Executive Interview: Wendy Shu, CEO of SAGE Millimeter
Leading the company into a new era as Eravant
What led your father and mother to form SAGE Millimeter?
My parents founded SAGE Millimeter in 2011 after the sale of their first start-up, WiseWave Technologies. After a short break from entrepreneurship, they wanted to continue serving the industry that has given them their life’s work. Their purpose this second time around was larger than themselves, and they imagined creating a space where they could share their knowledge with the next generation of RF hardware engineers.
Today, we have accomplished something even more inspiring than that initial vision. Our company has not only launched engineering careers but has also brought many outsiders into our industry’s fold. Our team comprises men and women of diverse backgrounds, all of them key in realizing our mission to help our customers enable the technology of the future.
How did you become involved in the business?
I joined SAGE Millimeter in 2012 as co-owner, and my first project was to establish our export compliance process. We employed only about five people at the time, so I also began helping with order entry, AP/AR, human resources and marketing projects.
Everything was new, but the feeling of building a company was remarkable. Admittedly, I fell in love with entrepreneurship before I developed my appreciation for RF technology. Over the years, my admiration for both has evened out. Regardless of whether you’re building an organization or a product, all the pieces must fit together perfectly to succeed.
What does your appointment as CEO signify about the direction of the company?
My appointment as CEO is an example of how we are always succession planning throughout the organization, as a strategy for continuous growth and scale. It means that we are thinking about our future, with the intention to be relevant for years to come.
My expanded role also signals our move from the “start-up” phase of a business to the “grow-up” phase. In the former, the goal is to lay groundwork and find product-market fit. In the latter, the focus is on experimentation and finding the best way to do things. This requires a certain balance of pragmatism and process that may be difficult for an engineer-founder to maneuver. As a non-technical owner, I’m best suited to achieve that equilibrium in this stage of our growth.
You're changing the name from SAGE Millimeter to Eravant. What led to the change, and what is the messaging behind Eravant?
We put months of thought into the name Eravant, and in its purest form, becoming Eravant is about looking forward to who we want to be. It is about defining the type of team we want to be: customer-centric, results-driven and constantly striving. It is our renewed promise to our customers that we won’t stop investing in our company and making room for great people.
SAGE is an acronym for the surnames of our founders (Shu and Gu Electronics), but we think it’s time to be more inclusive of anyone who wants to be part of our journey. Instead of keeping the acronym, we decided to honor our founders in a different way. Eravant is a portmanteau of “era” and “savant.” Yonghui and Xiaoxin’s first company was named WiseWave and their second was SAGE Millimeter. All three brands capture their reverence for knowledge seekers and knowledge sharers.
Does the new name signify any shift in your markets, products or overall strategy?
In 2019, our leadership team made some big decisions to bring SAGE Millimeter to the next level. Internally and externally, rebranding as Eravant is about preparing for what’s next.
Removing the “millimeter” in our name broadens our brand potential as we start developing more products at higher frequencies. And “era” signals not only a new chapter in our journey as a company, but also our recognition of the changing nature (or “eras”) of doing business.
Decades ago, B2B and B2C go-to-market strategies were very different, but in our digital age, the approaches have converged in many ways. Incorporating “era” into our brand reminds us that change is inevitable and that innovative companies stay relevant.
You've said a new name deserves a new home. Tell us about your new facility and how it compares with your present location.
Our new facility is three times the size of our current location and focuses on operational excellence. The first floor is dedicated to manufacturing and operations, while the second floor is designed as an agile workspace for business and engineering teams. We have invested heavily in amenities that will prepare us for scaled production. Some highlights include new controlled environments for sensitive manufacturing processes, a dedicated calibration lab and two separate quality control labs.
We’re also incorporating our Los Angeles heritage into the new space with a barista-staffed café, indoor-outdoor lounge space and a basketball court with artwork that honors our city’s fallen legend, Kobe Bryant.
Please share your view of the mmWave market going into 2020: the trends and the opportunities fueling your growth.
mmWave 5G, and the transformation it will unlock, has accelerated our growth by commercializing the market for our products. Industries that directly support mmWave 5G development and deployment, like telecommunications and test and measurement, are our most active customer segments. The auxiliary industries that will use 5G to realize what experts call the “fourth industrial revolution” also seem to have unpredictable potential. And even though many of our products are still sold for R&D work, that too has accelerated as the research takes on a new commercial purpose outside of academia.
This poses novel challenges for mmWave hardware companies that have never seen production volumes before. Key to our success will be quickly understanding how to support the rapidly growing demand for our technology.
What distinguishes a family owned and operated company from a larger, corporate business?
When it comes to purpose, there is no difference between a family-owned business and its counterparts. A good business seeks to serve its customers, create an enriching environment for its team members and bring positive impact to its marketplace and the world.
But I do believe that family-owned businesses in which roles are clear, skills are balanced and owners are self-aware have the advantage of agility and stability. The organic trust among our owners allows us to quickly align and pivot when needed. We understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses intimately, and there is a lot of intention behind the business, resulting in tremendous grit as we move through challenges.
Describe the leadership philosophy you're bringing to your role.
My leadership philosophy is rooted in my belief that happiness and a purposeful life are achieved through the pursuit of potential. The key is to look for progress and believe that it is possible to be fulfilled and unfinished at the same time. I believe that this transcends gender, ethnicity, education and nurture.
As a leader, it is my responsibility to ensure that the opportunities afforded to my team members consider their strengths and allow them to grow. Much of my work aims to align other leaders in our company with this philosophy, so that business and people decisions are made consistently with continuous striving in mind.
When you do find a few minutes to recharge, what do you enjoy doing?
Can I be very specific? I like to design and construct special-occasion garments for myself while listening to tech founder podcasts.
My favorite part about these projects is that they require technique, experience and creativity. They also require perseverance, and the details matter. If effort is invested, the results are consistent and rewarding. It’s a fun reminder that fashion and engineering have more parallels than we realize.