Tough Things First Podcast
The Tough Things First podcast is where you receive short bursts of Ray Zinn’s leadership, executive and entrepreneur’s wisdom. Tough Things First podcasts are typically five minutes long, giving you one important concept to ponder for the rest of the day.
- Jun212017Read more
Tough Things First guest host Rob Artigo, talks with Ray Zinn and Ray’s former employee, Paul Moore, to explore some of the key hurdles for startups in the modern business climate.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo, guest host, for another edition of Tough Things First. Paul Moore is here with me today, he worked with Ray Zinn for quite a long time at Micrel, so it’s exciting to have both of you here to talk about some of these important issues.
Ray Zinn: Yup, thanks Rob, good to be with you.
Paul Moore: 16 whole years, Rob. Oh sorry Ray, I talked right over you but I wanted to remind Rob it was 16 years. Can you believe that Rob? I was a young, squeaky engineer.
Rob Artigo: I’m sure it went by fast, too, like everything does these days. So what are some of the … I’ll ask both of you, because both of you have been involved with starting companies, running companies, even coming up with ideas that not necessarily ever became companies but were things that you thought about doing and maybe got into a planning phase, at least to some extent. But what are some of the major hurdles in 2017 that startups face?
Ray Zinn: Okay, so that’s a good question. It depends upon really what the Trump administration does to encourage new businesses and one of the things that he’s talked about is of course reducing the corporate tax structures, especially for small businesses. So I can see a sliding scale, such that a small business would have even a better tax structure than say a large company. For example, he’s talking about an average of 15, so maybe he drops it down to 10 or 12 for a small company. Or maybe there’s a tax credit that we could get for starting a company. So again, we’re too early in the gestation of the Trump administration to know exactly what he’s going to do, but my recommendation if I were sitting on his advisory board, would be to offer incentives for startups.
In other words, actually encourage … Maybe give them a holiday, maybe give them a three year tax holiday for starting a company or maybe make it easier for them to borrow money from the small business administration. So, there are various things that can be done, I think, to encourage startups. There could be an advisory council that is available through the government to help companies and managing their company ’cause there’s a lot of costs like legal and accounting and so forth, that the small company can’t afford. But if the government would allow them access to these facilities to get legal or accounting advice at no cost, that would help out the small startups.
Rob Artigo: Paul do you see this as clearing hurdles or do you have some other ideas on some hurdles that small business owners face these days?
Paul Moore: I think those are really good ideas Ray has. MIT does that for its graduates. They help some people offer their services as an attorney, for example, for the alumni of MIT. So certainly other people have thought of those ideas and they definitely help. For me personally, I think your question is limited to what the government could do to help. Is that help?
Rob Artigo: Well I was thinking in terms of hurdles in general that startups face, but obviously the government angle is a huge part of that. So I would say it’s broader than that but certainly not limited to government.
Paul Moore: Okay, so I know many very talented engineers out there who aren’t employed. Maybe by choice because they’ve made quite a bit of money and they want to start something of their own. Here’s the hurdle and it’s just bizarre: There’s this huge aggregation happening. All these companies are merging and this company’s buying that company and I’m not sure if it’s really apparent to everybody in the world that’s happening in the semiconductor world, but it should be big enough that people have seen it. You know, Avago buys Broadcom, becomes Broadcom, changes their name. So if you think, okay, you have all this knowledge at designing transistors, why don’t you go off and do it? It takes millions and millions of dollars of equipment in order for me to use my talents and my skills. So that’s very difficult for a person to do on their own. So unless we have the government, I don’t know why I’m turning to the government ’cause I usually don’t, but unless you have some big investor or you find a smaller area within the field to contribute, it’s going to be very difficult to get some of those jobs back, like mine. It’s quite a challenge.
