CEO Talk: JVD Analog ASIC Semiconductors

January 22, 2018, anysilicon

This interview took place with Bob Frostholm, VP Marketing & Sales at JVD Analog ASIC Semiconductors.



Tell me a bit about your background?


I’ve held Sales, Marketing and CEO roles at established and startup Analog Semiconductor Companies for more than 45 years. I was one of the original marketers behind the ubiquitous 555 timer chip that was introduced in 1972. After 12 years with Signetics-Phillips, Fairchild and National Semiconductor, I co-founded my first startup in 1984, Scottish based Integrated Power, which was sold to Seagate in 1987. I subsequently joined Sprague’s semiconductor operations in Massachusetts and helped orchestrate its sale to Japanese based Sanken Electric, creating what is now known as Allegro Microsystems. In 1999, as VP Sales and Marketing, I rejuvenated sales revenues from $1.5M/qtr to $13M/qtr and facilitated the sale of SEEQ Technology to LSI Logic. I later became President & CEO of PowerX Networks, producing switch fabric chips for network core routers and switches. After the Great Recession, I joined JVD Analog ASIC Semiconductors in 2010. I am also the author of dozens of technical articles and white papers.




How did you first get started with JVD?


I was introduced by a friend. Founder of JVD, Jerry VanDierendonck (see the JVD connection?) had retired for medical reasons and his son Mike had just taken over the business. Mike had run the test operations for the prior 19 years and needed someone to rejuvenate the Marketing and Sales functions that Jerry had previously managed on his own.


Tell me about JVD?


JVD Analog ASIC Semiconductors designs and manufactures Custom Analog ICs for medical, automotive, industrial and consumer applications. These devices challenge standard ASIC design methodology and provide outstanding cost/performance benefits. Founded in June of 1982, JVD has been providing the world with high-quality, cost efficient custom Integrated Circuits for more than 35 years. As a self-funded, debt free, privately owned company, with no shareholders dictating our decisions, everything we do is based on what’s right for our customers and their designs.




When did you start JVD?


Jerry started JVD in 1982 while then employed at LSI Logic. Tired of the company politics and confident that LSI’s inflexible stance on doing only pure digital chips was missing a huge segment of the ASIC market, Jerry wanted to serve the burgeoning Analog segment.


What were you doing before that?


Jerry’s career began at TI. He was fortunate to have been part of the team that developed the world’s first microprocessor, the TMS 1000. Unfortunately, Intel’s patent got reviewed first so they erroneously get credit for being first. The TMS 100 was quite a success and several years later, Jerry and other members of the team decided the future of semiconductors was in Silicon Valley not in the Texas desert. They came in the late 1960s and Jerry worked at CalTex, Litronix and Fairchild, before ending up at LSI Logic.




What problem did you see that needed to be fixed?


While at LSI, Jerry saw the company no bid dozens of great ASIC opportunities that had varying requirements of analog along with the digital. The company had no practical experience in analog and did not want the deviate from its core digital competency. Jerry surmised that in Silicon Valley, with analog kings like National, Fairchild, Signetics, Intersil, Precision Monolithics, and others, that resources would be plentiful. He was right. Linear Technology was 3 years old (1981) and Maxim had been formed the prior year (1983) and the word was that these once staid domains for analog designers was undergoing a mass exodus. Acquiring top talent was easy and thus, JVD was born.



What is your approach to solving that?


Analog products typically sell in lower annual volumes than digital chips. However, the lifetime of the chip is considerably longer. Jerry had to develop a business model that lowered the barrier to entry for companies (NRE & Tooling) to justify the initial costs of development. That successful business model remains in effect today, 34 years later. Over that time frame, JVD has acquired a robust technical team with each member having no less than 25 years of Analog IC Design experience.
Analog IC design is not something that can learned from a book or a few college classes. Expertise comes from years and years of doing it under the mentorship of older and wiser experts. By recruiting only the top tier talent, JVD has amassed a collection of some of the brightest analog guru’s in the world.


How was the role/offering of JVD changed during the recent years?


JVD’s offerings from an application perspective have changed little in recent years. We focus heavily on applications oriented toward medical, industrial, automotive and consumer. What has changed is the manufacturing aspect as todays applications demand smaller size, greater precision and lower noise with reduced power consumption. Many older products still in production today are produced on 0.5um and 0.35um lithography. Most of our newer new designs rely on 0.18um, 0.13um and 0.11um to meet these goals.


