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March 10, 2021

Remembering Semiconductor Industry Legend Bill Tobey

On March 1, the semiconductor industry lost a true legend with the passing of Bill Tobey, an exemplary leader and contributor to the semiconductor industry throughout his career.

SEMI honored Bill with our Bob Graham Sales and Marketing Excellence Award in 2006 for his work on wafer steppers. Bill and his team had the foresight to recognize that competing solutions such as Deep Ultraviolet (DUV) projection, e-beam, and x-ray would not be able to keep up with Moore’s Law. More importantly, Bill had the passion and marketing prowess to convince customers of this, even though early wafer steppers were twice as expensive and considerably slower than the alternatives.

Bill TobeyHe used that passion to also convince management at GCA Corporation that they needed to shift resources to advance steppers and drive alignment with customers. I remember the critical role he played when we worked with GCA steppers during my early years at AT&T Bell Labs.

The Chip History Center virtual museum has a wonderful video interview with Bill Tobey on his conceptualizing of the wafer stepper and on his winning of the Bob Graham Award.

Dan Hutcheson, CEO and chairman of VLSIresearch, shared these kind words on Bill Tobey’s influence: “The world of semiconductors and the products they made possible would have been much smaller, as Moore's Law might have stopped at 2 microns, without Bill's contributions. His ability to see what others could not probably explains why he was able to continue making contributions into his nineties. Companies all over the world continued to call on him to his last days.”

Bill Tobey PQBill’s contributions were limitless. He was a member of the organizing committee for the SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) and chaired it in its early years. After completing his term serving ISS, he joined the committee for the SEMI International Trade Partners Conference (ITPC). Bill also served as a member of the SEMI East Coast advisory committee in its early years and was responsible for industry meetings in the area. And he was involved with many other SEMI activities on behalf of the industry.

Bill's obituary is posted on the funeral home website.

For all of us working in the semiconductor industry, we are honoring Bill Tobey’s memory by continuing to build upon the foundation that he helped to establish. I hope you are inspired by the passion he displayed in his work throughout his career and encourage those who knew him to share stories of Bill to further inspire others to follow the example he set.

Ajit Manocha is president and CEO of SEMI.