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Much deserved accolade for ADI co-founder

Posted: 01 May 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ADI? Raymond Stata interview? signal processing?

Stata: Engineers must be able to think about products more deeply, and better understand both the marketplace and their customers.

Raymond Stata understands the strategic value of silence. "Generally, if you really listen, the story is there," he says, and it becomes "quite clear" what you need to do.

That philosophy!along with his acceptance of the fact that he "could be wrong"!has earned the Analog Devices Inc. chairman the respect of his colleagues, and contributed to his earning the 2008 EE Times ACE Award for Lifetime Achievement.

In this interview, Stata reflects on his career, his company and the changes affecting the engineering community.

Entrepreneurial spirit
Stata was born in Pennsylvania in 1934. He received both bachelor's and master's degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After school, Stata worked in sales and marketing for Hewlett-Packard until he and two MIT buddies founded Solid State Instruments. When Kollmorgen Corp.'s Inland Controls Division acquired Solid State Instruments, Stata became VP of marketing at Kollmorgen.

In 1965, armed with funds from the sale of Solid State Instruments and ideas for what would become ADI's products, Stata co-founded ADI with Matthew Lorber. The company started making op amps, then moved on to precision linear IC, data converters, and later on DSPs. ADI forged the integration of analog and digital circuitry in semiconductors for signal processing.

Since ADI's founding, Stata has put four steady decades into growing the company and sustaining Massachusetts' Route 128 technology corridor. That would seem to make him the mirror opposite of the stereotypical Silicon Valley executive who gets rich quick by selling off one startup to launch another.

Despite his longevity with ADI, however, Stata calls himself "an entrepreneur through and through." He describes his company's experience as a cycle of continual self-reinvention as technology and business models have shifted. Managing that cycle, he says, is both as challenging and as satisfying as riding the startup merry-go-round.

Indeed, four years into its existence, ADI shifted its business focus drastically, from discrete component assembly to the manufacture of high-performance linear ICs. By that time, Stata recalled, ADI had already gone public. "When I proposed that we make a switch to ICs, there was total disagreement at every level of the company."

Opposition came not only from the company's directors and stockholders but also from its engineers, who weren't IC design experts. Company accountants told Stata there was no money to build a fab.

"There was no belief on the part of the people in the company that we could pull it off," said Stata. The fact that ADI had been "highly successful" in its existing business made the transformation even more unpopular. "It took a fair amount of pushing and shoving and persistence to convince everyone."

So how did he prevail?

Personal risk
"What I did was quite extreme?many people may even think foolish!except that it worked," Stata said. Because ADI was then already a public company, and he couldn't force the change, Stata made an offer. He said, "Based upon the value of my stock, I will fund the company to get it off the ground. Analog would be a separate company. You will have the right to buy this company, if you choose to do so, at a cost that will give me no profit. And if it doesn't work, I'll take the loss.

"So they looked at that and said, 'Well, we can't say no to that.' And I said, 'Good, let's get started.'"

Two years later the startup, Nova Devices, justified Stata's gambit and was sold to ADI. "I had a real passion and belief that I could see a way of doing what we ended up doing," Stata said. "Not that I knew all the details!but I knew about thin-film resistors, I knew about being able to laser-trim them. We were actually already doing all the trimming and selection!manually."

ADI undertook another total makeover in the mid-1980s, when the instrumentation market plateaued and company sales went flat. Right about then, Sony's CD player emerged. The design for the new consumer device featured a 16bit DAC, and Sony was looking for high-performance, very low-cost converters. Sony wanted to pay $5 for a chip that ADI was selling at the time for $50. ADI turned down Sony, but a competitor, Burr-Brown, seized the opportunity and produced millions of the devices for the platform.

"That was a wake-up call," said Stata. "We no longer could hide behind a low-volume, high-cost performance business."

After several rocky years, ADI resumed growth!as "a great producer of low-cost, high-volume products," Stata said.

Current challenges
The semiconductor industry today faces new hurdles. Customers no longer want "just a bag of components," said Stata, but as complete a system solution as possible. Chip companies need different competencies, including systems architecture expertise and operational structures that work across departments.

Globalization is another huge challenge. "For a very long time, the United States owned the semiconductor industry," said Stata. "We gave birth to it, we had control over it, and major innovations have come from here."

Now, wafer fabrication is trending offshore. Stata's question on this point answers itself: "When we don't have the fundamental means of production in our hands, what are the implications?"

The days when one engineer designed one product are long gone. "Today, we have teams of people in six locations around the world working on a single product," Stata noted. To communicate effectively across those divides, engineers must hone their "human skills." Engineers must be able to think about products more deeply, and better understand both the marketplace and their customers.

In essence, an engineer has to become "more of a Renaissance man," Stata said.

Stata is no longer directly involved in day-to-day management at ADI, but he enjoys helping "little companies get started." He sponsors and mentors four MIT spin-outs!a job that gives him "a lot of satisfaction; some heartburn, to be sure; and a little aggravation on the part of my wife, who wants me to come home more often," said Stata. "But it's still fun and exciting."

Aside from the 2008 ACE Award, Stata has received the 2001 Semiconductor Industry Association's Robert M. Noyce Award for Leadership, the 2003 IEEE Founder's Medal, and the 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange.

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

- Additional reporting by EE Times-Asia

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