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Lessons I Learned From Jerry Fishman

As anyone who dealt with Jerry will attest, there was no mistaking where you stood with him, both on a personal and professional level. He had a rare combination of “book learning” and “street smarts” that served him well throughout his career. He gave his best and demanded the best from his colleagues.

At the first sales meeting I attended, one of the sales managers gave a special award to Jerry, who was at the time the marketing manager for the Semiconductor Division. It was a coiled bullwhip mounted on a plaque, symbolizing Jerry's demands that they go secure a certain customer's business. The sales manager noted that Jerry had been a pain in the butt, but in the end, we all won. Lesson: Focus on an important goal, and be relentless even if it ticks other people off.

I recall one specific piece of business I was involved in chasing. It involved a complete signal chain, long before it was fashionable. Working closely with our sales engineer and the design engineer at the customer, we managed to get the socket for every single analog function in the system. The customer, a small but energetic startup that succeeded, once told Jerry that his company had three important bills to pay every month: rent, electricity, and ADI. Jerry loved hearing that line and made sure that all the right people knew who had been responsible for that design win. Lesson: A close engagement with a customer results in everyone winning.

Over the years, I had numerous dealings with Jerry. Bill Schweber, in Watching Analog Devices’ Jerald Fishman Up Close, mentioned that Jerry had a law degree but never practiced. That's not exactly true. Jerry had a nice little side business in the early years handling real estate closings for many of the marketing and engineering people in his group. I think he wanted to make sure we could all afford decent housing and weren't at risk of moving out of the area to a competitor… and he could pick up a few bucks on the side.

Jerry also was known for “knowing guys.” When I was on the hunt for an engagement ring, I walked into his office and asked where I could get a deal. He dropped what he was doing, smiled, and said “Tell me all about your girl.” Then he made a call, and I got a good deal on a nice ring. Through the years, Jerry never forgot my wife's name, even though he only saw her every couple of years at company events. Lesson: Know your employees well and help them with non-work-related issues — keep them happy and loyalty will follow.

When Jerry took over from ADI founder Ray Stata as CEO, there was a special meeting room constructed between their two offices. Entry to “the chapel” (so named because of the stained-glass window that faced the main hallway) was through either Ray's or Jerry's office. This was where they sorted out their differences on big issues before communicating to the rest of the company. What was said in the chapel stayed in the chapel. I had several meetings there with Jerry, some pleasant and some, umm… not.

After one of the better ones, we took a few minutes to catch up on family. His kids are a few years older than mine, and we compared notes on the college admissions process. His pride and love for his kids was evident. The gruff Jerry who was known to make his opinions abundantly clear to his colleagues and subordinates with very clear (and often profane) language and plenty of volume was a real caring and loving family man down inside. Lesson: Work hard, but keep your family first.

A lot of current and former ADI employees attended the memorial service for Jerry on a blustery Tuesday afternoon. Afterwards, one person commented that he was surprised to see certain ex-employees there since Jerry had fired them. However, knowing the stories behind some of these, and the personalities involved, I replied that even though some disagreements ran to the point of employment termination, nobody ever lost respect for Jerry. Some of his decisions took years to be recognized as being right. Lesson: Respect lasts longer than emotions and survives even death.

There were lots more lessons, but these bubbled up as the important ones I recall and have tried to put into practice. RIP, Jerry, and thanks for everything.

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