Micron Technology CEO Steve Appleton died in a plane crash this morning. His death has been met with shock and sorrow in Boise, where Appleton was known for his influence as a business leader and philanthropist. Micron Technology remains one the state’s largest employers, despite recent cutbacks.
Retired Boise State University Professor Dick Payne, one of Steve Appleton’s early mentors, today remembered when he first met Appleton. It was on the tennis courts at the university. Appleton had character, Payne says.
“One of the things that stood out is – he never gave up,” says Payne. “He could be down a set and just pull it out. I admire that a great deal – his tenacity, honesty. He made fair calls.”
Payne says Appleton was also a promising student. “I think, ‘Here’s a guy that is going to do well.’ I had no dream that he could do so well,” Payne recalls. “I felt like – here’s a sharp guy, a good guy. And they win sometimes in this world!”
Appleton started at Micron Technology in 1983, not long after he graduated from Boise State. He began on the factory floor at the manufacturing facility, and worked his way up. In 1994, he was named CEO. Today, Governor Butch Otter said Idaho has lost a true champion.
Boise Mayor David Bieter said Appleton will be remembered as a man who transformed the state’s economy. Bieter also noted Appleton’s philanthropy. “This to all of us, feels like a loss of someone in our family. That’s really all I can compare it to,” Bieter said.
In the business world, regard for Appleton runs just as high. Last year, Appleton received the Robert N. Noyce award, the memory chip industry’s highest honor. Betsy Van Hees is an analyst with Wedbush Securities, a financial services and investment firm.
“The memory industry has been a very challenging industry over the years with many peaks and many valleys,” she says. “Steve Appleton has led Micron, this very big ship, through a very turbulent time to still be standing in a very tough market,” Van Hees says.
Since 2005, Micron Technology has laid off about half of its Idaho workers. It still employs more than 5,000 people in the state and 20,000 worldwide. Van Hees calls Appleton’s death a tragic loss for the memory chip industry, but she predicts Appleton’s vision will continue to serve the company.
“He’s got a very deep and solid bench of employees and executive leaders, so while there is concern with him not being there, that is obviously a huge loss, the company will continue to thrive and do well,” says Van Hees.
Micron president and chief operating officer Mark Durcan last week announced he would step down at the end of August. In a statement this afternoon, however, the company said Durcan will take on the responsibilities of CEO until its board of directors appoints a successor.