Electronica: The Company Which Nobody Leaves
The Japanese publishing house Nikkei has brought out a book about Linear Technology Corporation (LTC) called ‘The Company Which Nobody Leaves.’
“Nikkei found it unique in Silicon Valley to find so many people still there in the company,” says Bob Swanson, co-founder and Chairman of LTC, “it says we have recruited people from the best universities in America and they have been working for us for a long time because we have a good strategy and a good culture.”
“We make sure people appreciate we’re an engineering company,” adds Swanson, “we do the hard stuff – that’s how we survive.”
So why do people stick around at LTC? “We have really smart people and smart people like to work with smart people,” says LTC’s co-founder and CTO Bob Dobkin, “no one at Linear is afraid of hiring someone smarter than they are. Engineers are creative, they want to create. They don’t want politics; they don’t want management that is political. Bob made an atmosphere where everyone was interested in the company doing well – not in making their own kingdom.”
Having people stick around a long time in the analogue business is a very productive thing because, as Dobkin puts it: “A ten year analogue guy is better than a five year analogue guy because he’s made more mistakes.”
LTC was founded in 1981 at a time when the conventional wisdom in he semiconductor industry was that you needed to be big to survive and to be big you needed to do everything – microprocessors, memories, analogue, every product there was.
“We went exactly the opposite way,” says Swanson, “we made nothing but analogue and we survived.”
Ironically both Texas Instruments and National Semiconductor, who followed the industry consensus that you need to do everything to survive, both, eventually, focused back on doing only analogue.
Ignoring the industry consensus, LTC went analogue-only from the start.
“We decided we had to do something better than anyone else could do,” says Swanson, “we decided we could do two things better than anyone else – precision amplifiers and linear voltage regulators.”
From there LTC branched out into interface circuits, switching regulators, references and data converters, asking, with each new proposed new product, if they could make it better than anyone else.
Asked if they’ve ever disagreed on anything the two Bobs look astonished as though such an idea is unthinkable. For a moment or two they don’t know what to say.
Swanson then points out that their working relationship pre-dates the founding of LTC. “I took over the analogue group at National in 1973,” says Swanson.
“We’ve never been on opposite sides of an issue,” says Dobkin, “Bob and I never disagreed. I never tried to do Bob’s job and he never tried to do mine. If the people who start a company have well defined roles that works just fine. I don’t know how to run the company and Bob doesn’t know the technology – he knows the products – but he defers to me on the technology.”