So, I think people are going to figure it out, they always do. The designers that I know are creating chips and they’re going around trying to say, “Hey look, how much does it cost you in the huge company to develop a product?” And this is a complaint that I hear from a lot of my friends that have joined the bigger companies, the huge aggregates. It costs them so much more than it did when they were a small company, so now I’m seeing designers trying to say, “Hey, I have a chip, all you have to do is put your stamp on it, it will cost you less.” So I’m thinking that maybe some of those kinds of things are going to start to happen where smaller, more agile companies that can just provide a design service will work together with a very large company that’s slow and chunky.
Rob Artigo: Ray, let’s talk a little bit about locale. Does it matter where we start our businesses these days? When it comes to tech startups for example, does it really matter, the locale, where we do it?
Ray Zinn: It depends upon the talent pool you need to do it. So if you have a talent pool that’s readily available then you can go anywhere. But that’s not the case. So you have to kind of go where the infrastructure is to allow you to do that start up. If you’re an oil and gas company then you have to go kind of where there’s sources for employees with those skill sets. So it does matter. If you’re going to be just a consultant, then it depends upon the area where you want to consult. You know, we live in kind of a virtual office environment where you can work out of your home and look like you could be anywhere in the world. So from that point of view, it wouldn’t matter.
Rob Artigo: Are there any other hurdles that startups face? We talked about the talent pool, you’ve got to be aware of that, the location can be important as it relates to the talent pool, and also the corporate tax structure particularly as it relates to small businesses. Are there any other hurdles that a would-be entrepreneur should be aware of now in 2017?
Ray Zinn: There’s always the raising of money has been a hurdle but that’s not unique to 2017. If anything the cost of money is going to go up and so we need to be aware of that. And typically a startup raises far too little money to really start your company. I say that if you’re going to start a company, you should have enough money already raised before you start the company to take you to break even. So, most companies don’t do that, they have this grandiose view that revenue is going to happen in a much shorter time frame and it never does. Nothing gets done as quick as you’d hope and revenue doesn’t come in as quick as you’d hope and you run out of money. So you have to control your expenses if you see that your product is going to be delayed or your revenue is being delayed, you’ve got to cut expenses. Otherwise, you’re going to run out of money and running out of money means you’re going to have to raise more money, takes more time, effort, also you give up more of the company. So don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re going to get profitable within a year or two. So you’ve got to be able to run on empty, as they say.
Rob Artigo: And I think often times, Ray, that the startup culture among many of the young minds, we’re talking just out of college type age group, when they start their business, I hate to say it, but delusion is often comes to play because what they … They often have unrealistic valuations, unrealistic expectations and then they’re pretty cavalier about using terms like “burn rate”, how fast they’re spending money and that sort of thing. But it can be a problem if you’re not realistic and that’s what I’m hearing in that answer.
Ray Zinn: Yes, and the biggest problem that the startups make is that they always overestimate the revenue that they’re going to get and underestimate the cost. So it’s a double whammy and what I would recommend is that you control cost at all expense. Then your revenue, when it happens, at least you’ll be able to survive, you’ll have enough runaway to continue whereas if you don’t, you’re going to run out of money. Most companies run out of money within two to three years.
Rob Artigo: Paul you agree with that?
Paul Moore: Absolutely. I don’t have the kind of experience Ray has but I definitely see those as barriers, I saw my dad create businesses and he would always say, “yeah people never know how much they really need.” That just seems to be what all the older and wiser people have told me through the years.
Rob Artigo: Is there a person that you would recruit onto your team early that can number crunch that sort of thing for you or is that something that you should really rely on yourself for looking at the numbers and making sure that they match up?
Ray Zinn: Well it’s always good to have somebody that will act as a counter to you so that you don’t end up spending … As they say, drinking your own Kool Aid. I had Warren Muller who was my partner and he was a counter to me so that we didn’t get just my view of everything, we also had his view and so it’s always good to have another person, probably a third party that would come in and help you look at what you have so you’re more realistic in your projections and your cost. So, yes, absolutely, get a mentor, get a third party to come in and look over your shoulder.
