The Israeli doing the nuts and bolts of Intel's revolution

Reda Masarwa  credit: Intel
Reda Masarwa credit: Intel

VP of Fab Construction Engineering Reda Masarwa lives in his native town Tayibe, but oversees factory construction for Intel in Israel and around the world.

A couple of months ago, a tractor hit an unidentified object in the ground near the city of Magdeburg, Germany. A short examination revealed human bones. Archaeologists called to the scene discovered after prolonged excavations an almost intact human skeleton, buried about 6,000 years ago, of a man in a riding posture, together with his chariot and horses.

The excavation delayed slightly the construction works planned for the site: a new Intel flagship factory, the largest of its kind in Europe, at a cost of €7 billion . The plant is intended to strengthen the US company's presence in Europe, and above all, represents its risk diversification strategy: far from Asia, which is increasingly becoming a locus of security tensions, and supply chain delays.

This is not the first time that construction of a new Intel factory has revealed antiquities. This occurred during the construction of Intel's first factory in Israel, "Fab 28," built in Kiryat Gat in 2006. Currently the company's flagship factory in Israel, Fab 28 produces Intel's 7 nanometer chips. For Reda Masarwa, Vice President of Fab Construction Engineering at Intel, discoveries like these are likely commonplace. Who knows what more he may discover beneath one of the 10 Intel factories planned for construction in the coming years, around the world.

Betting on Intel's future fabs

Masarwa (51), born in the city of Tayibe, was appointed three years ago as a vice president at Intel, responsible for construction engineering of all its chip factories globally. This is a relatively new position for the old company, and is emblematic of its worldwide construction boom. Masarwa is the most senior Arab-Israeli at Intel since its founding, and one of the key people entrusted with the largest expansion in its history - building and equipping at least ten more factories, among others in Malaysia, Israel, Germany, and Poland.

As manager of Construction Engineering, Masarwa, (who declined to be interviewed for this article), is responsible for the planning of all current and future construction at Intel, budgeted in the tens of billions of dollars, from licensing and planning, to permits, to execution. At stake is all the infrastructure supporting Intel’s manufacturing and assembly equipment, including materials pipelines, and clean rooms, and in fact the construction of the factories will arm the western democratic bloc with advanced chips in a world becoming increasingly divided between blocs.

Intel is the primary beneficiary of a US incentive program to build chip fabs in its territory - about $8 billion dollars since the beginning of the year. It is, therefore, carrying out a construction boom that will add tens of thousands of new employees, and make it the world’s second largest chip manufacturer by the end of the decade, after Taiwan Semiconductor.

This is not just a matter of geographic expansion or production volume. Intel is currently being tested in two ways in which Masarwa plays a critical role. The first is an attempt to close the gap with the company's two competitors: Taiwan Semiconductor and Samsung, which have overtaken Intel in their capacity to produce chips that are currently used in the most advanced applications, such as artificial intelligence, supercomputing, and smartphones. While Intel currently produces chips with a miniaturization limit of 7 nanometers, the competitors are already preparing to start production of 2 nanometer chips, and have managed to win contracts with the world’s leading chip companies, such as Nvidia, Amazon, and Apple. Masarwa is now part of Intel's bet on future factories capable of producing 1.8 nanometer technology as early as next year.

The other challenge is commercial. The new plants are tailored specifically to match Intel’s new business strategy, transforming it from a developer and manufacturer of chips for its own business, to a company that provides manufacturing services for other companies. Microsoft, which announced a manufacturing agreement with Intel last February, is the first important client; Intel now aims to recruit more companies that, until now, were considered its fierce rivals, such as Nvidia, Apple, and AMD.

"This is every production engineer’s dream," says a former executive at the Intel Kiryat Gat fab. "Intel is the only company today able to establish manufacturing plants in the US and Germany - two of the most expensive places in the world for this task - with huge budgets. This is partly thanks to the grants, which allow it to choose any contracting company it wants and pay them twice as much as is customary."

Six factories at once

Masarwa's promotion to this senior position is indicative of the increasing dominance of Israelis on Intel’s construction and manufacturing side - perhaps at the expense of a weaker presence in the upper echelons of development. After the death of Alex Kornhauser , who had pushed to found the Intel factories in Kiryat Gat and managed them afterwards, the huge void that remained was filled by three Israelis. A year before Masarwa’s promotion, the former general manager of the Kiryat Gat manufacturing plant, Daniel Benatar , was appointed co-General Manager of Intel Worldwide Semiconductor Manufacturing, along with Ann-Marie Holmes , who ran a similar Intel plant in Ireland. All construction activity at Intel is currently managed by Dan Doron , who previously managed construction at the Intel fabs in Jerusalem, Kiryat Gat and Arizona.

