Jerald (Jerry) Fishman, the CEO of Analog Devices Inc., passed away last week at age 67. I won't go through the details; you can read them at the ADI website as well as the story in EETimes. But as someone who worked at ADI for many years, and who sat in meetings with Jerry (I made it my business to always stay at the back!), I'll add a few personal observations.
He had been at ADI for 41 years, starting out in product marketing. Certainly, that's a very long time to be at one company, but longevity of employment is not that unusual in analog-centric IC companies; I've met many 15-, 20-, and 25-year single-employer veterans in the industry.
Jerry never positioned himself as a chip designer gone into management, which he wasn't (although he did have BS and MS EE degrees). Instead, he was a no-nonsense, plain-speaking manager who knew that marketers sometimes fell so in love with their products that they became blind to reality or sometimes projected a few data points to the desired conclusion. I heard him challenge them many times, asking on what basis they had reached their conclusions.
Certainly, a lot of new-product marketing is supposition and guesswork (truth be told) but he insisted that marketers at least be honest about that and not use a sketchy data to extrapolate to the desired end-point, with the veneer of excess significant figures to lend false precision.
He also was strict in insisting that marketers and designers kill a product that was late or inadequate, even right up to the day of its formal release, a lesson he had taught along with ADI's co-founder (and now chairman of the board) Ray Stata. Despite any personal attachment that a development team had to their product, the message was this: The cost of developing a product was a “sunk cost”; that money was gone. But if the product was not going to be a winner, due to unexpected competitive changes, don’t release it.
The reason was that the real, ongoing, profit-draining costs really begin when that product gets a formal release and can be ordered by customers. Then it has to be manufactured, tested, supported by applications, and be available for some number of years, even if sales are low and it loses money. In other words, put your emotions aside, and look at it cold-heartedly: The best thing you can do is bury it before it gets released and write off the development cost as part of the risk you take and a learning process. You could call it “tough love.”
In addition to his engineering degrees and MBA, Jerry also had a law degree. But he never practiced law, and I often heard him curse lawyers and remark how much he disliked them, as they had made business deals so complicated and fraught with lawsuits (both legitimate and nuisance) and got in the way of product development and marketing.
Our industry has its share of colorful, high-profile, even flamboyant leaders. By his own choice, Jerry was a lower-key type, preferring to work mostly “inside” to make sure the wheels turned smoothly and the corporate vehicle stayed on the desired course — but he also knew when to take risks and when to cut losses. Those characteristics are a good complement to the other styles in the analog segment in particular and the semiconductor business in general. It both keeps things interesting and makes for consistent success, filling spaces in the puzzle that is the picture of long-term success.
Did you know or work with Jerry Fishman? Are there any industry leaders — visible or perhaps not-so-visible — that you think have played a key role in the success of their companies, and the industry as a whole?