Rob Artigo: It’s all about having somebody you can trust who can be that balancing board or that somebody who can say something to you that is realistic that won’t hurt your feelings and throw you off your game, right?
Ray Zinn: Exactly.
Rob Artigo: All right, well thank you again for another great podcast, Ray, we have Paul Moore on the show with us right now and I’m the guest host Rob Artigo, we’ll see you next time.
Ray Zinn: Thanks again Rob, thanks Paul for joining us.
- Jun142017Read more
What is trust and why does management lose it? Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, discusses the nature of trust and how it must be the core any any good organization.
Guy Smith: My name is Guy Smith, I’m your guest host on the Tough Things First podcast and as always, we’re sitting down with Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in all of Silicon Valley and good morning to you Ray.
Ray Zinn: Well thanks Guy, so happy to be here with you today.
Guy Smith: Yeah always a pleasure to be with you. So I have a question on the table today and it kind of came from one of your listeners but we want to talk about trust. Trust, especially in today’s society, seems to be somewhat fragile. So what I want to talk about is trust with inside of an organization. Why is trust important between employees and looked at from a different scope; Why is it essential between employees and their management?
Ray Zinn: Well first off, trust is that bond that you have with an individual where you absolutely rely on what they do and what they say. So that relationship you might have with your spouse or you might have with your lawyer or your accountant. You have to believe or really accept the fact that their going to work in your best interest. So whenever you think of being trustworthy or having that trust, it is having that belief that they’re going to have your back, they’re going to support you. What I’ve seen happen in companies is they set up these silos and that silo is they have their departmental group and they even watch when we have corporate meetings or company meetings, they tend to sit together in groups. So I see these silos as they sit together and they talk among themselves but they don’t talk across the table to another silo or another group. So there’s that lack of trust there. So I try to mix it up a little bit by having them not sit with their own group but sit with a group that they may interface with or they may not know so that they can get to know one another.
I think trust comes when you really get to know the person head to toe. That you can feel open and safe discussing secrets and personal feelings about something. I like to think of trust as being the hallmark of honesty and integrity and when you have that kind of relationship within your company where trust supersedes everything else and people don’t worry about their back. They’re not concerned about, is someone talking about me wrong? Or is somebody trying to do something that’s going to be harmful to me and my family? So everybody works hard, they don’t worry about the silos or the differences between departments.
Guy Smith: Yeah transparency does breed trust and I guess that’s an explanation as to why we don’t trust politicians very much. Is trust …
Ray Zinn: Well, that’s a different … One quick thing about … Because, that’s why we don’t trust politicians and the reason, that I think, and what you’re seeing happening now is the fact that they don’t do what they say they’re going to do. So there is no trust. That’s the thing I mentioned a few minutes ago is that trust comes from, you know, you walk the talk, you say if I’m going to be here and I’m going to do that, that you can make bank on it, that you’re going to go book on it, you’re going to do it. I think this last of trust with the politicians is that they say one thing but they do something else.
Guy Smith: Right and that goes to that age old joke about when you know a politician is lying, is when his lips are moving. So, are human beings trustful or distrustful by nature, do you think?
Ray Zinn: I think they’re trusting by nature. I believe that all people are good. Some are a little better than others but I think all people want to be trusting, anyway. Whether they’re not trustworthy or they don’t have that trust is really when they begin thinking more about themselves than they do about others. I tell my employees, if you worry about you, I won’t. So that’s been one of my standard statements to my people, so, if they’re worrying about themselves then they’re going to be less trusting. So if they’re worrying about others, if they are honestly thinking about the company and how do I help the company become better as opposed to what’s in it for me, that’s the kind of employees I want.
Guy Smith: That’s interesting. So in other words, when you create a culture where you encourage people to actually be looking out for other employees and the mission of the company, it kind of takes the veil off, it creates instant transparency and almost instant trust.
Ray Zinn: Exactly.
Guy Smith: Wow, that’s an interesting management lesson for all of the listeners who are trying to kickstart their own company, keep that transparency up and make sure that people are looking out for their coworkers more than they’re looking out for themselves.