Doron oversees all construction activities at Intel, but it is Masarwa who plans the fabs, assisted by his team and contracting companies, and oversees all aspects of production engineering during construction. At his disposal are 50 department employees and another 200 direct sub-contractors, in addition to the thousands of sub-contractor employees who plan and build the factories.

Despite the strong Israeli presence, Intel’s manufacturing activity is currently managed by Chief Global Operations Officer Keyvan Esfarjani , who was appointed to oversee the company’s opening up to external manufacturing, and adaptation of the factories to the needs of new customers. To produce for other companies, Intel will require, "a much larger production volume than there is today," says an executive who knows Intel's activities well, and whose name is withheld by request. "In the past, Intel take three or four years to build a factory, and then build the next one. But Intel is now faced with the challenge of building six new factories at the same time."

Masarwa is one of several Israeli Arabs appointed to very senior positions at technology giants, a group that includes Johny Srouji, raised in Haifa’s Abbas neighborhood, who currently manages all of Apple's chip development, and who persuaded that company to establish a development center in Israel and the Palestinian Authority; Nafea Bshara from Ma'alot Tarshiha and now Cupertino, a vice president at Amazon managing development of the company's server processors, including its new AI processors; and Ziyad Hanna , from the village of Rameh, currently a Corporate Vice President at Cadence Design Systems and manager of its software verification solutions, manager of Cadence Israel’s R&D centers, and leader of the R&D teams at several multinational Cadence sites.

Living in Israel time, working in Oregon time

Contrary to what is expected of someone in his position and status, Masarwa does not live in a sought-after neighborhood overseas. After a long stay in Portland, he returned to Tayibe and the prestigious neighborhood of Pardesiya, just a few hundred meters from his parents' house. However, according to neighbors and family members, he rarely leaves the house to socialize with the locals. He grew up in a low-income family, living in Al-Khala-Al-Shamiya, a modest neighborhood of alleyways, garages, and empty lots. His father managed the dining room and kitchen at the police station on Salame Street in Tel Aviv. His mother raised Masarwa and his brothers, of whom two are doctors and two are engineers. All live in Tayibe, apart from the oldest, who lives in Germany.

Reda matriculated in physics and chemistry at Tayibe School, which was then a state school, and today is the Atid High School for Science.

He belongs to the Masarwa family, one of the largest Israeli-Arab clans, numbering 150,000 people. It is also the dominant family in Tayibe, at about 15,000 of the city's 55,000 residents. The Masarwa clan, which originated in Egypt, accompanied the campaign of Egyptian officer Ibrahim Pasha, who rebelled against Ottoman rule in the early 19th century and temporarily occupied the area between Alexandria and Latakia, bringing with him many soldiers and families from his homeland. The Masarwa clan - which literally means "from Egypt" - settled throughout the entire Middle East. In Israel, it also has a prominent presence in Kafr Qara, Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Jatt, Qalansawe and Kafr Qasim. Up until 1948, the Masarwa family owned extensive lands around Tayibe; these were eventually expropriated by the state.

From junior engineer to senior executive

Reda Masarwa followed in his older brothers’ footsteps, choosing to study engineering. His father encouraged his sons to study medicine and engineering, but as a sole breadwinner, found it difficult to finance this, so Reda's older brothers helped him out. Reda applied to several universities, and was accepted by the mechanical engineering department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His good friend from high school, Abed Masarwa, was accepted to a similar program at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.

"Both of them had a tough job market waiting for them after graduation," says a family member. "They graduated more or less together in the mid-1990s, during a time that was not easy from a security point of view, and before the high-tech industry really developed. "

Masarwa waited an entire year before finally being hired by Intel in Kiryat Gat, which was about an hour's drive from his home. In those days, Intel was one of the few technology companies to hire employees from the Arab sector, as part of a social diversity policy that was successfully implemented and set an example for those that followed. These were also the years when Intel Israel moved most of its production activity from Jerusalem to the southern city of Kiryat Gat, where the first fab was established, as part of a national plan - with an impressive state subsidy - to strengthen the Negev. Masarwa was hired as an air conditioning system maintenance technician.

"At Intel, you can develop expertise in theoretical engineering, or in management and organization, and that was Reda," says Moshe Goldberg , who was the plant's chief engineer in the late 1990s and early 2000s. "He very much stood out for his orderliness, thoroughness, and pleasant demeanor: in those days, many of the factory’s control processes were conducted manually, and Reda was known as someone who went around with a pen and paper, monitored the systems and indicators, and recorded all the measurements in a notebook just to make sure that there was no malfunction that could cause enormous damage. One day he presented us with a screen that showed these things automatically; he installed screens, and improved the user interface. Less than a decade later, he was already a main project manager for construction of the new factory in Kiryat Gat."

