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Jerry Fishman’s Lasting Legacy at Analog Devices

He was an intimidating presence. Jerry Fishman, CEO of Analog Devices Inc., was not an easy interview. But Electronic Business Magazine had chosen him as its CEO of the Year in 2004, and as national editor it was my job to profile him and his company.

I was surprised that Fishman agreed to do the interview. Fishman and ADI had maintained a very low profile for years. ADI was a typical engineers’ company, happier sticking to its knitting (designing and selling chips) than touting its achievements. Frankly, I expected it to be a boring assignment.

But it turned out that ADI, and Fishman, had quite a story to tell. What I found was a company quietly chugging along based on an amazingly successful business model, guided by a brash New Yorker who had somehow figured out how to manage a bunch of retiring electronics engineers.

Fishman, who died last week at age 67, left a legacy of stable, conservative management while quietly building the chip company into a multibillion-dollar semiconductor powerhouse.

Jerry Fishman, Analog Devices CEO 1945-2013

Jerry Fishman, Analog Devices CEO
1945-2013

What's for lunch?
Fishman brought a competitive edge, forged from his upbringing in Queens in New York City, to the company.

“Every day you’ve got to wake up knowing there’s somebody after your lunch,” he told me.

At the time we talked in 2004, Fishman had been CEO for seven years and overseen a doubling of the company’s revenue, to $2 billion, while also salting away $2.7 billion in cash. He saw how critical analog-to-digital conversion and other key ADI technologies (such as MEMS) were becoming in electronics, and he helped the company make the transition from its traditional scientific, industrial, and military customers to the consumer market. The company could rely on its historic base of analog business, which had high margins and long product lives, while branching out into the faster-paced consumer markets.

The strategy served the company well. Although the company took a hit like everyone else during the Great Recession, it seems to have largely recovered. As of 2012, the company’s annual revenue was a healthy $2.7 billion. To this day, the company has an incredibly diverse customer base, numbering in the tens of thousands, in industrial, automotive, consumer, and communications markets. According to its latest annual report, no individual customer accounts for more than 10 percent of sales, and its single largest customer makes up only 3 percent of its revenue.

This diversity has helped the company to remain profitable through the economic ups and downs of the last few years. Indeed, analysts have consistently recognized Fishman’s steady and conservative management style. While applying his considerable business acumen, Fishman was careful to preserve a reverence for engineering on which the company was originally founded in 1965.

In his in 2012 letter to shareholders, Fishman wrote:

    Most importantly, we have created an environment at ADI where the most talented engineers can explore new ideas and train under the most knowledgeable and respected mentors, many of whom enjoy international recognition.

Industry acclaim
This combination earned the company and Fishman wide respect.

“Analog Devices enjoys tremendous goodwill in the electronics market,” wrote Bolaji Ojo in a blog post here in 2010. “It’s hard to get a negative comment about the company from anyone — rivals included — aside from mild complaints by journalists grousing that the company is not ‘press-savvy.’ ”

Fishman’s blend of business and technology savvy made him an excellent leader for ADI. He saw his job as one of keeping a steady hand on the tiller no matter what kind of tech or economic disruptions ADI found itself riding. After guiding the company for 17 years, it seems harshly unfair that he didn’t get to stick around to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary in 2015. The company’s next leader will have considerable shoes to fill.

Said Fishman in 2004:

In technology companies, it’s all about transitions. Transitions in leadership, transitions in technology, transitions in markets. It’s how you manage across those transitions, I think, that more than anything separates the companies that are going to last from those that don’t.

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2 comments on “Jerry Fishman’s Lasting Legacy at Analog Devices

  1. Katie OQ
    April 3, 2013

    Tam – Excellent precis of Jerry's life. Much appreciated. He will be sorely missed in a score of ways, but his vision for Analog Devices will continue to shine. As a personal reminder of this friend and debater, I am going to make a large print of the photo you included in your piece, frame it nively, and place it in the entrance to the NW Labs of Analog Devices, here in Beaverton, Oregon. His smile will be a 're-freshing' gulp of caffiene every morning, and stand as a cachet and grinning 'favorite uncle' reminder that, as he declared, “Every day, you need to recognize that your competitors are ever out to eat your lunch!”

    And you're right – though I never gave it a lot of thought – that he didn't play the Big Shot or do the lecture circuit. He was always approachable and open; and indeed, remarkably modest for someone in his position. But then, that is something we can say of all of our Senior Management Team. We have yet to suffer under a flamboyant and egotistical Head of State.

    Next week we have our annual General Technical Conference at the North Shore Westin in Boston, and I am sure there will be a huge outpouring of recollections of this great guy's style and his achievements in welding together the girders of this Company's tower of greatness, as originally envisioned by Ray Stata, another outstanding leader whom we are pleased to see still deeply involved in ensuring its enduring success, now with Vince Roche at the helm.

    This is a Company of technologists who understand very well that analog devices are never going to become obsolete; and that has always been our mantra, even as the wonders of digital have overwhelmed the consumers. Few of them have any idea of how much of their digital toys are dependent on the hard stuff – like the several analog radios in their cell-phones and so much more.

    Vive Analog! Vive Jerry!

    Barrie

  2. Brian Fuller
    April 3, 2013

    @Barrie, that's a wonderful comment and thank you for taking time to craft it. 

    Jerry was a great executive but a lousy interview. He never gave me much I could sink my teeth into, which, if you're not a reporter but a man running a business, is another sign of a great executive. But he at least took the time. 

    A famous EE Times story from the 1990s goes like this (I was not a party to the story, the editing or the call, at the time):

    We published a story about some problem with Sharc (I think it was Sharc) and in the headline used the word “SNAFU.”

    It was a one-column story, so the copy desk needed to find punchy short words. Well, that word choice did not sit well with Jerry. He hit the roof. Our bigwigs had a call with him and his team and he read our guys the riot act:

    “Do you blankety-blankety know what SNAFU means?!?  I'll tell ya what it means! It means Situation Normal All Effed Up. Do you think that's how we run things here? That our products are normally effed up?!?”

    You know Jerry, so you know the language was far more pungent than this! Anyhow, he peeled paint off the walls over the phone and needless to say I don't think we ever used the word SNAFU again. 

    A colorful guy, passing too soon. 

     

     

     

     

     

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