Silicon Labs prides itself on hiring and keeping great people. In February, two of those who have contributed to our success from the very early days retired: Jon Ivester, longtime Senior Vice President of Operations, and Bill Bock, who has served on the Board, and as CFO, and most recently as President. We are taking the opportunity to get their perspective on what the company has accomplished and where the industry is going.
Our first interview is with Jon Ivester, who joined Silicon Labs 18 years ago as Vice President of Manufacturing, becoming employee number 14 and a member of the original management team.
How has the company evolved?
Our early focus was on communications. We focused on products that solved technical problems that already had existing demand – our better, cheaper products could replace other products in the market. That of course has shifted over time and we are going into emerging market segments where there may not be as much of a developed demand, but where we can be one of the early players.
Other things haven’t changed. Silicon Labs has always hired the very best people and given them the tools that they need to be successful, as well as the freedom and accountability to solve tough problems. Also, we’ve always made it a priority to give back to the community, which was there from very early on. Right from the beginning, all the executives were involved in supporting non-profits and community agencies.
What have been the most significant milestones?
Early on they came fast and furious. I can remember getting the email about the first sale. It was our DAA product. We were too busy to celebrate – and it wasn’t very much, about $5,000 – but it was very exciting!
From an operations standpoint, we started off the company testing all of our products here in Austin. Buying our first tester and building out our first test floor was a big deal. Another big milestone was when we transferred most testing to big outsourced test houses in Asia. That was the first step in establishing our international office in Singapore.
What’s most exciting about what the company is currently doing?
We’re now focused on the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s a very large potential market and it’s growing quickly. This market demands much more of a system set of products. The chips contain a microcontroller, a radio, energy management circuitry, as well as software and lots of support required. This means that we bring together a lot of different teams that have different skill sets – the software guys, the hardware guys, the applications guys, the marketing folks. That’s what makes this market opportunity both challenging and exciting.
What does the next 20 years hold? This is an industry that is changing on so many different dimensions. It’s always been rapidly changing on the technology side. The chips get smaller, faster and cheaper all the time.
In the next 20 years, the manufacturing technology is going to go through some incredible changes and it’s hard to say what that will be. It’s not going to be Moore’s Law – do the same thing, but make it smaller and faster – the industry is just running out of ways to shrink. Is it going to be quantum computing or things mimicking biology in the way computing works? Is it going to be about changes in the way the semiconductor devices are used, changes in the way software works? I’m not sure, but I know it is not going to be the same way it is today!
What advice do you have for new graduates?
Focus on being strong technically, because you can go from that to things that are more business-oriented and it’s much harder to do in the opposite direction. That’s general advice for anyone in any engineering field.
For those in semiconductors, try to have a sense of how the economics work. We’re trained to believe that if you have the best technology, that’s what’s important. Normally, it takes years of experience to find out that it can be a whole lot more about whether you have a product people want – and that usually comes down to economic analysis. How much does it cost you to make something? How much does it cost you to develop something? How much can you sell it for? How much you can sell it for comes down to how much it’s going to help your customer or how much it can save your customer. For example, if there hadn’t been the economics of an advertising industry, Google wouldn’t exist no matter how good the search engine was.
What does a connected world mean to you?
After a 40-year career, I’ve recognized that you don’t get anything done on your own. Success comes not only from your performance as an individual, but also how well you perform as a node in this network.
Silicon Labs is helping connect individuals, connect businesses, and connect machines to machines. This is analogous to the way any human organization works – the huge power of groups of people to do things that no single individual can. The capability of the network is so much larger than even the sum of the capabilities of individual people. That’s important in business, it’s important in government, and it’s important in society.
Check out our interview with Bill Bock here.