Microchip maker Maxim Integrated Products of San Jose has grown impressively since it was founded in 1983. Its annual sales, which edged past $100 million for the first time in 1993, topped $2.4 billion in its most recent fiscal year.
And while some Bay Area chip companies are suffering because of their dependence on the struggling personal computer market, analysts say Maxim Integrated has largely avoided such problems by focusing on a variety of other markets. It does so by offering a combination of digital and analog chips.
CEO TunÃ§ Doluca recently discussed the company's products in an interview that was edited for length and clarity.
Q What's the difference between digital and analog chips?
A In digital everything is in ones and zeros, everything is very deterministic. Analog is the opposite. Since everything is continuous, things can get distorted -- like a radio frequency signal when it's sent out. You can have interference with other signals. So it is actually a lot tougher to design analog, because the designers have to know a lot about the environment, they have to know how to recover these signals in noisy environments. It is an art.
Q What types of uses are there for analog chips?
A If you take a smartphone, it has a tremendous amount of analog in it. When you touch it, it has something that's analog that takes that touch and converts it to a signal. It has to send radio signals. Those are all analog. Energy is another analog thing. We have to take that energy in the battery and convert it into power supplies that run the rest of it. We have products that do battery monitoring in hybrid and electric vehicles. It's very critical to be able to manage how those batteries get charged and discharged. We make the electronics that do the measurements.
Q Any other examples?
A Another area is industrial. That includes products used for factory automation, for example, and for smart grids. We just announced a new smart-meter product, called Zeus. It can measure energy usage in the home. It has robust communications to get that information to the utility and secure capabilities so people can't tamper with it. Health care also is a huge market. A great example is ultrasound equipment. Essentially, you've got all these sensors that send energy into the body and then measure reflections, which tells you where the tissue layers are. The front end of all that is an analog.
Q It used to be hard to find analog engineers. Is that true today?
A It's still difficult. Most of the interest in universities has been on the digital and software side, so it really takes a special personality to get into analog. It's more the people who want to understand the art, they want to understand how devices work. You can't find them that easily. This is why the company's footprint is all over the world. We realized in the mid-'90s that we were never going to be able to find enough analog engineers in the valley to grow. We said we've got to go where they are. So we have 30-plus development centers. A majority of them are in the U.S., but we've also got them in Europe and in Asia.
Q How many employees do you have?
A Worldwide we have a little over 9,000. In the U.S., I think we have about 4,500. On this campus (in North San Jose) and another that's about 10 minutes walk from here, the total is about 1,500. So it's sizable.
Q Are you hiring?
A The economy is very fragile right now, but we are investing in our high-growth areas, like mobility, for example. It's a good area, and we continue to hire new college grads. But I would stay the stance of the company is cautious. We want to see how things turn out as the year ends.
Q Unlike some chip companies, you make your own integrated circuits and you manufacture some of them in Silicon Valley, which is highly unusual. Why?
A It's a very important differentiator for us. To do a good job of converting all these real-world signals from analog to digital, you need pretty specialized technology. By keeping some of our manufacturing inside we get very important know-how and we develop our next-generation processes from that.
Q You've been at Maxim Integrated since 1984. Can you talk about that?
A I'm doing what I love. I've always loved building things to use -- electronic things, model airplanes, trains, all kinds of stuff. I'm fortunate because I got into engineering and I could just practice what I love doing. I'm even more fortunate now because I'm leading a company that builds things that are useful for customers. And I'm surrounded by a team that's very bright and they challenge me every day on things. So there is never a dull moment.
Position: President and CEO of Maxim Integrated Products
Birthplace: Ankara, Turkey
Education: Bachelor's degree from Iowa State University and master's from UC Santa Barbara, both in electrical engineering
Previous jobs: Since joining Maxim Integrated in 1984 he has held several positions at the company, including leading research and development, overseeing the power management business unit and serving as group president for portable, computing and instrumentation electronics. He was named CEO in 2007.
Family: Married, with two daughters
five facts about Tun DoluCa
1. Since childhood, he's loved building model airplanes and other things.
2. He's designed more than 40 products and holds 11 patents.
3. During the 1990s, he designed the industry's first high-integration notebook PC power-supply chip.
4. He loves watching and playing tennis.
5. A fan of soccer, his favorite teams are Manchester United and Barcelona. He also follows hockey, especially the San Jose Sharks.