To be able to realize our strategy and strategic objectives, we identified five critical enablers. These key enablers support all strategic objectives.
Our employees are our biggest asset. We strive to create a safe, inspiring, and motivating workplace where our people have the opportunity to use their talents, excel, and develop their potential as we work together to deliver the cutting-edge technologies of tomorrow. Following the continued rapid expansion in our workforce, we are focusing on strengthening ASM. This means developing our talent pool with more long-term career progression and training. It also means strengthening and unifying our ASM culture. Our core values – We Care, We Innovate, We Deliver – will help us grow employee engagement, and shape an inclusive and diverse culture. This will support us in attracting, retaining, and developing the talent we need to support ASM's growth. Read more in the section ‘People’.
The core element in our overall growth strategy is continuous innovation. This provides ASM with a leading technological competitive advantage. With R&D centers in six countries, we have helped shape today’s leading-edge semiconductor products by driving innovation through our collaborative R&D models. We have successfully delivered advanced new materials, products, and processes to our customers. Our R&D spending is focused on developing new materials and process solutions that enable additional applications. Continuous product improvements in performance, reliability and cost of ownership is key. We are also focused on improving the energy and resource efficiency of our products. In addition, we are making capital investments in lab space and equipment to further expand our development capabilities in next-generation technologies. As well as our internal R&D efforts, we are growing and deepening our strategic cooperation with key customers, suppliers, chemical manufacturers, and research institutes. Read more in the section ‘Innovation and products’.
We have strong customer relationships with the leading semiconductor manufacturers, working closely together in the early stages of their device roadmaps. As we have expanded and deepened our R&D engagements with chipmakers, we have developed our understanding of the key requirements of the next generation of device roadmaps. This is enabling us to develop value-added solutions to the industry’s critical technology issues. Read more in the section ‘Customers and markets’.
While technology leadership remains crucial, operational excellence is essential to further strengthen our future position. We aim to provide our customers with dependable, leading-edge products and services at a consistent performance level, while providing the best total cost of ownership. We continuously focus on further improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our organization. Following our strong growth in recent years, we need to strengthen our organization and business processes in specific areas. For example, we are stepping up our capabilities in engineering, product lifecycle management (PLM), and quality. We aim to strengthen our new product introductions processes to provide our customers with additional on-site support, as the pace of technological change continues to accelerate. Read more in the section ‘Global operations’.
We strive to maintain a strong balance sheet that allows us to continue investing in R&D. To this end, our target is to increase the minimum amount of cash on our balance sheet from €300 million to €600 million in the period until 2025 (as announced at our Investor Day in September 2021). At the end of 2021, we had €492 million in cash and cash equivalents. ASM generated a healthy free cash flow of €266 million. We intend to continue paying a sustainable dividend, and use excess cash for the benefit of our shareholders through share buybacks. Read more in the section ‘Shareholders’.