Lion CEO is son of ex-Hynix CEO
SK Hynix also does foundry for startup
Cirrus Logic’s deal to buy Lion Semiconductor for US$335 million is talk of the town in South Korea’s semiconductor industry.
Last week, Cirrus Logic announced that it was acquiring the California-based startup that specializes in power management ICs for wired and wireless charging as well as DC-DC converter chips. Audio chip firm Cirrus Logic said the deal will give it “momentum in its strategy of applying its mixed-signal expertise to new markets and driving growth through innovation in areas such as power."
Lion Semiconductor’s CEO is South Korean Wonyoung Kim. He graduated from South Korea’s Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He got his Master’s and Doctorate at Harvard University. He co-founded Lion Semiconductor with Berkeley graduate John Crossley in 2013.
The deal is of high interest to the local semiconductor industry, not only because Kim is a Korean, but because the startup has had a strong, special relationship with South Korean memory giant SK Hynix.
Lion Semiconductor CEO Kim is the son of ex-Hynix Semiconductor (before it was acquired by SK Group) CEO Kim Jong-kap, who held the position from 2007 to 2010. The elder Kim was also the CEO of Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), the country’s largest national utility. Before taking the position of CEO at Hynix, he was vice minister of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy (now the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy). Before taking the helm of KEPCO, he was also the head of Siemens Korea.
A person familiar with the matter said it was not well known even among those close to the elder Kim that his son was the CEO of a startup in the US. The information has spread only recently, they said.
Lion Semiconductor CEO Kim’s relationship with SK Hynix doesn’t end there. SK Hynix had invested 3.539 billion won in Lion for a 5.42% stake (1.66 million shares) back in June, 2019, valuing the startup’s technology highly. Venture capitals Walden International and Atlantic Bridge also invested in the startup.
SK Hynix is thought to have secured ten times of what it has invested in Lion Semiconductor in profits through Cirrus Logic’s acquisition. Lion Semiconductor is also SK Hynix’s customer for foundry. SK Hynix’s subsidiary SK Hynix System IC makes Lion Semiconductor’s chips using its 200mm foundry line. People familiar with the matter said when SK Hynix System IC was transferring some of its equipment from South Korea to China, it took special care not to disrupt the chip production it was doing for Lion Semiconductor.
Lion Semiconductor’s fast charging solutions are supplied to Samsung Mobile via NXP as well. It also supplies them to China’s Xioami. The people said Lion’s excellence in technology was well known in the industry as it was supplying solutions to major global smart brands that demand quality components.
Another person working at a South Korean system semiconductor company said most system semiconductor companies listed on KOSDAQ can considered to be founded by the first and second generations of semiconductor entrepreneurs from South Korea. The past couple of years has seen a new generation of entrepreneurs that have educational background abroad, like to draw a "big pictures" and receive large investments. These entrepreneurs like Lion Semiconductor’s Kim are making examples of successful exits, they said.