Oct 6, 2013

Gossip Sheet, 1981: Linear Quits National

In the 1970s and 1980s, Don Hoefler published a newsletter called "Microelectronics News," which was part "tabloid" and part "gossip sheet" for Silicon Valley.  Don is credit for being the first one to coin the phrase “Silicon Valley” in print.  Many of his stories came from watering holes like the Wagon Wheel, Rickey’s, Marchetti’s, and others.  In 1981, he foretold the beginning of Linear Technology Corp.

Startup in the Offing 
FIVE IN LINE.      The heart of National’s linear operations, including the group director and two top IC designers, departed en masse on Thursday (30), intending to start a new analog company, as yet unnamed.The defectors are these:
  • Bob Swanson, head of linear operations at Nat, and intended president of the new company
  • Bob Widlar, one of the industry’s leading linear designers since the days of the Fairchild 709
  • Bob Dobkin, a Widlar protégé and star designer in his own right
  • Brian Hollins, head of wafer fab for advanced linear at Nat
  • Brent Welling, lately Nat’s microprocessor marketing director but a longtime linear marketer
Negotiations are also underway for John Nesheim, who recently ran afoul of the mercurial temper of Nat prexy Charlie Sporck (MN, July 18, 25), to join as financial guru, but nothing signed here as yet. 
NO BULLSEYE.    The Swanson group is wisely leaving plenty of airspace between itself and National, so as to prevent the most evanescent target possible for a potential lawsuit by the litigation-prone Sporck.  At the time of departure, the group had no name, no articles of incorporation, no business plan, no financing, and no office or telephone. 
But, adds Swanson, “We didn’t all leave good jobs without an understanding that our chances of getting backing are excellent.” 
WORK CUT OUT.              In undertaking to tame this group, as Swanson well knows, he must be combination ringmaster, father confessor, and wet nurse.  Widlar is as uninhibited as they come, and Dobkin is not far behind.  Linear specialists are as rare as brass nuts on a uranius monkey, and they know their worth. 
A Valley company recently began exploring the market by placing help-wanted ads locally in the Boston area, Florida and San Jose, and nationally in the “Wall Street Journal.”  The rather expensive campaign produced exactly six inquiries, with exactly zero linear experience.  The diversification plan is now on ice. 
And while a new linear company would seem to have better prospects than some of the flaky digital business plans that have been floated over the Valley in the past six months, it is not without its pitfalls. 
To try to go up against Texas Instruments, Motorola and National in the jelly bean business would be suicidal.  And finding a niche for penetration in the specialty market is arduous and time-consuming.  Peculiar customer demands make it a semi-custom business, while standard products have to make their own way and get designed in, which often takes 3-4 years.  And getting 38510 qualification for the military market has a timetable all its own. 
Still, one has to pay attention when Swanson says, “We’ve got a hell of a team and we think we’re going to do great things.”
As Bob Swanson said in a 2006 interview, “…there were four or five of us, we were getting together, we'd drink beer and play pool and finally one of the guys said look, are we going to drink beer and shoot pool or are we going to start a company? And it was like that sort of shook me and I said were going to start a company. Let's do it. And so we hand our resignations in and just as we suspected, National was not very happy.

R. J. Schreiner Colletion, Microelectronic News, August 1, 1981 (http://smithsonianchips.si.edu/schreiner/1981/h81811.htm)
Silicon Genesis Project, Stanford University, (http://silicongenesis.stanford.edu/transcripts/swanson.htm)

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