This week, as part of our 20th Anniversary blog series, we've spent some time with two long-time employees who have helped shape our company over the years. Today we're getting to know Bill Bock, who retired as President in February after being with us since the spring of 2000.
A partner with a local venture capital firm, Bill served as a Board member for six years, stepping down to become CFO in 2006. He left the company in 2011, but returned in 2013, ultimately assuming the role of President reporting to CEO Tyson Tuttle.
In the 16 years you’ve been associated with Silicon Labs, how has the company stayed the same?
In all that time, the company’s core values have been consistent. We hire, foster and empower great talent. Certainly the quality of our people is a hallmark of this company and has been from the beginning. Our final value statement is that we do the right thing, and I think that captures most of it. We strive to do what’s right, what’s ethical and what’s responsible in all aspects of our business. We take that to heart.
How has the company changed?
We’re on our third chapter. In the initial five years of the company’s existence, our focus was on the really large transformative markets of PCs and cell phones. The next chapter, which began back in 2005-2006, was a diversification strategy, where we built unique and distinct businesses and product lines serving different market niches. The most recent chapter has been a strategic shift toward the Internet of Things (IoT). We believe the IoT is the next big market for semiconductors. It’s an exciting area in its formative stages. If it proves to be as significant as we think it will, it will provide a platform for incredible growth.
What things stand out as particularly significant?
When I joined at the IPO, achieving the IPO status so quickly on one product and one round of financing was a huge achievement. Following that, the company delivered a long string of technically superior product introductions that allowed us time and again to enter large and existing markets with a better mousetrap.
There have been brilliant product introductions in each phase – the original DAA modem is the product that really launched the company. In our diversification stage, we introduced products like the FM radio tuner and the video tuner that were groundbreaking.
We just announced a whole new wave of products at Embedded World in February – the most significant and largest delivery of a platform product that we’ve ever done. The multi-protocol radio capability that is within this platform is industry unique. This is a platform from which a large number of derivative products will hit the market. We’re very excited that this will be the next really major successful product launch in the company’s history.
There’s no one product that has defined this company – our success is due to the ability to innovate over and over.
What do you see happening in the industry right now?
Apart from Silicon Labs and the IoT, there have been profound changes in the semiconductor industry in the last few years. Many companies are combining and merging. If you look at many examples of companies that have been absorbed in this consolidation phase, often the core of their innovation disappears. These consolidated companies realize synergies – which is an interesting phrase for cutting costs. Often that means discontinuing areas of new investment – improving profitability and cash flow of the company at the cost of innovation.
Silicon Labs has the advantage of still being independent, which makes it easier for us to continue to support expanded engineering efforts and consequently more innovation.
What does a more connected world mean to you?
When I think about the years that my life has spanned, there are a lot of things that have not changed as much as you might imagine. We are still traveling in very similar automobiles on very similar freeways, and flying in very similar airplanes. In my parents’ lifetimes, those things – transportation – were revolutionized.
What has changed during my life is communication. It has advanced by leaps and bounds. When I was a kid, a telephone call that was outside of your local ZIP code was awkward and expensive. Today we are more connected than ever before, via telephonic networks and the Internet. We can stay connected with friends, family and colleagues regardless of where they are on the planet – and do so instantly and at virtually no cost. It’s an amazing transformation in that respect.
This next wave is to drive that level of ubiquitous connectivity to non-human elements, hence the notion of “things.” Our lives will be transformed by the connectivity of most of the things that we engage with on a day-to-day basis. Automobiles will be self-driving, self-detecting. We won’t have as many accidents because vehicles will know what’s about to happen, without the need for human intervention. All of our household appliances will be “smart”. The notion of home and personal security is going to change completely.
This more connected world is going to be profound. I don’t find many who would argue with this or the notion of an IoT. There are already proof points that make an IoT a vivid and understandable reality for almost anyone. The question is at what pace do these changes come and what organizations will strategically drive it. I believe that Silicon Labs is in as good of a position as any company to do this.
Check out our interview with Jon Ivestor here.