Ray Zinn: Do unto others as you would have them to unto you.
Guy Smith: Yeah. So what kind of dumb things have managers done in the past that really just trashed trust with inside of a company?
Ray Zinn: If they badmouth anyone. If they badmouth their customer or if they badmouth their company, their boss or if they badmouth a department, if they say anything condescending, they lack trust.
Guy Smith: Lets talk about customers for a second, ’cause I find this interesting. I’m a big fan of Fred Smith and you know, his philosophy about everybody exists to support the customer. The employees, the front line employees, everybody from the receptionist to tech support to sales, blah, blah, blah. They all touch the customer. What can employees do to increase the trust that customers have in the company as a whole?
Ray Zinn: By the company saying, you know, the employees first, not the customer. I know that there’s a lot of slogans out there, the customer’s number one, but really the employees are number one. If they feel they’re number one, then they’re more likely to support and sustain their customers than if the company’s saying, “well the customer’s number one and you’re just number two.” As long as your employees feel important and feel like they’re thought of as being the backbone of the company and not the customer, as you would, then they’re more likely to treat the customer better because they’re being treated better.
Guy Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well that makes a lot of sense because an employee who isn’t trusted, who isn’t loved so-to-speak with inside the company is not going to extend that same thing out to the customers themselves.
Ray Zinn: Exactly.
Guy Smith: So aside from the transparency angle, what can a leader, what can a manager or an executive do to instill a culture of trust with inside of an organization.
Ray Zinn: By the way he talks. If he uses good language and not condescending or foul, vulgar language. If his office is organized and clean, if he comes to work on time and doesn’t goof off, if he doesn’t take long lunch hours, if he leaves at a reasonable time at night and if he is praising to his employees. If he expresses gratitude toward them, then they’re more likely to do the same. So, monkey see monkey do. In other words you’re going to follow what your leader does.
Guy Smith: Interesting point. Well, trust is fundamental, I mean we simply cannot get along as a species, we can not move society forward without trust, so building trust with inside of your organization is the key to your organization being healthy and successful. If you want more lessons on what it takes for an executive or a leader to build these kind of cultures of trust and mutual support, get Ray’s book, Tough Things First, it really is a tour de force about what it takes to build an effective company, to be an effective leader, and really just to live a better life. So tune in again next week for another episode of the Tough Things First podcast and before you do that, go to ToughThingsFirst.com, click on the social links, make sure you connect with Ray directly.
Ray Zinn: Thanks, Guy.
- Jun072017Read more
Anyone who has worked in enough companies knows good and bad bosses. Tough Things First guest host Rob Artigo, talks with Ray Zinn and Ray’s former employee, Paul Moore, about what makes a good boss.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo. I’m a writer and business owner in California and guest host for this edition of Tough Things First. Hi Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hey, Hey, How ya’ doing Rob?
Rob Artigo: Hey we’ve got on with us, here for Tough Things First, Paul Moore. A former employee of yours. Did about 16 years of work with you at Micrel. So it’s good to have both of you on the show. And what I want to talk about … this is an interesting perspective here because I have an employee and a boss and an employee who was a boss himself. So I want to talk about making yourself a better boss. How to be a better boss.
Paul Moore: I don’t think there’s much room for me.
Rob Artigo: For you.
Paul Moore: Oh yeah. I’m the best boss. Okay, good. I’m glad you laughed because you know I’m kidding.
Rob Artigo: Being realistic about your own abilities to lead is probably an important attribute if you want to be a good boss.
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. So, if you think back … Paul you know, you can respond there/here too … Is to what do you think makes a good boss. So Paul, I’m going to throw it to you.
Paul Moore: I think really getting to know the individual. I decided that I can’t be the same boss, so to speak, to everyone. I have to understand the individual. How they hear things. I had people that were very touchy with real direct instructions. It would bother than immensely. They felt like I was bullying them. But I did listen, so I got that feedback.