Did any of the market consolidation (or acquisition) affected your business and how?


Clearly, the recent rash of semiconductor acquisitions has caused concern for OEMs. Public semiconductor companies are faced with growing pressure, driven by greed from their Boards of Directors and shareholders to continuously grow sales and improve profitability. Profit is good but greed is…. Well, let’s just say “not good”. When two companies merge, each of whom is growing at a market average of 10%, the sum of the two isn’t growing at 20%. The profit driver is the ability to consolidate common functions such as finance, sales, operations, and unfortunately even design. OEM customers know this and tones of M&A strike fear in them. More and more we see requests for integration to remove dependencies on of-the-shelf products that may soon be slated for product obsolescence as a result of mergers.


Another benefit for JVD is the fear that runs through their engineering organizations. Not that the top engineers are worried about being laid off, but they have concerns about reorganizations, working for a new manager, increased and unwanted politics that always comes from an acquisition. These people represent new pools of engineering resources seeking a change and for JVD, that is a very good thing.


Which market segment seems promising to you? And why?


Again, our market focus is Analog with an emphasis on medical, industrial, automotive and consumer. These all remain very positive, high growth segments for us. With the exception of consumer, product lifetimes are relatively long. We have several products now that remain in production after more 20 years.


We don’t try to hitch our wagon to the next flash-in-the-pan. Chasing rainbows is better left for other companies. We are selective about the customers we engage with and the types of products we develop and produce. Better to under commit and over deliver.



What is a typical customer for JVD?


There is no definition of a typical customer for us. We deal with startups all the way to Billion dollar organizations. The commonality they all share is a need to adopt one or more of the primary benefits of a custom analog IC.


  1. Performance Improvement
  2. Lower Cost
  3. Smaller Size
  4. Lower Noise
  5. Lighter Weight
  6. Improved Reliability
  7. Protection of Intellectual Property
  8. Protection from Product Obsolescence
  9. End Market Product Differentiation



Customers are focused on time-to-market, first-time-right, price, etc. Do you see a change in customer behavior in recent years? Where is the focus today and why?


Everyone wants the Holy Grail. Customers today are, for the most part, more educated about analog. Not that they can design a chip, but that they have a far greater appreciation of the complexity…that it is far more complex than digital design. They have a better sense of what they don’t know than say ten years ago…and that’s a good thing. They get the fact that Analog behavior is described by a set of mathematical equations and digital is described by Boolean relations. They are beginning to ask tougher questions about the design and that’s a fantastic step forward.


What are the 3 top things you wish your customers would do better (or different)?


  1. Today’s ASIC customers are quite sophisticated. Occasionally someone wants a combination of functions on a chip that simply cannot be done without violating the laws of physics, but for the most part they understand what they want and why they want it but having a first draft of a specification as a talking point would be extremely beneficial. It needn’t be 100% complete but a page or two as a starting point would be great.


  1. Be wary of the Analog Pretenders. We are always amazed when we hear some of the false promises some customers received by pretenders. I thought our industry had outgrown the idea of making promises, saying whatever the customer wants to hear, in order to get the order. Well, I guess not. If possible it would be great if customers could take more time to ferret out these rascals. Speak directly to the design manager who may be assigned to the project and challenge his or her analog design knowledge and skills.


  1. Understand that real analog design is hand crafted 95+% of the time. The cell library short cut is the kiss of death. If the team you are considering is not well versed (meaning many years of analog IC design… real design, not with libraries…say goodbye and move on.



Are you currently hiring? What type of jobs?


We are always on the lookout for outstanding analog IC designers with more than 25 years of experience directly in the analog domain.



What is your #1 advice for people who want to work for JVD?


Be the best of the best at what you do.



Where can one find more information?




What is the best moment in your day?

Any opportunity to engage in conversation with customers and our design teams is a tremendous learning experience and I never tire of it.



How do you keep yourself energized and engaged during the day?

It’s part of my DNA…I don’t have to do anything…it just comes naturally. (Coffee helps)



What is your preferred lunch discussion topic?




How do you spend your time outside working hours?

My interests include Home Remodeling, Furniture Making & Cabinetry, Amateur Radio, Porsche Club Activities (setting up tours, rallyes and other car events) and last but not least, my Grandkids… I have  3.



Read more about JVD capabilities and services here.