May 09, 2016 // By Hanns Windele
EETimes Europe publication
Hanns Windele: You have been with Open-Silicon since 2003, becoming President and CEO in 2014. That was a tough time to take up that job. Did you apply for it?
Taher Madraswala: In the Q4 board meeting of December 2013, I was offered the job. It was a surprise and my first reaction was to decline, because I didn’t think I was ready. A board member then took up the interim position. The board asked me again a few months later, and I said I’d take the job and on the board’s request I did, although there was an interim CEO at that time. While I did accept the position, we also agreed that we’d go out and look for a CEO. We spent a few more months searching for one, but the board decided not to bring in anyone from outside. So, in April 2014 I was given the title of President and a year later in April 2015 I was asked to take up the CEO. This time I didn’t refuse because I’d had 18 months in the position and was more comfortable running the company and my face was becoming familiar in the industry.
HW: What was it that eventually changed your mind?
TM: For ten years I had run the company from the inside, managing the resources and the business. But I was not the external face of the company. In this business, I believe that you need a leader that is recognised in the industry, because as a services company people will give you the job if they know you. I started going to the CEO events and people started to know me. And that’s when I knew I could take the title and not jeopardise the business of the company.
HW: What do you think has contributed most to your success in career?
TM: I think following through on my commitments has helped me get through tough times and good times, too. That’s what I attribute my success to.
HW: Is there an example of this?
TM: When I joined Open-Silicon I was part of the inner circle that came up with the idea of finding a way of making ASICs affordable. But when we decided to start the company, I was in the middle of a project at Intel. The team were insisting: ‘let’s go and get funded.’ But I requested that I couldn’t because I’d been with Intel for 11 years and had a commitment and I had to finish that job. But the founders of Open-Silicon said that if I didn’t join at that point I would not get the title of ‘founder’ and that carries a lot of weight and has shares attached to it and so forth. But I stuck by the project at Intel, finished the chip, and then joined Open-Silicon. I didn’t get the founder title and I didn’t get the shares either. But that’s okay because I still feel good about my decision and I sleep better at night.
HW: Sometimes it takes a long time for a good decision to come to fruition…
TM: That is correct. I still have relationships inside Intel where we are seen as people of integrity: people who will follow through what they said they would. I look at the long term and look at how I’ll be leading my life in five or ten years’ time and what kind of legacy I will be leaving behind. These are the values I live by. I come from humble beginnings and my parents taught me values that allow me to work through challenges in a systematic way when you don’t have everything going for you.
HW: Can you describe those challenges that you face over the next few years?
TM: I can see the business model moving towards co-ownership rather than a vendor-customer relationship. Five years ago we were seen as service providers where the customer would bring us a spec and tell us what we needed to do and pay us. Then they would own all the IP and the sales and marketing for the product. Today I feel that this will morph into a more co-partnership style of doing things, where we are not seen as people who just do what a customer wants, but we’ll add value by putting our skin in the game through investment in time and money.
HW: Does that mean in the future you will retain IP rights and sell IP?
TM: I don’t want to go into owning IP. We tried that a few years ago and what we found was that we were infringing on areas where the traditional IP providers have played a significant role. We were creating a mixed message to the world. Are we truly an IP company or an IP integration company? I want to remain an IP integration company. But we will do IP that allows us to help our customers bring their products to the market as quickly as possible.
HW: In other words, you don’t intend to compete with your customers?
TM: Let me give you an example. There’s a lot of buzz about IoT these days. The infrastructure companies like Cisco and the gadget companies like Apple are all betting on it. Everybody believes that the industry is gravitating towards a world of gadgets communicating with gadgets. We recognise that, and so at Open-Silicon we started an initiative last year to learn about the different aspects of the IoT eco-system. We started to learn about the sensors, operating systems, communication protocols, security algorithms, data compression and so on. We put together a platform to demonstrate the seamless working of all such elements and we took it out to the world to show that we can do IoT-related systems. The message that we wanted to give is that we don’t want to create a product of our own, but we know how to create one for you.
HW: As a global company, what do you see as the next big challenges?
TM: The cost of developing silicon is going to be a barrier for people who want to bring in new ideas. It’s a foregone conclusion that development costs will be expensive and that return on investment is becoming a hotly debated subject inside the IP providers’ boardrooms. Where should they invest? What should they invest in? The options available for customers are becoming restrictive and the cost of doing IP is going to explode. But there is an opportunity I see where we can partner with an IP provider who wants to remain as an IP company and does not want to become a semiconductor manufacturer. There are several of them with that desire and I am currently in discussions with some CEOs on how to work together to create solutions that will help reduce the cost of ASIC development.
HW: Once the IP and the silicon are put together, who is selling that? Your organisation?
TM: No. Interestingly enough, the few people who are asking that question are the people bringing us the customers. This is because they already know where the IP can be sold, but they don’t want to invest in creating the product. They don’t have the skills in-house or it isn’t part of their business model. If there is someone like us prepared to do it, they are happy to bring customers to us and say: ‘Remember that other application that you wanted to use your IP for, but you didn’t have a solution for that? Open-Silicon is going to do that for you and you can buy directly from them.’
HW: Has your career transition had any profound effects on your life?
TM: Sure enough, it has become a lot harder to find those quality moments with my family. The job comes with certain responsibilities and they dictate a commitment towards serving the needs of the company. Before I took this job I had a conversation with my wife and I give her a lot of credit for allowing me to pursue a passion to do something for our industry. My home is 130 miles from the company headquarters, and so I could only take the job after we agreed that we were okay with the idea of commuting back and forth and my not being at home all the time. She wanted me to take the job, get to the next level and to drive the energy downstream into the company. To compensate for this we also make a point of having two family vacations per year where we go out into the mountains on long hikes where there is nobody else and no Wi-Fi connection.
HW: Do you have any advice for someone about to take up a leadership position?
TM: You must run the business ethically. Never try to create business opportunities where only you are winning. Since I have taken over, there have been opportunities to improve my profit margin, but I have gone back to the customer and handed a lot of it back to help them out on their selling price. I believe that if I enable my customer to improve their margins and get them more money, they will put money in R&D and create more products. Then, guess what? They will remember me and have faith in the guy who won’t get greedy. This way I get to build a relationship with my customer for a long time to come. Don’t look for short-term gains. If you are in it to build a company and a legacy, then it is a long-term game. These are good business practices.
What is your perfect idea of a holiday?
I love to go scuba diving on a family holiday. I’m going to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt soon.
What’s your favourite food?
I like Indian food and I don’t like to experiment.
If you end up in prison, who would you share your cell with?
I have to be careful here! But I think my youngest brother.
How many digital comms gadgets do you have?
Two smart phones. One for India and one for the rest of the world.
If you had one extra day per week, what would you do with it?
Assuming it’s not a workday, sleep. Don’t get that much during the seven days we have in a week today.
What device would you dedicate to a museum?
The microprocessor, obviously. It’s an iconic instrument that changed the world. But I’m biased.
Read the same Interview at EETimes Europe