Give us a short history of Marki Microwave and where the company is headed.
This is a significant year for Marki Microwave, as we celebrate our 30-year anniversary.
Marki Microwave was founded by Ferenc and Christine Marki in 1991 with the goal of making the most high performance mixers on the planet. Ferenc combined innovative architectures and unique assembly techniques to successfully create the industry’s highest performance portfolio of hybrid broadband mixers. We continue to build many of these products in our Morgan Hill facility, which just highlights the unique capabilities of Ferenc.
In 2007, Christopher Marki joined the business with the goal of bringing new capabilities to the company and developing complementary product lines to the core mixer products. Chris focused heavily on developing MMIC-based products and creating a highly successful family of passive products. In 2016, Chris officially become CEO at Marki, and the company has continued to go from strength to strength under his direction.
In 2019, Chris realized that the current organizational structure and overall size of the team was not sufficient to maintain the growth trajectory that Marki was on. At the start of 2020, despite the threat of COVID-19, Chris hired industry veterans Dave Shepard and Ralf Libermann as chief operating officer and chief financial officer, respectively. Even as the challenges of 2020 mounted, Marki significantly increased its investment in the engineering team to continue the expansion of the product portfolio.
At the end of 2020, I joined to build out the sales and marketing organization. We have been primarily focused on North America but will continue to grow our footprint in Europe and Asia.
Many people may not know this, but Marki does all of its assembly and testing in the USA and has a factory in Morgan Hill, California. In 2020, we invested in a facility that will offer a three times expansion in production capacity by the end of 2021. Last December, David Buhaneko joined Marki as vice president of operations and will act as a key enabler in this capacity expansion and our overall operations transition.
With you at the front end and David at the back end of the business, what are you collectively out to accomplish?
David and I have been fortunate to experience the euphoria and despair of working at VC-backed startups, as well as the stability, structure and maniacal focus on quarterly results that occurs at large public organizations.
Marki offers a unique opportunity for us to work at a small, established private company that is in the middle of a transformative phase and support the company’s continued rapid growth. I enjoy working for companies that are focused on performance leadership because it encourages innovation. Not only is Marki performance driven, but it also values its employees and offers the culture that I was looking for.
David and I both believe that we can have a significant impact on helping Marki take that next step in its evolution and continue to build a long-term sustainable business.
You have extensive experience from the semiconductor industry. What insights do you bring that will benefit Marki and its customers?
I have spent most of my career in RF technologies, so it takes a lot to impress me. I was blown away by the Marki portfolio. The company is creating breakthroughs that I don’t think anyone in the industry could touch. For me, that is exciting.
On the other front, in my year I spent consulting, I discovered that in addition to phenomenal unique technologies, great companies need a great team. Marki has both. I plan to use my experience to help Marki expand its distribution and marketing and grow at a record place. I am thrilled to count myself among the expanding executive team.
Describe the product-market focus of the business for the next few years. Any strategic shifts?
Marki continues to develop high performance RF components with a focus on broadband applications. We continue to double down on the upper end of our frequency range, whether it is connectorized, surface-mount or die-level products.
We recently announced a product that hit 125 GHz without compromising Marki’s commitment to pushing performance boundaries. Additionally, we are investing in developing a portfolio of amplifiers that provide optimized LO drive for our mixers. By offering the combination of the amplifier and mixer we can guarantee our customers are realizing the highest possible performance without the need to try a variety of different amplifier and drive levels.
Another area that we are spending more time on is quantum computing. We have been working with university and research departments for many years, and recently we have seen an increase in the number of commercial products with growing numbers of qubits. This looks like a promising growth market for us, but as always will the hype match the reality?
How do you see Marki's manufacturing strategy evolving to support this product-market focus?
Marki is focused on maintaining as much of its supply chain in the USA as possible, and we continue to invest heavily in our Morgan Hill manufacturing capabilities.
In 2020, we purchased a new building just down the road from our current site, which increased the production floor by three times compared to what we have today. We are also taking this as an opportunity to implement increased automation and monitoring systems. The additional floor space and improved production flows will provide us with a significant increase in capacity. We will move into the new building in the middle of 2021, which will be a key milestone in our plans to support the growing business.
Many of our key customers value our onshore production capability and are committed to investing in the local economy wherever possible.
How has Marki weathered the pandemic? How are your markets and supply chain doing?
Chris took the pandemic very seriously right from the start, and we have had very strict protocols in place since March of 2020. We have invested heavily in enabling all non-production people to work from home, which required investments in hardware, software and the transition to electronic processes and flows.
This shift has not been without its challenges, but as we move forward beyond COVID-19, the investments we have made will offer us the ability to support a more flexible and efficient workforce. No one is out of the woods when it comes to COVID-19, and it is a dynamic situation, but we have focused on our employees’ safety and have managed things very well for a company our size.
The pandemic is credited with accelerating many trends that businesses were slowly adopting, like video conferencing and working away from the office. It seems the way companies engage with customers has changed pretty dramatically. How are you adjusting your sales funnel to identify new opportunities, support customer prototyping, provide applications support and get design wins?
It sounds a little cliché, but in the global economy, many of us are used to managing a virtual team that is spread across different time zones and geographic regions. As part of that, we are also used to supporting our customers virtually, so for Marki’s existing customers and programs, this hasn’t been as big a change as you might expect.
The development of new opportunities and new customers is more challenging — this is where white boarding and drawing block diagrams and generally brainstorming with our customers is really valuable. There are ways to facilitate these conversations virtually, but it has certainly been slower and less productive. There is still a lot to be said for personal interactions.
A year from now — presuming we're all vaccinated — do you see Marki's engagement with customers returning to the norm of face-to-face meetings and trade shows? Do you see your sales channel continuing any pandemic business processes?
I, for one, am experiencing Zoom fatigue and probably have five different video conference tools downloaded on my machine. I think we have all learned new ways to make things happen over the last year, and many of those will continue; but as I commented earlier, there is still a lot of benefit in meeting customers face-to-face and we are all looking forward to getting back to it.
What's your view of the pipeline of new talent into the RF/microwave industry? How is Marki developing a new technical cohort with deep RF/microwave knowledge?
There are lots of very strong university programs that are developing highly skilled pools of talent; however, it is challenging to secure that talent with the growing level of competition from various large companies with deep pockets.
I recently listened to a podcast between Ferenc Marki and Chris Marki where Ferenc points out that education is only the beginning and that successful engineers are those who become subject matter experts and learn to apply the knowledge. The types of products that Marki develops means that the little things matter, and it provides a great platform to build on the theory within the constraints of what is physically achievable.
Last question: What keeps you engaged and enthusiastic about the industry?
During my year or so consulting, I got to experience other industries, and I was fortunate to work with some great companies trying to solve some really difficult problems. But, more importantly, I worked with and for great people. My experience reenforced how much it matters who you work for and who you work with.
I spent time getting to know Chris and the rest of the team prior to joining, and it was clear that Marki was going to offer many challenges — but with a team and environment that would make it rewarding and fun. RF will continue to offer new challenges, and Marki provides me with the opportunity to be part of a great team that will hit them head on.