Your first company was a bakery. What led you from those wonderful smells of yeast and dough to SemiGen?
Failure. Failure is the best lesson in life leading to success. Without it, you can’t grow and succeed. That failure and then having to go work for M/A-COM taught me a lot in just two short years. It gave me the idea to start MicroMetrics and the work ethic to make sure that one didn’t fail.
Selling MicroMetrics to Aeroflex in 2007 and staying on to witness their failure in integrating and streamlining the Metelics operation opened the door for SemiGen. SemiGen rose from the ashes of their failure and allowed me to expand into uncharted territory, due to honoring my non-compete.
It remains an interesting twist to offer assembly services and products in a full service microwave solution, and the customers love it!
Describe SemiGen’s portfolio of services and products and the strategy that led you to these. What ties them together?
For many years at MicroMetrics, we had customers ask how to bond a diode with a small mesa, how to attach beam leads and how to improve tuning for isolation and insertion loss and other tests inside the module.
After I left Aeroflex/MicroMetrics, I was restricted for several years while under contract, so I was forced to do something different. I started SemiGen as a contract assembly company offering wire bonding and die attach services. The foundation of the business used all the same tools and machines that building diodes did, so it was easy to expand the offerings into semiconductors when my contract was over.
The idea of a full service microwave company that provides not only expert assembly services but some of the products that are inside what we build was really the plan all along. I view it as MicroMetrics on steroids!
From the perspective of your customers, what differentiates SemiGen? Why do they come to you?
Service, response and trust.
My team works very hard on the quality of our products and services. More importantly, we treat all of our customers with respect.
We have a human answer the phones, we get back to customers with speed and honesty and we thrive on helping others. We do not obsolete parts, and we do not force customers into situations that should never happen. We do not treat customers like a number on the P&L.
We treat customers as our lifeline and the ones paying our people. Without happy customers, you really do not succeed.
Give us a rough idea of the various market segments and geographies that your customers represent.
We service the military, aerospace and defense, medical and commercial communications markets. We sell worldwide.
It’s impressive that a number of large defense contractors have you die attach their GaN MMICs. Getting a void-free eutectic bond is not an easy process. Tell us about that capability and how you developed it.
Our process engineering is uniquely talented due to the variety of die attach that we provide. We also have several die attach processes that we use in conjunction with in-house X-ray capability, allowing us to develop this type of die attach quickly.
SemiGen’s engineering staff all have backgrounds in semiconductor processing and assembly. We utilize this knowledge to make sure that all elements of the die attach are looked at. Chip plating make up, carrier metallization quality and fixturing all combine to achieve success in this difficult arena.
Are there other unique aspects of SemiGen that benefit your customers?
Employee morale is a much ignored aspect in management today. The morale of your workforce is key in providing customer quality and delivery.
I can find an executive anywhere; what I cannot find is an experienced, knowledgable wire bonder or die attach person or photolithography operator. Your hourly employees are the key to the success of the company and, much like our veterans, are often the ones last recognized or made to sacrifice.
In my opinion, companies who focus on providing a positive and fair work environment for their hourly employees tend to be successful and profitable. In my 32 years as a company CEO or COO, I have never supported cutting benefits or restricting the wages of those hourly people in times of hardship.
That philosophy results in having a dedicated, loyal and committed workforce that puts the company first, and SemiGen’s success is from that management style.
Will your facility in Manchester, New Hampshire support your growth?
SemiGen will be relocating to the former MicroMetrics (Aeroflex Metelics) facility in Londonderry in August (2017). The 43,000 square foot building has been recently renovated to contain extensive clean room and semiconductor fab space. As a result, SemiGen acquired most all of the former fab equipment from Aeroflex Metelics East and will be opening a 100 mm process fab in October (2017). Product is expected to be coming out of the new fab in Q1 of 2018.
Our manufacturing clean room space all around will increase 10x and accommodate all of the expected growth for the foreseeable future. SemiGen will own the facility.
The composition of the RF/microwave industry seems to be bimodal, which is pretty interesting: 1) a large collection of fairly small companies that succeed because of the knowledge and vision of their founders and 2) large, public, international corporations — mainly test and measurement and semiconductors. The first seems like fertile ground for entrepreneurs like you. What are your reflections on the structure of the industry and any trends you observe?
I have been looking at two aspects of our industry that are concerning.
First, the number of consolidations of small companies into large companies. Small business is hurt when longtime relationships end, and customers are forced to go through distribution — or worse, they are told items are obsolete and last and final buys become a cost problem. Small business in the RF/microwave landscape supports many large OEM programs. When these consolidations happen and no interest is paid to these smaller customers, the entire industry is hurt.
Second is our aging workforce. Every company is facing hardships in finding new people and bringing youth into the company structure. There is a cultural difference in how our aged workforce feels in the workplace and what younger people expect today. Old world mentality will not attract younger workers to your manufacturing floor. It is a much different way to manage and present your workplace.
SemiGen is taking the initiative with other companies by working with community colleges and starting programs targeted to microelectronics — a great way to open doors to the more visual learners of today.
To your second point, as a small business competing for talent, what is your strategy for recruiting and retaining the staff you need to grow?
SemiGen has a local reputation in the industry as the place to be. In my experience, we have never had a shortage of workers or people that wanted to make our company their home.
As I stated earlier, a positive, healthy, supportive workplace that treats your employees with respect and importance is key. Maintaining low turnover and taking action with employees not meeting expectations gains the respect of your team.
What is your vision for SemiGen? What motivates and inspires you as you drive to the office each morning?
If someone asked me what my best accomplishment was in my career, I would say improving families. I have been able to change the lives of so many of my employees by just allowing them to grow into new positions and rewarding them for success.
I take employment very seriously. What drives me is to make sure I can support and sustain those that I hire. I never realized or could point to this a few years ago, until I sold MicroMetrics and realized that, outside my little factory, others ignored this.
Observing talent in people is a necessary tool in success. Much like a football team, just because you hire someone to be a running back doesn’t mean you close the door to making that person the quarterback. I have seen employees go from a shipping and receiving job to director of operations and from human resources to sales or wire bonder to process engineer. Improving the lives and opportunities of your employees builds a successful company, and no value can be placed on that. That drive equates to a successful company and one that grows and expands.
The fear of letting down those who rely on you is my driver. It is my responsibility to make sure I let no one down, employees or customers.
Your success reflects a lot of hard work. Any other career or business “secrets” you’d like to pass on, based on your experiences?
Learning from failure, taking advantage of your competition’s weaknesses and investing in people’s lives are very important.
If I had to pick one thing that has helped every company I have started, it would be hiring smarter people. Never be afraid to hire a person smarter than you and more capable. As long as they know and respect who makes the final decision, those who are smarter can do nothing but help your company succeed.
The folks that I have had the privilege to work with over 32 years are my success. They get the credit. They deserve it.