2009 year-end review and 2010 outlook

(Editor's note : we continue here with our occasional columns by Gary Fowler of Analog Solutions; a linked list of his previous columns is at the bottom, immediately above his biography.)

I think most of us would agree goodbye and good riddance to 2009! It was, by most accounts, the worst year we have all seen in our memories, certainly from an industry and career perspective. Though many were not affected in job loses, I believe all were affected in one shape or fashion.

On the recruiting front the job market was a disaster, and many thousand were laid off in the semiconductor and component world and at all levels of experience. Even companies that saw no dramatic affect on revenue either froze positions or reduced a percentage of their workforce. Cash preservation and “Op Ex” became paramount for everyone alike!

Forward visibility for executives was very cloudy though many companies were only flat, or down slightly, in revenue. A number of firms actually posted some very good revenue results in 2009. Venture funding was off significantly and new “A” round investments were non-existent. Many investors had internal issues and developments that had a material impact on their businesses.

We did see a few late-round investments in 2009 which was somewhat positive. Exits were for the most part non-existent. As a General Partner in a Merger &Acquisition firm Saratoga Ventures M&A our activity was reasonable, but it was almost impossible to get deals closed as the gap between buyers and sellers was too great. Valuations were at historic lows for the few deals which were done and, as such, I don't believe listing names would do any justice to anyone.

There were no hot specialties in 2009, although power management did seem to be an area least impacted by the meltdown. This is primarily as a result of the demand going forward for consumer devices, automobiles and energy products which are requiring better power-management solutions and more features.

There is a definite evolution by many chip companies to become more “system solution” providers and leverage their current customer base to increase semiconductor content, and bring better value to the customer. New markets that may require some time to really help drive revenue are industrial, medical, and energy. There is a belief that these areas offer higher margin products and offer larger volume opportunities. Many suppliers see these markets as key to their growth strategies.

Asia has seemed to have recovered a little quicker to the economic problems and is helping companies both here and abroad pursue opportunities. Those companies that are recovering from the paralysis of the meltdown are going to be better positioned for growth in the next few years. Those that remain very cautious and much more conservative stand to remain stagnant, or lose competitive edge.

Innovation will be a substantial key in the next ten years, and the USA is still seen around the world as the driver of innovation. I saw a recent survey conducted in China that indicated that 8 out of 10 people believe the US is still the world leader in innovation! Let's hope the investment community and company CEOs continue to embrace the desire to lead innovation in the next few years!

This brings me to the individual side of the equation. In last year's January column I wrote of a need on the part of individuals–whether laid off, or still employed–to seek ways to improve their skills and capabilities, regardless of level of experience. We saw a very high number of layoffs in 2009 and this will take time to recover.

Employee dissatisfaction is probably at an all-time high as a result of many factors attributed to the meltdown. I believe we will see a rush to the exits by many when the market heats up. There is still an entrepreneurial spirit that exists in many, in addition to a desire to feel like a contribution is being made.

On the engineering side, applications engineering is going to play a major role for all companies as the products become more complex and feature driven. This presents a real opportunity for engineers in the future. The compensation is close to equal, and despite the economic downturn, competition for talent across all disciplines will return. It is extremely important to continue to evaluate your capabilities and make sure you put yourself in an environment to become a more marketable candidate in your chosen field each and every day.

Those that have done this were definitely less affected by this downturn and will be less likely to be affected in the next downturn. Remember, YOU are your best champion! Opportunities will develop in 2010 and 2011 and you should be aware of them, and evaluate them seriously so you won't wind up being adversely affected in the future. We will see more hiring in 2010 of “A” players, but the jury is still out on when hiring will improve in great numbers and companies will consider hiring B and C players to round out their teams. You can't only have teams of superstars as the work that needs to be done in many cases does not warrant being done by high achievers.

In conclusion, continue to strive to be better tomorrow at your craft than you are today. If you achieve this your future prospects will be brighter. It is paramount that you sit down and determine what your ideal next opportunity is so that you can convey it appropriately to either an Executive Recruiter, or potential hiring manager. I have written many articles over the years for PlanetAnalog that discuss career issues, so I would encourage you to go back and read some of those articles.

In the meantime, make certain that you continue to keep track of your accomplishments in your current position, and the results your companies are realizing from them as these results are the basis for your future marketability. You should keep an open mind on opportunities that will develop in 2010 and 2011 and learn to evaluate them quickly to see if they would allow you to reach your career goals in a more expedient time frame.

Finally, I again want to thank all the readers and EE Times for your continued interest in my articles, and I hope we all can move beyond the disaster we felt in late 2008 and 2009. Begin to embrace 2010 with a more positive confident attitude and I do believe we all shall prevail.

Stay Tuned!

Previous columns by Gary Fowler:

About the Author

Gary Fowler is President and Founder of Analog Solutions, a Professional Recruiting firm devoted to the analog and mixed-signal space. He has over 25 years of experience as an Executive Recruiter. His clients over the years have included several Fortune 500 companies as well as many emerging, well-funded startups. In addition, he has relationships with several leading venture capitalists and investment bankers, who serve the analog semiconductor industry. He holds a BS in Human Resources Management from New York University, and an MS in Management Science from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton.

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