Kateeva marked a new milestone recently when May Su was named as CEO. May previously served as CMO and SVP of Sales. She replaced Alain Harrus who stepped down after a lengthy tenure as CEO. In her first interview in the new role, May explains why she’s excited to lead Kateeva and where she sees growth for the company. Enjoy the read!
Q: You’re new to the CEO role but not to Kateeva. What’s your background?
MS: I joined Kateeva in early 2018 as CMO and later added SVP of Sales to my role.
I’m an equipment design engineer at heart. I hold engineering degrees from Cornell and UC Berkeley, and an MBA from Santa Clara University. I enjoy working with problem-solvers to overcome technical and business challenges with innovative solutions. I’ve done that in leadership positions at semiconductor equipment companies, including Lam Research and KLA-Tencor. Like Kateeva, these global leaders provide advanced equipment used by manufacturers to create breakthrough products.
At Kateeva, I get to collaborate with customers to find solutions that help them achieve ambitious roadmap goals. Every customer has different priorities to improve products and create new ones, which makes every engagement unique. But it’s always the same thrill when a solution developed by our team of experts is deployed by a customer in mass production.
Q: Does your appointment mark a new direction for the company?
MS: Kateeva’s direction is influenced by our strong technology fundamentals and our customers’ priorities. Since 2014, our inkjet systems have produced more than 500M flexible display panels in fabs across Asia. And today, nearly every high-end smartphone features an OLED screen that was touched by a Kateeva tool.
We achieved this thanks to relentless innovation by skilled experts – past and present – who produced differentiated equipment solutions so valued by customers. The same commitment to innovation and customer success guides our path forward as we enter a new phase at Kateeva.
Q: What excites you about your new role?
MS: It’s the opportunity to impact an industry in a big way. Kateeva has already shown how a startup with a breakthrough manufacturing solution can make an out-sized contribution to a large established global industry. As display manufacturers continue to fulfill the immense potential of OLED technology, there will be exciting new opportunities for emerging innovators, as well as companies like Kateeva with a record of success in the space.
I’m also excited to lead the team. From veteran engineers to new graduates, every Kateeva employee is highly skilled and passionate about innovation. It’s deeply rewarding to work with such talented individuals across our global operations.
Q: What’s the latest on Kateeva’s product roadmap?
MS: Our roadmap is focused and aggressive. As always, it maps to our customers’ priorities.
We first achieved success with our platform for printing glass sizes of ½ Gen6 and smaller for mobile displays. The application was OLED thin film encapsulation (TFE). Our system quickly became the market leader.
Now, the industry is moving to thinner, foldable and even stretchable form factors. And the pace is fast. One recent market report expects shipment of foldable displays alone to reach 73.1 million units by 2025 — a dramatic rise from this year’s total of 3.9 million units. Although the display sizes differ, most are still made on the same glass size (½ Gen6). The manufacturing imperatives, however, are much more challenging. Foldable displays, for instance, require thinner films and potentially even multiple layers of films. This is creating new applications for inkjet printing. Our next product will address the applications.
The requirements for stretchable displays are even more complex. For this application, tiny islands of ink must be deposited with extreme accuracy. It’s a natural fit for pixel printing, which is an area of strength for Kateeva.
In parallel with our programs for mobile displays, we’re also developing a platform targeting glass sizes of Gen8.5 and above (e.g. Gen10.5) for large displays like TVs. While some applications such as TFE apply to all flexible OLED displays, there are also unique applications for large-size displays.
Q: Can you talk about customers?
MS: NDAs preclude us from naming our customers. However, most leading manufacturers of flexible OLED displays are using Kateeva tools.
Q: Apart from customers, does Kateeva have partnerships with other display players?
MS: We collaborate very closely with leading ink vendors. Every inkjet application requires a specialized ink. And as the applications grow more complex, the ink requirements become more stringent. Sharing our knowledge, expertise and ideas is more important than ever.
Collaboration is a big feature of the display ecosystem. We all share a common goal to help panel makers accelerate the development cycle and advance the maturity of the materials and manufacturing ecosystem.
Q: Kateeva has formidable competition. What’s your strategy to stay ahead?
MS: Innovation thrives when there’s competition. And we know that when a novel new technology proves successful, serious competition emerges. That’s the story of inkjet printing for OLEDs. As the first company to build an inkjet solution specifically for OLED mass production for display manufacturers worldwide, Kateeva enjoyed a first-mover advantage. This helps us retain our market lead.
That said, stiff competition presses us to keep out-innovating others. That’s why the imperative to engineer solutions with high enabling value informs every decision we make at Kateeva.
Q: How has COVID-19 affected Kateeva?
MS: Like most businesses across the globe, we’re adjusting to the realities of a pandemic with no modern precedent. We established a global task force immediately and began applying lessons learned from our customers, as well as our Asia-based employees who were already navigating the challenges.
Many employees are working remotely using the latest technologies to manage projects effectively. Some manufacturing personnel began a phased return-to-work in early April and are following stringent new sanitation and safety protocols. We just released our Work Site Specify Plan that offers employees more options to resume work at our headquarters’ offices.
Our priority is to ensure the health and safety of our employees, their families and our community. We’re working hard to effectively balance that priority with the urgency to meet our customer commitments.