The Fab Construction Manager in those years, Ilan Glanzman , appointed Masarwa, who was then a very young engineer, to the senior position of construction engineering manager, and placed him alongside to Goldberg, who was older and more experienced. "Masarwa was as enthusiastic as if he had been informed that he had received a Nobel Prize," says a former employee at Intel Kiryat Gat. "He couldn't believe how a member of a minority from Tayibe had achieved such a senior position, but he quickly got into the groove, and took a leading role. It was important to Glanzman to place Masarwa in a senior position, to silence all the critics."

The admission that sold management

After living in Santa Clara and Oregon, Masarwa was given great responsibility as one of the main project managers for construction of Fab 28 in Kiryat Gat, now Intel's main manufacturing plant in Israel. Masarwa got the job together with German contracting company Meisner . The news caused a stir at Intel, as the engineers were used to working with US-based IDC. But Masarwa got along with the new contractor. After Israeli engineers tried to blame a malfunction in the nitrogen pipeline on the German contractor, Masarwa was the only one to admit that the mistake was made by the Israeli team, and took responsibility for it. This acceptance of personal responsibility earned him enormous esteem by Intel management in the US. "He did it politely and tactfully," says a former Intel employee who was in the room at the time.

Masarwa was then sent to the US at least twice more, for longer stints. He led the planning and engineering aspects of the Oregon plants, and later was given even greater responsibility for plants in Malaysia, Ireland and Kiryat Gat.

At Intel, he is credited with two qualities that allowed him to advance and almost reach the very top: "Masarwa is a highly practical person with a highly technical vision, but he is also a super strategist," says one chip industry executive. "He led a strategic move in the company, known as 'reproducibility,' that makes it possible to use the same design simultaneously at a large number of plants, to advance very quickly and at the same time on a large scale at several sites."

A former senior executive at Intel who worked with Masarwa points out that he played a key role in relations between two different sides of the company - chip development and production - which often clashed. "The development people would make demands of the production people who were there solely to serve Intel's development departments, but their attitude was sometimes condescending, or didn’t sufficiently recognize the limits of power. Masarwa, sitting in Portland, knew how to manage an orderly transition from semiconductor development to production, and speak the internal professional language of each part of the organization. He understood how to maneuver between the two sides at the highest levels. This ability is a key feature in Intel's new strategy, which is currently open to external customers, and hungry for talent that knows how to run a service-minded organization."

But one of Masarwa's distinctive qualities, according to all those who know him, is his well-developed sense of humor. "Masarwa disappeared for a month, and no one knew where he’d gone," says a former Intel employee, "When he returned, he claimed with a straight face that he had been in the military reserves. It took us a while to understand he was joking." Another time, while working on planning the dining room at one of the Kiryat Gat plants, he said: "Kosher is on me After all, I’m an expert on the matter." "He can stand before you without moving a facial muscle and make a joke, and you won't always realize he's joking," says a former executive who worked with Masarwa.

Nonetheless, the mannerisms that he adopted with promotion kept him separate from Israel and "Israeliness." "He very quickly adopted all the American Intel buzzwords and spoke in idioms that characterize the American corporation. This also helped him to advance," says a former Intel colleague. "The Americans had a hard time with the 'Israeliness' of some of the senior executives, so Masarwa, who grew up in a multicultural environment, was neater and more organized, often used PowerPoint presentations, and spoke English. We laughed at him for 'speaking American,' and truthfully, his career progress wasn’t made at Intel Israel, but in the manufacturing branch run from Portland."

"There is no racism in the American company"

Shuaa Masarwa Mansour, former mayor of Tayibe, is proud of the growing numbers of his city's residents who work in high-tech. "One of the problems in Arab society in the north is the distance from the focus of the high-tech industry in the country, and so people work at companies that provide off-shore services at low wages, and fewer work in the heart of the high-tech industry. But life here is expensive, as we are in the Dan region. If, in the past, everyone wanted to be doctors and lawyers, today they turn to high-tech," he says.

In addition to Intel, people from Tayibe are currently employed by companies such as Nvidia, Apple, Meta, Amazon, and Amdocs. All the same, we cannot ignore the fact that engineers from the Arab population advance faster and further in the foreign development centers. "There is no racism in the American company," says one individual, who requested not to be named. "At an Israeli start-up, it wouldn’t be easy to place me in a key role. So, you will see them succeed in international companies, especially outside Israel."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on May 28, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Reda Masarwa  credit: Intel
Reda Masarwa credit: Intel
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