Hwang’s Law

This is an article that I recently wrote for Suite 101: Hwang’s Law Comes to an End- Samsung Electronics Fails to Double Memory Chip Capacity

For eight years, Samsung had doubled memory density each year. The company had dubbed this phenomenon as “Hwang’s Law” in 2002. It was named after Hwang Chang-gyu, former head of Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor business. It is funny (actually scary) that this happened this year because last year, at a press conference with Hwang, I asked a somewhat related question.

“Mr. Hwang, what happens when you’re no longer head of the semiconductor department? Will the name still be ‘Hwang’s law’? Are there any perks or responsibilities because of this?” I asked. It was a question to lighten up the serious atmosphere in the room- all of the other reporters had been asking about the falling price of DRAM chips and about figures regarding the semiconductor market. I was getting somewhat bored.

“That is a scary question. It’s as if you’re implying that I am not fit for my position,” Hwang said. That wasn’t at all what I had meant, but it was funny to see him so sensitive in his reaction over a question meant to flatter him.

It came as a surprise (although I should have seen it coming) when a few months later, Hwang’s position was changed to CTO, leaving his position as president of the semiconductor business. People in the industry were confused about this. Many saw it as a promotion; or at least, that is what the company claimed. But others questioned the reshuffle.

Now, with Hwang out of the semiconductor division, there is no Hwang’s law. Of course, it takes more than Hwang to realize Hwang’s law- but my innocent question seemed to have brought with it some uncanny results.


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