Mar 24, 2017

Ides of March in The House of Bob Swanson

It was March 15, 2017. I spent a few hours with Bob Swanson on his last day as Executive Chairman of the company he founded with Bob Dobkin over 35 years ago, Linear Technology Corporation. A few days earlier, the legal transaction concluded with Analog Devices acquiring the company. Bob had packed up what he wanted from his office and graciously let me sort through the rest and keep it for historical purposes. As I work through it, I will post more articles here.

Bob confessed that he is a bit of a pack rat. There were documents from 1981 about the initial incorporation of the company. The first documents were filed before the founders had decided on a name for the company, so it was referred to as “THOBS” which meant “The House of Bob Swanson.” He would later say that he liked that title, but the other founders didn’t so they settled on Linear Technology. And that is very fitting. For LTC was created by Bob Swanson but also very much by the other founders - it was never about him, but he was a relentless driving force and steered it on a very deliberate, unwavering course. Yet he gave so much freedom to the brilliant technical people that created the products, built the products and supported the products. The face of the company would be the “IC design gurus”. Bob was the heart.

(I photographed this out of a book, which was obviously a poor photocopy. I need to find the original. I could write paragraphs on this photo - who is standing where, who is missing, who isn't wearing a tie.)

Next to the leatherbound copies of the incorporation documents and the initial public offering documents, was a full set of Linear Technology data books. The world has since gone digital, but in 2004 we printed the last full set of these books. Bob didn’t use them, but he liked to look at them. It was a visual representation of all the products we had created. It’s impressive.

As I shuffled through file folders, employees came in to say thanks to Bob. Scattered around the office were many items from customers, employees and professional organizations expressing thanks. Bob kept them. There are small note cards from employees that he still has. There are framed articles that featured Bob, tucked away. He didn’t display those but rather a mix of quotes, architectural drawings of Linear Technology buildings and framed mementos of the IPO. It wasn’t about Bob, but it was the house of Bob Swanson.

I had Bob sign his copy of Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”. He quoted that book to employees over the years and Bob’s copy is dog-eared and highlighted. Collins also wrote “Built to Last” and both represent the way Bob ran Linear Technology.

He had a photo on his desk of his first Porsche. He mentioned what a good car it was; he always like Porsches. His son has that a first red car now and has restored it. It runs great; built to last. I need to ask him if that red Porsche in the architect’s rendering was meant to be his.

March 15 - the ides of March - is just another day. There was no betrayal. There is no animosity or sense of relief, either. This isn’t necessarily the way Bob wanted it to end; he would have preferred it to continue on as an independent company forever - it was built to last. He may not come into this office anymore, but his presence will always be felt. The sign out front now says Analog Devices, but it is also the house of Bob Swanson.