So what I took away from that is when you’re addressing the whole organization under you, you deliver a message a certain way and that’s more public speaking. But in the one on one you got to build relationships with them. So I always had a weekly meeting just to get to know them. And I try to go down to their desk to see what their problem was and how I could help them. So I try to be a helper in getting things out of their way. Helping them get skills that they needed so they could accomplish the tasks that I gave them. And try to maybe even take tasks off of them that they couldn’t do. I –
Ray Zinn: Paul, but I remember you telling me, and also hearing input that that was considered a little bit micromanaging. In other words they looked at you as kind of telling them what to do rather than showing them what to do.
Paul Moore: Oh yeah. I definitely had to back off of that. You’re right.
Ray Zinn: Okay. So let’s talk about the attributes of what makes a good boss. So Rob, I mean you’ve worked for different companies too, so let’s talk about what makes a good boss?
Rob Artigo: I think – Paul mentioned something that I think is really important and that’s that the boss understands his assets. Meaning that the employees are individuals and they are assets in his purview or his control. And know what they’re all about, doing due diligence, and getting an idea of what that person’s all about so that they know how to deal with them and work with them. A good boss is somebody that the employees are familiar enough with that they know that they’re engaged. That’s been my experience. When I find –
Ray Zinn: Are they good listeners?
Rob Artigo: They’re very good listeners. What I find breaks down that relationship is when the boss comes in, maybe he’s new to the department, but he’s taking over because it happens all the time. Obviously, people move around, shuffle around. Over the course of ten years working at a company you might have several bosses who take one particular role. Come in, come out, and one in, one out sort of thing. But if the boss comes in and is introduced, this is Steve he’s taking over the office blah blah blah and then Steve goes over to his door closes it and disappears, sits behind a desk behind a closed door and that’s where he works. And, never engages the other employees, other than to send emails out that are edicts. Do this, do that.
So I think the communication has to be there because I’ve experienced both. If you sit behind a door and you’re not visible and you’re not engaged, and you can also go to the other extreme where the boss becomes so familiar to the employees that they lose respect for him.
Does that makes sense?
Ray Zinn: Okay, but what makes a good listener? How do you know a person’s a good listener? Tell us that.
Rob Artigo: Well let’s ask Paul, what does Paul think?
Paul Moore: Way back when, when I was in college I took a class called Interpersonal Communication. And one of the skills they taught us was have the ability to paraphrase what the person is saying to you. It’s a persuasion process. I’m going to paraphrase what you’re saying so you know I’m really listening to you. So it’s not just the act of receiving input through your ear canal. It’s also letting somebody know that you can take their ideas and express them in your own words. And that really makes a person walk away and feel like, “Hey, what I had to say was absorbed by that person.” And I’ve gotten feedback actually on my skill at doing that, I’m not trying to prop myself up as a great boss, but I’ve had people tell me you know I really appreciate that. That you take the time to express that you’ve heard me so express …
Ray Zinn: How many bosses have you had Paul that you’ve thought were good listeners? Direct bosses, people that you’ve reported directly to.
Paul Moore: I think I’ve been very lucky. You know I really, I can’t say that I’ve liked 100% of every boss I’ve every had 100% of the time. Some of it being my own fault. But, I think I’ve had some really good listeners. Very few bosses that were poor listeners.
I think that’s one that you did very well Ray. You know, I don’t know what the public sees of you, but you’re definitely a strong character and I’ve always been surprised in how you can click on that listening mode. You know, we’re having a conversation and BOOM you just change over to, okay, he’s letting me have my time to express myself.
Rob Artigo: Ray is not the kind of person who starts talking before you’re done in your sentence. He listens and then sometimes it’s like you pause second thinking did the line go dead? Is he still there? Because he’s listening, absorbing the information and that’s one thing that I appreciate about Ray Zinn is his ability to listen completely through to your point before he responds. Go ahead Ray.
Ray Zinn: Well I was waiting, so anyway thank you. Well, I appreciate those comments.
