

How does your educational and business background both on the technology and commercial sides of the semiconductor business support your leadership role in Taiwan?

Having a foundation in technology as an engineer is beneficial in understanding customer issues. Also, when I meet with our team, I can relate to what they do every day to support customers. I understand their daily challenges because I’ve been in their roles as an applications engineer – I’ve lived it. Tie that together with years of experience in management and leadership positions focused on customer needs and the essentials are in place for me drive our team forward.

Why have you chosen to work in Asia for so many years?

Asia is where many of KLA’s customers are located, and I wanted to work close to these leading-edge companies. What attracts me and why I’m still here is these leading customers drive us to be better – and also due to the great teams KLA has in Asia. When I was country president for KLA in South Korea or starting my new job in Taiwan, teams in both locations were open to new ideas, driven to supporting our customers and striving to deliver solutions and technologies.

You’re an American with deep business experience in Asia. Why have you been so successful in your dealings with KLA teams and customers in places far away from the United States?

Well, I really do not call any particular place home – I grew up overseas when I was a child. My father worked for the U.S. State Department, and we lived all over Europe and Africa. We moved to the U.S. when I was 16, and I graduated from high school in the Washington D.C. area. So, being outside the U.S. was part of my upbringing, and it feels natural to move around.  I’ve always tried to grow and learn from each experience whether I’m exploring different cultures or business opportunities.

What have your first six months on the job in Taiwan been like?

A good portion of my time has been devoted to defining how we drive our business objectives. I’m working with my leadership team to define goals as they relate to our role in advancing customer success.

What are your three main goals?

First, to support our customers as they become more global, we at KLA Taiwan look at our infrastructure to help them succeed in their ventures going forward. Our continued delivery of the highest-quality support is essential to our customers success.

Second, we have to continue building on our solid customer relationships to truly understand their business issues.

And third, we have to work as a global team and effectively articulate customer situations back to headquarters and our divisions so we can develop solutions to solve problems.

With that in mind, what’s the key to maintaining and growing engagement with KLA Taiwan’s customers?

When working with customers, it’s essential that we ask the right questions to fully understand their challenges. Examining and improving our engagement will take us in a direction where we can help solve customers’ business and technology problems faster and more effectively. Enhancing the questions we ask opens opportunities to explore different technology and product solutions, whether it’s their need to ramp up, reduce yield excursion or other concerns.  

How will you apply your background to asking the right questions?  

Our customers range from technology leaders to smaller companies – and all are critical to our industry. What I bring to the table is broad experience in multiple areas, having worked in different regions and organizational groups that impact a range of customers. Through the years, I’ve held positions in applications, sales and marketing and managed service organizations across different regions. By working in multiple places with multiple customers in multiple roles, I can help shape the conversation to drive an effective alignment with all stakeholders so we can deliver impactful solutions in this region.

Your predecessor, Tom Wang, had great success in building KLA’s presence in Taiwan into a formidable operation. How will you expand on Tom’s success?

Tom played a critical role in building the team here at KLA Taiwan and driving relationships with customers. I’d like to take what he did, share my experiences and methods of discovering and focusing on customer challenges and take the team to new heights. I’ll share everything I’ve learned through the years to create a mentoring, teaching and coaching culture that will position us to deliver value within our industry.

How do employee engagement activities figure into customer success?

We’ve been having a series of roadshows and other collaborations at our different sites in Taiwan where I meet with the teams at their locations to understand their challenges and obstacles. If I understand the challenges our teams are facing, I can work to remove obstacles so they can focus more effectively on delivering solutions to our customers. These interactions build positive working relationships between management and the complete team, which will shape our approach to resolving industry issues.

With that in mind, what key challenges does KLA Taiwan face?

First, as an organization, the question is, how do we provide more overall value to customers? And second, deliver a superior experience when solving those challenges. Addressing these issues begins with getting everyone on our team on the same page and embracing the direction we want to go. It’s about adding value to our processes and getting buy-in from the team.

You’ve had a multi-decade career in leadership positions. What have you learned from your experiences that have carried you forward during your career?

It’s important to continue learning and challenging yourself. I enjoy taking on new opportunities and gaining more experience to improve professionally. I’ve found that whenever I put myself in situations where I continue to grow and tackle new challenges, it has also helped me to advance in my career.

How does that message of learning and growth impact your leadership, the KLA team and, by extension, customers in a multicultural business setting?

I’ve always told my teams that everyone has to find their own style as a leader, and this idea goes across cultures. What works for one person may not work for someone else. Although I’ve worked in the United States, South Korea and here in Taiwan, I’ve always used the exact same style of forging relationships and building mutual trust. Although it’s been necessary to adapt to each new situation, I’ve always been me. So, at the end of the day, people have to be true to themselves.

I’m not going to be successful if my teams are not successful, so I try to share everything I’ve learned. It’s really all about the team and embracing key goals that will benefit our customers in the short term and long term.

As customer business in East Asia becomes more global, what do you tell your team about cross-cultural collaboration based on your own background?

When working on a global level, I say to them that it’s important to have an open mind when building relationships internally and with customers. On a cultural level, some things will be the same while others will be different – and we should try to learn, adapt and embrace things that aren’t similar. Developing an understanding of local languages goes a long way. I learned some Korean to help me with shopping, taking public transportation and other basic things. In Taiwan, I plan to take Mandarin classes to do the same.

We began this interview with a question about your assessment of the local semiconductor industry. What are your thoughts on the SEMICON Taiwan 2023 event in September?

There was a high attendance rate and I saw a lot of energy at the show. I’ve been going to different SEMI events over the years and these shows convey a feel for the state of the industry. I came away from the SEMICON Taiwan believing that people are positive about the industry right now.

How does that sense of a good mood within the industry apply locally?

Taiwan is small geographically, but it has a huge presence as a technology leader. In fact, the entire East Asia region is important to the semiconductor industry and to KLA. Our company and customers should never lose track of our importance to the global electronics business. Our common challenges are often difficult to solve, but we should be proud of the difference we make.

When did you decide on a career in technology?

I always had interest in science when I was growing up. In high school, I took an electronics class. From that experience, I knew engineering would be the right career for me. I wanted to solve problems through technology.

Have you always aspired to a leadership role?

When I’m asked if I always dreamed of leading a country or regional operation for a large company, I would have said, “No. No way could I do that!” But as I transitioned from engineering to the business side, I found that, yes, I can advance to leadership if I give it 100%, always drive to be better and focus on delivering results.

What do you tell others about career growth and opportunity?

Don’t be preoccupied on where you want your career to go or worry about the timing of the next position.  Be passionate about what you do, always challenge yourself and enjoy the journey.

Read this profile about Yanghyong Kim, KLA Korea country president, and explore career opportunities with the company here.

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