Starting as a ChE, Christine Wyche has moved to petrochem, plastics and paper packaging, and now electronic memory products. Statistical process control (SPC) is the common denominator.
"SPC is one of the core competencies for quality management," Wyche says. "I've always been involved in it, with a few other specialties mixed in."
Wyche is director of quality for memory products for Infineon Technologies North America. Infineon sells memory chips to the likes of Dell Computer, IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems.
Besides doing quality control and failure analysis, Wyche's group seeks to qualify new memory products with customers. "We're on the front end of new technology and new products that are launched with our parts," she says.
Memory products and more
Infineon Technologies AG was founded in 1999, when the semiconductor ops of parent company Siemens AG (Berlin and Munich, Germany) were spun off to form a separate entity. Today, Infineon has about 36,000 employees worldwide, 7,300 of them involved in R&D. Sales for 2004 were nearly 7.2 billion euros (about $8.93 billion).
Besides memory products, the company offers semiconductor and system solutions for automotive, industrial and multimarket sectors and communications apps. It operates its U.S. subsidiaries from San Jose, CA. R&D, design and sales and marketing are also done in East Fishkill, NY; Burlington, VT and other locations. Richmond, VA, is Infineon's largest U.S. manufacturing site.
Wyche works from the Cary, NC site, leading a North American team of thirteen people. Her group is tied to a group of thirty in Munich, Germany and to the quality people at all Infineon manufacturing sites in North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region. They also work closely with the failure analysis group in Dresden, Germany, bringing the number of quality gurus to about 100 worldwide.
Wyche has held her job for two years. "I learned a lot from people I observed were good managers, and also from people I thought were not such good managers. I really like managing people," she says.
Wyche was influenced by her mother, a guidance counselor who saw the opportunities in technical careers. She was good at math and science, and a summer engineering program at Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA) convinced her it was the right path.
"That, plus generous scholarships," she recalls with a smile. She received her BSChE from the University of Delaware in 1982.
Working at Conoco
Her first job was with Conoco (now Vista Chemicals Co, Baltimore, MD) as a process engineer. She was fascinated by the complex and sophisticated processes the company employed.
"It was like getting your masters in action," she says. "It was not the cleanest environment or the prettiest place to work, but it was a great opportunity in terms of learning the field firsthand."
Conoco recruited at her school, which had an active minority engineering program. Wyche joined other alums and plenty of women on the job. She advanced to plant energy coordinator, then statistical process control coordinator, and began conducting SPC training.
"I certainly didn't want to stagnate," she says. "I wanted to get as many opportunities and learning experiences as I could while I was there."
In 1984 Wyche married a programmer analyst, a fellow U Delaware alum. Their daughter was born in 1988; a second followed in 1991.
Further advancement at the chemical company would have required Wyche to move far away. So she moved to Nevamar Corp (Odenton, MD) in 1988 as a research engineer. The company was later purchased by International Paper Co (Stamford, CT).
Nevamar was a much smaller company with less competition, but there wasn't a clear career path, either. Wyche worked with friends across company divisions to get the experience she needed to move ahead. "I had to make those opportunities happen," she says.
She became certified as a quality concepts trainer and TQM facilitator, and managed three people. That helped her when she moved to the company's Richmond, VA rotogravure folding carton facility as ops control manager in 1994 and had sixteen people to manage. By 1997, she found herself again facing the need to relocate in order to advance.
Instead, she joined White Oak Semiconductor, which later became Infineon. She began in 1997 as a quality systems support section manager with eight direct reports. Within the year she was manufacturing quality section manager.
With over 2,000 employees at the site, the company was integrating diversity into all aspects of its business. Her training background brought Wyche into the operation. "We took a very broad definition of diversity," she says.
In 1999 she was made a director of reliability and QA with section managers reporting to her. Last year she moved up to her present position of QA director for memory products, and the need to move to North Carolina.
"My mother-in-law accuses me of taking the family farther and farther south," she says with a smile.
Wyche has found herself called on to mentor men and women of all races. "The people who have said to me 'I look up to you as a mentor' have been anybody and everybody," she says. "There were as many white males as women and minorities."
Wyche says her husband has always been supportive. "He was very adamant about wanting to make sure the kids never missed out," she notes.
Her older daughter is in her last year of high school, preparing for the transition to college. The younger girl has math and science talent, but Wyche is cautious about pushing an engineering career for either one.
"You really have to like it," she says. "You have to be ready to be tough-skinned, because it's not an easy environment.
"If the worst criticism of me is that I went home to do something with my family, I can live with that," she declares with a smile.