It’s been a year since TTI acquired RFMW. What has been the biggest impact?
We’ve made major investments in our two key areas: people and product. With people, we were able to execute on a strategy to create the RFMW “dream team” in marketing and sales. We’ve hired more of the best people who know RF and microwave. For product, we’ve increased our available inventory by approximately 50 percent, and we’ve gone broader and deeper on key products from our premier suppliers.
Due to the increased horsepower provided by TTI, we’ve also been able to support larger engagements from large telecom and aerospace/defense customers.
Related to people, you recently announced a sales force expansion in Europe and Israel. What are your objectives for those regions?
The expansion recognizes customer desires to have experienced, technically oriented sales engineers supporting their designs. To expand and upgrade those teams, we brought on new sales managers with extensive sales experience and education levels that include master’s degrees. Many have design engineering experience at equipment and component manufacturers.
Our commitment will always be adding value for our customers, with an in-depth knowledge of leading-edge products from multiple suppliers, while providing exceptional feedback on industry trends, market conditions and customer needs to our supply base.
Our new team members have the skills needed to support these tasks and enhance the overall sales team objectives of further expansion in Europe and the rest of the world. When customers have RF and microwave needs, we want them to think of RFMW as their solution provider.
Have you altered RFMW’s strategy due to the acquisition?
As we’ve been saying since we decided to team with the TTI family of companies, we chose to be related to TTI primarily because of one thing: the commitment and belief in specialization. In this respect, we wake up every morning and continue that strategy. Our sales team offers premier RF/microwave components from suppliers on our line card, and our product team promotes and buys more of that product. If anything has changed, the financial backing of TTI (and Berkshire Hathaway) has provided us with the ability to be more aggressive with our product-focused sales and marketing efforts.
What have been the biggest challenges becoming part of TTI?
The initial challenges were transitioning some human resources and financial reporting to report our results up the chain to the parent company. For instance, trends that I used to take note of and do in my head, we now have to actually document for others. Once we got past that and started getting into the flow of things, while still some extra work, it’s becoming second nature to us. And the process has benefited us in understanding our business and improving results. There’s always more to learn.
I think our biggest challenge may be the abundance of opportunity available to us, based on market conditions and exposure to potential new suppliers who would like us to be their channel to market. We will continue to have a disciplined strategy and organization, so we don’t over-commit, and to make sure we continue focusing on our core product, suppliers, customers and competencies.
Speaking of new suppliers, have you added any since the acquisition?
Per my previous reply and thanks to TTI and Mouser, all I can say is “watch this space!” (Editor’s note: Mouser is one of the companies in the Warren Buffett Berkshire Hathaway portfolio.) We’ll add more suppliers and inventory intelligently, taking into consideration the developing technology, the markets we play in and synergies with our existing line card. In the meantime, we’re focusing on our existing supplier base, continuing to optimize our performance with each focused RF and microwave supplier.
Other than new suppliers, what can we expect to see as you move forward?
We had a lot on our plate during the acquisition process, including continuing our dramatic growth. We’ve increased the number of people we employ and increased revenue over the last two years by about 50 percent.
Looking forward, we’re investing for the next three to five years. We can take that longer view now, thanks to financial resources and the way that TTI and Berkshire look at investing for the future. This means additional expansion of our sales team deployed for our customers in new territories. Being a specialist, our investment is always focused on people and product.
Talk about that growth. Which markets are providing it?
5G, of course, in every way possible, with both sub-6 GHz and mmWave. Some of our suppliers, such as Knowles (DLI), offer significant product solutions for mmWave filtering.
Test and measurement is always a growth area for emerging technologies.
Wi-Fi 6 promises increased speed and better performance in congested environments.
Smart home and IoT continue to unveil new must have devices to make our lives better.
Autonomous vehicles, wireless charging — the list goes on in the consumer markets.
In defense, Mil/Aero communications, avionics, radar, EW, SIGINT, unmanned vehicles and electronic countermeasures see new designs for new programs, as well as redesigns of existing programs.
AESA radar demands smaller T/R modules or MMICs, and defense customers are looking to replace TWTAs with solid-state power amplifiers — an area where Qorvo is providing some great GaN solutions.
We see commercial applications of RF/microwave energy for heating and plasma generation, where solid-state devices can be controlled to accommodate for varying moisture levels, allowing better efficiency and better heating than older systems.
We also see increased interest in satellite communications, more interest in CubeSat research satellites and even quantum computing, where cryogenic test components from XMA have traction.
What technology trends are you seeing that are shifting the landscape for RF/microwave components?
GaN on SiC is the hot technology for semiconductor devices, especially for mmWave applications and wideband amplifiers — also for lower frequency applications where the increased efficiency offers long-term cost-of-ownership benefits.
Advanced semiconductor technologies and processes are changing the way systems and subsystems are built. High speed data converters enable direct digital microwave systems at higher frequencies. Direct digital phased arrays, where signals from every element are mathematically summed via computer, enable digital beamforming in aerospace and defense applications, as well as commercial telecom.
Power transistors — GaN, GaAs and LDMOS, based on their individual inherent advantages — continue to replace tubes in high power applications and are going higher in frequency.
In the passive device world, BAW filters continue to gain acceptance as price comes down and product portfolios expand.
At mmWave frequencies, surface-mount dielectric devices are challenging the performance of existing, larger components such as cavity filters.
Since we spoke a year ago, the technology industry has seen a lot of disruption and uncertainty around China: tariffs and the ban on exporting products to Huawei. From your perspective, how has this affected the RF/microwave industry and what do you see as the long-term implications?
For the long-term, due to “poking of the giant,” there will be more China independence and competition on components and semis. Short term, it’s been a disruption and some slowdown.
On the other hand, new regional competition to Huawei will develop outside of China, based on security concerns and O-RAN (Open Radio Access Network).
With RFMW part of a larger organization, how has your day-to-day role changed? Do you find you have more time to muse at Starbucks?
For the most part, I’m doing the same thing on a day-to-day basis. I do spend more time thinking strategy and long-term plans. Some of those long-term plans include succession planning across the organization and where the next growth will come from, both organically and externally, as we develop the strategy and drive the execution.
Some of that thinking does happen at Starbucks, either in early morning discussions with Steve Takaki or on the weekend as I people watch.
One of my biggest Starbucks deliberations is why some baristas can’t make a cappuccino with the right amount of foam, versus using too much milk. It’s a major first-world country problem that I’d like to resolve.