Felix Zandman, founder and chairman of passives components vendor Vishay Intertechnology Inc. (NYSE: VSH), faced great odds early in life. But he went on to achieve great things, not least of all founding and nurturing a $3 billion revenue company, thanks to his tenacious attitude.
Zandman lost members of his family under Nazi Germany. He lived in fear, hiding from the authorities in Poland. He died today, aged 83, in his adopted home of Israel, leaving behind a wealth of inventions and a story of inspiration and valuable life lessons for the current generation of electronics industry leaders. (See: Vishay Intertechnology Mourns the Loss of Its Founder.)
Nothing could diminish Zandman's zest for life. Personal tragedies did not leave him bitter, and even occasional professional disappointments did not deter him from holding out a welcoming hand to colleagues and rivals. If you met Felix Zandman just once, he'd stay in your memory for a lifetime.
At the height of the industry's horrible downturn in 2001, Zandman told me most supply contracts with OEMs were not worth the paper they were written on. His company suffered as a result, as customers simply walked away from so-called iron-clad contracts. Vishay had invested a great deal of money to support the lost business, but only two years later, he abruptly rejected an interview request at the Eletronica trade conference in Munich because he was having a party for customers. "Tonight I honor the customers," he said at Vishay's pavilion. I had my interview the next day. "I'm sure you understand," Zandman said. "The customers are the reason we are here."
Lively and energetic even as he grew older, the holocaust survivor moved and spoke with the passion and force of youth. Dr. Zandman, as he is known across the electronics industry, relocated to Israel to spend his last years, but he continued to direct a company that has grown strongly from its base in Pennsylvania to all major regions of the globe.
He will be sorely missed. I first met Zandman in the late 1990s at his office in Malvern, Pa. An interview turned into a lecture when Zandman jumped up from his seat to give me a quick tutorial on some engineering and design issues related to Vishay. Several more meetings later, I was hooked. He mesmerized people without even trying, and his plain talk and simplicity in an industry filled with hubris and bloated egos was refreshing.
My last interview with Dr. Zandman was in July 2010. I had hoped to see him again in Malvern but learned he was spending most of his time in Israel. We spoke on the phone, and the final question I asked was how he would like to be remembered. "I haven't written the last chapter yet," he said.
Typical, I thought. Zandman's autobiography is titled "Never the Last Journey"; that theme applied to how Zandman managed Vishay. He moved the business forcefully from passive components towards active components, because he believed in the marriage of the two. That was why Vishay acquired Siliconix. Zandman was still in pursuit of that goal when I spoke with him last July.
Zandman is gone now, but his son will continue his legacy. Marc Zandman has been appointed chairman of the board of directors at Vishay, and the lessons and ideals his father taught him will no doubt shine through the company.
"My father’s high standards and values are embedded in Vishay's culture and impact all that we do at Vishay, across the globe, every day, and he served our company until the end," Marc Zandman said in a statement. "I humbly take on the responsibilities of his role as executive chairman of the Board, and fully intend to continue his ideals in both business and personal matters.”