Micron chief executive Steve Appleton has been killed in the crash of an experimental airplane. Appleton has long been a stunt plane pilot and has had close calls before.
The plane crashed at the Boise, Idaho airport. It was a single-engine fixed-wing experimental aircraft. The incident is sure to raise alarms about CEOs who engage in risky behavior.
Appleton, 51, built Micron from one of the also-ran memory chip makers into one of the world’s largest producers of dynamic random access memory (DRAM), which is used as main memory in PCs and stores data in a wide variety of electronic equipment.
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Appleton started out as a production worker on the factory line and received a series of promotions. He became a statesman of the industry and an active leader as he advocated free trade in competition with Japanese rivals. Back in the 1980s, the Japanese all but took over the memory chip industry, partly due to a practice known as dumping, or selling chips below costs.
Appleton and other executives in the chip industry got the U.S. government to negotiate a fair trade agreement that put an end to the dumping and enabled the U.S. to hang on to the strategically important industry. But while other memory chip makers went out of business, Micron alone survived and became a huge employer in Idaho.
Micron’s board said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Appleton, Micron Chairman and CEO, passed away this morning in a small plane accident in Boise. He was 51. Our hearts go out to his wife, Dalynn, his children and his family during this tragic time. Steve’s passion and energy left an indelible mark on Micron, the Idaho community and the technology industry at large.”
Appleton was a stunt pilot for many years and he always talked about how he put safety first. I visited him in Boise once at the company’s headquarters and he talked about one incident when the engine of his plane cut out on him. He had a choice of either bailing out or going into a power dive in the hopes of restarting the engine. He chose to dive and the engine restarted.
He actually crashed a plane in 2004 and survived. But today that didn’t happen. It’s a sad day for the entire chip industry and for Appleton’s family. In November, Appleton won the industry’s highest honor, the Robert N. Noyce award, for his contributions to the semiconductor business.
“Steve was a visionary and a true leader in our industry. He will be deeply missed by the entire semiconductor community and our prayers and thoughts are with his family,” said Brian Toohey, president of the Semiconductor Industry Association.