February 3, 2012 / 7:19 PM / 6 years ago

Micron CEO Appleton dies in plane crash

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Micron Technology Inc Chief Executive and Chairman Steve Appleton died in a plane crash on Friday, a major loss for the U.S. semiconductor industry.

Micron said 51-year old Appleton was killed in a small plane accident in Boise, Idaho, where the U.S. memory chipmaker is headquartered, and would provide more details later.

Appleton, an avid pilot who did stunts at airshows, was appointed CEO in 1994 and added the post of chairman in 2007.

“Steve was a high-energy, never-give-up type of inspirational leader of the company. The entire industry will miss Steve’s energy,” said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Kevin Cassidy. “That said, Micron has a deep bench of managers that shared Steve’s vision.”

A California native, Appleton went to Boise State University and joined Micron shortly after graduating in 1983, working a night shift. His subsequent, meteoric ascent led to his becoming the youngest CEO on the Fortune 500 at the age of 34.

Appleton, a noted sports enthusiast who also scuba-dived, surfed and raced offroad cars and motorcycles, received the prestigious Robert Noyce award from the Semiconductor Industry Association in 2011.

The award, named after Intel cofounder Robert Noyce, goes to people who have made major contributions to the chip industry.

Not a stranger to mishaps, the chip industry veteran in 2004 was injured while flying a stunt plane.

Micron makes memory chips used in personal computers, smartphones and tablets and competes against Asian rivals Hynix, Samsung Electronics and Toshiba.

The company announced last week that Chief Operating Officer Mark Durcan would retire in August, but Appleton’s death raised questions about whether he might stay on.

“We’d be surprised if he actually did retire given this tragedy. We would expect him to continue at least in the short run,” Wedbush analyst Betsy Van Hees said.

Trading in Micron was halted Friday morning pending the company’s announcement. They rose 3 percent to $7.95 in late-afternoon trading.

Additional reporting by Himank Sharma in Bangalore

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