Steve Laub could be the most interesting semiconductor CEO you've never heard of, and he's probably not unhappy with that.
He's done time at Teridian, Silicon Image, and Lattice, and it might not surprise you that he's a Bain Capital guy from back in the day.
But he's never been the executive who seeks out attention. Instead, his actions have spoken for him. At Atmel, the consequences of his actions are obvious:
He took over in 2006 when the old-line microcontroller vendor was struggling. In the next five years, Atmel's stock price tripled, outperforming almost every relevant IC vendor and stock index you can think of. And that was after he closed or sold off $600 million of revenue — 40 percent of Atmel's overall business.
During that time, he was making hairy decisions about what to keep and what to cashier, which, in turn changed how he worked with distributors and how he managed Atmel's own supply chains from its fabs to other suppliers.
You get rid of the things that are not strategic at first, very rapidly. Some business I kept (for a time) because I needed the revenue contribution. Same thing with the fabs: I needed some fabs. It takes time. You pick the ones less connected to the product lines.
Atmel's settled back to earth with revenues about what they were when Laub arrived on the scene but generating those sales with 30 percent fewer people. And Atmel is growing today with a number of recent, wireless-networking-focused acquisitions — all with an eye toward the Internet of Things.
Some day, it would be nice if he wrote a book, but for now, during a stop at the company's new San Jose headquarters, I asked him — in a wide-ranging interview — about his take on the supply chain today.
EBN: As a customer of the supply chain, how is it working for you and how can it get better.
Steve Laub: I'm like any customer; I want better quality at lower price.
EBN: [Laughter] How's that working out for you?
Laub: For the supply chain to continue to improve, it's going to have to be a little more involved in what our needs are so we can work with them on defining the roadmaps. On advanced technologies, we don't use the most advanced technologies. You're always lagging behind the most advanced technologies [with embedded semiconductor solutions]. We use typically what's becoming available. And I think there can be a much tighter relationship between our needs and what their developments are. There is still too much of the classic supplier-customer relationship instead of the partnership relationship.
We're guilty of that, too. I do think there can be more done on the roadmaps in terms of things like packaging to drive down costs.
EBN: From an industry standpoint is there an opportunity, or have you learned from situations, where we can better manage supply chain risk? We get hit by natural disasters. You can't predict that. But we still seem to concentrate key points in the chain in at-risk geographies.
Laub: I think it's important to diversify geographic location of supply. The earthquake did wake people up to that. Customers need to be open to second sourcing. You'll find some customers who don't like alternate sourcing at all, automotive manufacturers for example. Once it's going, don't touch it, but being open to say you know we're going to make sure there's stability of supply. I think the systems have gotten better where we can do that much more rapidly.