mannerisms

Ruminations on the electronics industry from David Manners, Senior Components Editor on Electronics Weekly.

Rodney Smith.

It’s a terrible shock to hear that Rodney Smith, who grew Altera into one of the two biggest programmable logic companies, has been killed in a road accident.

Smith was a force of nature, driving Altera from start-up to industry giant, at a time when everyone thought the big companies in the industry would take over the programmable logic business. One by one the big companies tried to take the business away from the pioneers. Intel, Texas Instruments, AMD, Motorola, Philips, National, GEC-Plessey, Toshiba and AT&T all tried. And, one by one, they failed. “My position has always been that these guys didn’t have a clue,” said a cocky Smith, after all the big boys had been seen off. A lad from Lancashire, Smith was an enlisted soldier in the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) whose re-unions he would still attend years after going off to America to find success and fortune. Smith always remained as down to earth as a Lancashire hot-pot. His wife, Mary, is charming beyond charming and he adored her. I remember him at Silverstone, as happy as a cricket, carrying what looked like a ghastly old lump of scrap-iron which he said was some long-lost vital part he’d found which he needed for one of his vintage cars. In his early days at Altera I remember going to some crummy office Altera shared at the back of another company’s building and, during the meeting, he suddenly dropped his American accent and spoke in pure English. I thought someone else had come into the room. Smith was a hard-driving boss, but one was needed in those days to keep the show on the road while the big boys waited to pounce, and Xilinx remained an ever-doughty competitor. In those days, Altera and Xilinx vied for top spot. Three years before he handed over the reins at Altera, Smith regained the No.1 position in the programmable logic industry. Within Altera it was axiomatic that you avoided getting into the lift with Smith. If you did, and Smith didn’t recognize you, he’d ask: ‘What do you do here?’ Woe betide the poor guy whose answer was hesitant or vague. Smith was not one for the parties and socialising of Silicon Valley, but he was fun to meet, loved to take the mickey and remained, at heart, a great Lancastrian.

Tags: altera, force of nature, FRodney Smith, reins, road accident, scrap iron, vintage cars

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2 Comments

  1. David Howlett
    March 28, 2008 22:03

    Just happen to be surfing the net, and read Your article about Rodney. I had heard about his passing through a close friend – the trajic accident in May last year.
    Rodney and I spent some 5 years together during our electronic apprenticeship and first overseas posting to Celle in Germany whilst in the Army (REME)- that was from 1957 to 1962.
    I echo all you say about Rodney, he was an achiever – second to none. Albeit I did not see him again until one of our Army Apprenticeship reunions a few years ago in UK (some 38 years later) I was not surprised to see and hear of his fantastic and successful achievements in life.
    What a trajic loss.
    I have had the privilege to meet Mary at two of our past reunions in UK – I did send our condolences at the time – but if you are still in contact with her – please send our fondest regards.
    Yours. Major (Ret) David Howlett

  2. June 01, 2007 17:09

    David,
    that’s a great summary of Rodney. And I remember how you and he always seemed to get on – remember those days at the Coy’s old car festival at Silverstone? I joined Altera 11 years ago and EW played a part in it. I was due to interview with Rodney the day EW published a big article about the FLEX 10K series with a picture of Rodney in it. I was walking from the car park into the Altera offices when I suddenly saw Rodney walking in too. And although I did make the mistake of getting into the lift with him, thanks to EW, at least I knew who he was!
    Best wishes, Paul.