If you’re tiny, it might help to shout that you’re the biggest and the brightest in the business. In 1984, while being a semicon litho outcast, ASML boasted it was a world leader in its field. In the end, the company made this ambition come true.
The headline of ASML’s very first job ad has never passed its expiration date. “Challenge for professionals in various disciplines who want to work at the top,” it says in large font in the Dutch jobs weekly Intermediair of 11 May 1984. It could still be broadcast on any present-day online channel.
The ad covers almost two, A3 pages. “People who want to be considered for this must not be soloists,” it reads alongside a listing of dozens of vacancies for mechanical engineers, electronic engineers, optical engineers and measurement and control technicians. “They have to be able to work with other disciplines… while keeping the big picture in mind. It’s about joining forces in pursuit of one goal.”
About that goal, the ad is also clear. ASML “wants to reach a worldclass position in the foreseeable future. The goal is to grow into a company with a few hundred people and several hundred million in sales within a few years.”
Those were the days that the company still had no clue about the exact customer requirements. The stepper team, which was formerly part of Philips, had so far paid little attention to that. It didn’t even have a serious product strategy or roadmap. Apart from a few steppers at Philips’ fabs in Hamburg and Nijmegen, Dutch litho machines were nowhere to be found. Financially, too, life was uncertain. With the cash it had on hand in April ’84, ASML could only pay the existing fifty technicians from Philips for a few months, let alone dozens of new employees.
But management couldn’t care less at the time. It needed technicians who could develop complex systems. The wafer stepper that was kept alive by Philips but was never sufficiently invested in had to be brought up to date at lightning speed. It was now or never. The team had to more than double in size that very year. There was no time to lose.
In its first months, the joint venture between ASM International and Philips had little to be proud of. It dangled at the bottom of the world ranking of stepper suppliers, but in the advertisement, it pretended its stepper already was a great success: ASML “has a competitive edge over the few competitors.” With this lie, the company tried to attract experts in many disciplines “who know their way around and want to work together to reach the absolute top. Professionals with a pioneering mentality who realize that spearheading this unique joint venture now creates great career opportunities.”
CEO Gjalt Smit knowingly used the image of the parent companies ASM and Philips to reinforce the message. Reprimanded by Philips bureaucrats, he played innocent, said sorry and promised it wouldn’t happen again. In 2011, Smit commented in an interview: “I wanted to show people that ASML wasn’t just any company, that big Philips and ASM were behind it. The ad didn’t say that Philips would give you a job guarantee, but you could interpret it that way. I was constantly on the edge, but it turned out I could afford to walk that line.”
ASML wasn’t allowed to recruit among Philips employees, but if people applied themselves, it was a different story. One of the applicants was Wim Hendriksen, who worked at Philips Medical Systems at the time. He was attracted by the ambition expressed in the job advertisement. “This looks like fun, this is what I’m going to do,” he said to his wife. He had quickly calculated that a turnover of hundreds of millions and a few hundred employees meant a turnover of one million guilders per employee – which was actually realized a decade later.
ASML offered applicants an unconventional approach. “Especially in the coming week, from 14 to 17 May, we’re available to you from 18 to 22 hours,” it said in Intermediair. Hendriksen: “Normally, you had to write a letter. A lot of fuss. Here you could just call.”
The ASML executives were surprised by the large number of phone calls they received in the evening hours during that week. When Hendriksen called, he got Richard George on the line, telling him that their PAS2000 stepper was running a Philips P800 computer whose software needed to be transferred to the Motorola 68000 platform. In October, Hendriksen joined ASML, where, a few years later, he would lead the software activities.
If you want to achieve something, you can make your message a bit bolder, but the best thing, of course, is when your ambition becomes reality. Hundreds of millions in turnover with hundreds of employees is roughly one million guilders per person. If you divide ASML’s turnover of 14 billion in 2020 by its 25,000 employees, you arrive at 560 thousand euros, which in Dutch guilders is more than the staggering amount presented in the Intermediair advertisement.
René Raaijmakers is the author of “ASML’s architects,” which is available in Dutch, English and Chinese. He also wrote the book “Natlab,” together with Paul van Gerven, about the history of Philips Research. In this series, Raaijmakers describes notable, striking and never-publicized events from ASML’s illustrious history. In addition to well-known milestones and stumbling blocks, these are often stories that didn’t make it into his books, but that are noteworthy, inspiring, interesting or just plain fun.