After the acquisition of his wireless tech start-up, Greenpeak Technologies, Dutch Wi-Fi pioneer, Cees Links, brings Qorvo a little taste of his own style. It’s not just engineering that this semicon giant is looking for, you’ll need to bring an affinity for commerce.
During the early days of Greenpeak – the start-up that he once ran – Cees Links had to hire somebody new. At that moment, the small company was having a bit of a rough patch, as it was trying to get a new funding round closed. “We were nearly out of money,” recalls Links, “so, at our next business meeting, we let everyone know that we had about one month of salaries on reserve.” Almost on the spot, a newly hired employee decided it was time to move on – after only a few weeks. To him, the company was just too shaky. “I got criticized by several people saying that I was too open and that I was chasing people out of the store,” comments Links. “But, after some time to reflect on the situation, I came to the conclusion: that wasn’t the right type of person to have.”
In Links’ mind, if a person decides to up-and-leave, instead of sticking around to face the challenges as a member of the team, then it’s probably better for them to move on. “That’s simply not the right attitude to have on board,” he goes on to say, “especially when there were others who approached this same news by saying, ‘We’ve seen this before, we’ll figure out a way,’ and then they went back to work.” It’s this sort of confidence and stamina to push through that Links wants on his team, and this is what keeps him open and honest with his employees. To him, “if you hire people for their smarts, don’t keep him stupid.”
Bought in 2016 by Qorvo, Greenpeak itself was born out of an acquisition. The start-up originated as Xanadu Wireless, an Utrecht-based developer of wireless chips and modules. Under the direction of Wi-Fi pioneer, Cees Links, Xanadu would go on to acquire Belgian Ubiwave, a software specialist in monitoring and control sensor networks, before becoming Greenpeak. This acquisition of Ubiwave propelled Links and Greenpeak, as it now had expert capabilities, both on the chip design side and the software engineering side of low-power, indoor wireless communications systems.
Wanting to capitalize on the expertise and innovation of the Links’-run start-up, and their extensive knowledge of Wi-Fi and Zigbee, Qorvo came knocking. The American semicon giant ultimately acquired Greenpeak within its Infrastructure and Defense Products group (IDP). In the new set-up, Links would stay on board and serve as the General Manager of the wireless connectivity business unit. But even with a new name on the wall, the culture that he had worked to established was here to stay.
Links is a firm believer in his method of openly sharing business information with everyone in his business unit. In his mind, it’s what keeps the team together, saying, “I think that this is one of our most valuable assets, and where we make a difference in employer branding.” In order to give his team a real sense of commerce and the bottom line, he sets aside time, every month or two, to inform and discuss the current status of the business. “I explain to them how finances work, where the money is coming from that pays for their jobs, which customers like our products and why. I also explain where we lost to the competition, and why – because we need to do better.” For Links, it’s more than just good business; it’s fun, and it’s the real essence of the business. “The message becomes very clear to the entire group, which is: How can you help to differentiate the products and beat the competition?”
To some, this might seem very logical. But outside of new start-ups, employing maybe just a few people, how common is it to be part of a company where all of the employees are fully apprised about the business and financial status? In today’s world of investments and venture capital, especially in the tech-sphere, it is certainly not a given that people are informed of everything that goes on in a company. Links, however, believes that this is exactly what defines the commitment of the people who work for, and stay working at, Qorvo. “We have very low attrition and very low rates of illness, and I believe that is because, when you have a clear mission, life looks different – maybe motivation is good for your immune system. Our way of communicating gets people involved in the whole business, rather than in the vacuum of the engineering part they’re working in, and this is key for our success and our team.”
Magic to the technology
At Qorvo, it’s not just Cees Links that is market driven. He expects that from all of the employees. While the company doesn’t often hire engineers straight out of university, for the ones that join, it’s likely commerce, not engineering, that will be the first lesson. According to Links, most new designers and engineers coming from university are technically strong. What seems to be lacking, however, is a real understanding and appreciation of the role that marketing and sales play in the business – and how crucial it really is. “They need to have an affinity for what the end user requires because commerce is everywhere and listening to customers is absolutely essential.”
Links continues to explain: “All too often, engineers think that their products are so good, they’ll go flying off the shelf, but nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is, you can develop the most beautiful product in the world, but if you don’t know how to differentiate it, if you don’t know how to position it, if you don’t know how to sell it – nobody cares. You’ve got to bring some magic to the technology.”
Of course, in order to leverage your product in any market, it must first offer something to address the needs of the consumer. This is where strength in product knowledge and the technical abilities of the employees come into play. At any tech company, it’s typical to have engineers with expertise in one particular area, ie Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi, or perhaps, software drivers. It’s much rarer, however, to find people who can look across boundaries and provide good insight into multiple aspects of product development. This is what Links refers to as “systems expertise” and that’s exactly what he thinks differentiates his team from others.
“One of our real strengths at Qorvo is that our engineers have real systems knowledge. They can speak both hardware and software, both antennas and PCB design or layouts. This ability to make these kinds of cross-links throughout the entire project is really a core valuable asset.”