Paul van Gerven

6 December 2023

ASML’s new CEO knows the company and the industry like the back of his hand. His French origins may come in handy if Dutch politicians start hiding behind the dikes.

ASML’s supervisory board had to solve a difficult puzzle. After all, how do you replace a man deemed irreplaceable? Who in Dutch high tech hasn’t heard of the saying: “If Martin van den Brink leaves, better sell your shares?” It’s not that bad, obviously, but there’s some truth in it. With every changing of the guard, the world wants reassurances about the company’s future. That’s not so easy to do when the beating technology heart steps down, especially if the equally long-serving CEO Peter Wennink joins him.

Already, we know that the succession went down smoothly. Insider Christophe Fouquet is continuity in the flesh. Having held positions within all major business units and, before that, at two other US chip machine manufacturers, the Frenchman knows both the company and the industry like the back of his hand. For the thorny CTO issue, the supervisors came up with a down-to-earth solution: there simply won’t be a successor.

However, physicist Fouquet does have a solid technical background. He says he learned a lot from Van den Brink in recent years and said he’ll adopt his “rough” style of debating. French temperament combined with Van den Brink’s confrontational style – perhaps the boardroom furniture needs to be bolted down.

Acclimatized

In some ways, Fouquet has it easy: ASML’s course for the coming years has been set. The development of high-NA scanners will soon move on to the commercial phase, and that kind of scale-up operations are second nature at the company by now. A little more hazy is another succession issue: will there be hyper-NA after high-NA? As the benefits of shrink are leveling off and costs are going up, it’s more challenging than ever to come up with a scanner design for which ASML’s customers will gladly shell out hundreds of millions of dollars.

BCe24 save the date

Fouquet will take office as ASML is still expanding capacity. Despite a flat 2024, that will take up much of his attention as the growth of the multinational and its supply chain is starting to produce fallout. A predominantly regional problem has now become national as, to ASML’s disgust, politicians are suggesting to ban international knowledge workers and students. Parliament has already voted to scale back tax benefits for skilled migrants.

Although Fouquet claims to be fully acclimatized to Dutch culture – he’s married to a Dutch woman – as a non-Dutchman, he may be at a disadvantage when dealing with Dutch politicians. Perhaps that job should fall to CFO Roger Dassen.

Pick up the slack

On the other hand, his French origins could help Fouquet on the international stage, on which geopolitical storms continue wreaking havoc. France stands for a proud and self-confident Europe, so when it comes to curbing American interference, such as export measures, the new ASML CEO will invariably find the French president on his side. As a champion of a strong European high-tech industry, Fouquet also has a good ally in France.

If Dutch politicians fail to support ASML, European ones need to pick up the slack. In that sense, a non-Dutch – but European – CEO couldn’t have come at a better time.

Main picture credit: ASML