America has always been a country of givers. As waves of new immigrants came to this land, they built the schools, community centers, hospitals and vibrant arts organizations that now exist. Many people came to this country with very little, and yet they gave back.

I made charitable giving central to Applied Materials’ mission early in my career there.

The Applied board of directors authorized contributing a portion of our pretax profits to invest in local nonprofit organizations. We maintained the planned level of commitment in part by contributing to a company foundation in good times, setting aside funds that we could rely on during tough financial times when our communities were often under more stress.

I’m proud that Applied continues this commitment directly and through the Applied Materials Foundation. They’ve got a broad focus on giving in the areas of education, arts & culture, civic engagement and the environment. In 2016 the company and the Foundation made grants of over $9 million dollars to charities and nonprofit agencies in ten countries around the world. It’s one of the ten largest corporate philanthropists in Silicon Valley.

When I was at Applied last Friday I was reminded of all the good work that they do. Siobhan Kenney has worked in community affairs and with the Applied Materials Foundation for over fifteen years. “We’re a very engaged company,” she says. “We try to have a positive impact on the communities where our employees work and live.” She makes it clear that local is important, but that “local” also means all of the countries where Applied has a presence, including India and China.

The Foundation also runs Employee Matching Gift and Volunteer Time Grant Programs. “Generosity resonates with our employees,” Siobhan says. “Employees can choose their own charities and the countries where they wish to make donations.” More than 30 percent of U.S. employees participate in company giving programs – well above the 14 percent average for other corporations of the same size. In 2016, employees directed $4.1 million in donations and matching funds to charities and nonprofit agencies across the globe.

In addition, last year, among numerous other efforts, Applied employee volunteers and their families worked on conservation activities on Mt. Fuji in Japan, helped create a forest in the Tancheon Wetland in Korea, and replanted pine trees in fire-ravaged Bastrop State Park with the Nobelity Project in Austin, Texas.

As Siobhan says: “Giving is part of our identity.”

Since leaving Applied, I continue to be involved in the community and recognize the significant impact each of us can have on issues of personal importance. Environmental causes, education, and regional collaboration are in the mission of our family’s philanthropic efforts.

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How does your organization support local communities? How else do you give back?

Applied Materials will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary on November 10. To be a 50-year-old company in Silicon Valley is quite an achievement. To be growing fast, setting new records and delivering cutting-edge innovation at 50 is almost unheard of. Few companies can make that claim.

When I joined Applied in October of 1976 the company had about $17 million in revenue. We were over-diversified, hemorrhaging cash and facing bankruptcy.

When I was first offered the position to lead Applied, I talked about the opportunity with some friends and colleagues. No one thought my joining Applied was a good idea. I wish I could say that I knew this was the job I would have for the rest of my career. The truth is, my initial ambitions were short-term. Little did I know that I would lead the company for over a quarter century.

Early on we decided that our goal was to be the “Leading Semiconductor Equipment and Services Company Worldwide.” It was a very ambitious statement for a small company that was way down the list in its industry, but when I looked around at the competition, I felt we could become number one. It was true we were up against some very large companies, but they were not focused exclusively on semiconductor equipment. I didn’t see anyone else who had the right to be the clear leader; nobody had a lock on this segment.

Today Applied’s mission is broader but solidly established: “to lead the world with materials engineering solutions that enable customers to transform possibilities into reality.” This uses the knowledge, technologies, equipment designs, and patents built up over the years to expand semiconductor and display markets and enter new areas. The company is on its way past $14 billion in revenue. Under CEO Gary Dickerson and the outstanding global team, Applied just delivered the best quarter in the company’s history.

Last Friday I took part in an event at Applied’s Santa Clara office. It was billed as a conversation, and Joe Pon, who is VP of communications and public affairs at Applied, had set up a stage where we could chat. I was honored to find a full house, standing room only. I’ve known Joe for a long time and the interview was relaxed and fun. He asked what it was that made me successful as Applied’s CEO and I said that it has always been the people: their commitment, persistence, and collaboration. They succeed with a strong focus on the customer and a connection with the community.

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What is your organization’s most important recent milestone? How did you celebrate?