So I think we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. And we ought to use them proportionally. So, if you have a boss that’s a good listener meaning that they smile, they’re listening intently, they’re not smirking. By the way, smirking is not smiling. If they’re not sitting back in their chair if they’re forward is a good sign. If they have a calm, a steady voice. If they repeat back what you said so that you know that they understood what you’re saying. Those are good indicators that this is a good listener.
And so that’s the things we want to get across here is that being a good listener is more than just having somebody come in and talk, because you know they want to know that you’re hearing them. And so I think one of the most positive attributes that a good boss can have is be a good listener. And being a willing listener. Somebody who really wants to know and lets you know how much you appreciate their time.
For example, when I’m talking with somebody and they’re coming in to talk to me, I always express appreciation. Thanks for coming today. Thanks for being here. And then when I end, when the conversation is over I say, “Thanks for taking your time, I know your day is full and you’re very busy, but thanks for taking the time with me today.” They appreciate that.
Rob Artigo: You mentioned body language. That’s good. I’ve seen in some scenarios, often times in kind of a comedic scenario, where you walk into the boss’s office (and it’s a big office and there’s a big oak desk), and the boss is kind of elevated in a big chair behind the desk, and it’s as if the chair that he’s asking you to sit in has the legs cut down a couple of inches so you’re even lower than that. He’s looking down the desk, or across this big desk at you, and down at you at the same time.
I have found situations where a boss calls you into the office, and you’re going up there, it can be intimidating. But, having a sitting area that’s not at the desk but off to the side of the desk where it’s a nice sort of more comfortable environment, and less formal. So that you can have a conversation with the boss, without feeling like you’re in that little chair and they’re sitting on a phone book, you know, behind the desk and looking down at you. Is that fair?
Ray Zinn: That’s right. Yeah. Those are good suggestions. Sure.
Rob Artigo: Better boss, Paul. How can you be a better boss in the modern American workforce?
Paul Moore: Better. Boy I just go back to listening Rob.
It’s just … for me it’s about making sure I form that relationship. So there’s a trust built. So, if on a day that I’m not in such a great mood, and I don’t have the perfect body language. I’ve had a history of building trust.
One of the management guides I’ve listened to over the years is called, “Management Tools” … I believe it’s called. It’s been awhile since I’ve listened to them. But, they’re really good guides. And they have a critique system, they call it feedback, and they start that whole system with only positive feedback. That’s it. So what they’re trying to do is build the trust say, “Hey I know you’re a good guy.”
And so if you spend your whole day just putting out fires, people are going to think that you don’t like them. And they’ll starting worrying about their value in the organization. So what I want to do is make sure people understand that I really value them. And build that trust first. And it allows for the relationship to be a little more than having to be a perfect person or a perfect boss. So I can be a little more human and they can be a little more forgiving on those days where I’m not a perfect listener, or I’m not delivering my message in the best way I can. So build trust with your employees by making sure they understand that they have value to you.
Ray Zinn: Just love your employees. That’s the bottom line. Truly love them. They will feel it. If you truly love them they will feel it.
Rob Artigo: Let me ask you one last question and we’ll wrap it up. And I think either one of you can answer this and maybe both of you will have some input here.
But Paul was an employee of yours who was also a boss. And so in that position he was an employee and a boss. When you have that person in between upper management and whatever the project happens to be. How it worked out with Paul’s position I’m not exactly sure. But, when you’re an employee of a boss who has a boss. This dividing line between the higher ups and the lower people and you got that boss that’s in between. I don’t want to call him middle management in some kind of negative way, but you want to be the good communicator. You want to be a successful manager of those people. But at the same time you also have a master that you have to serve. And you have to be a go between if the employees aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing in the eyes of the boss boss. You have to have an important relationship where you deal with the people you work for, and the people who work for you. Correct?
Paul Moore: Yeah, yes. And that is very tricky at times. And then even think of four level Rob. You’re kind of describing three levels, but think of four levels. So I have a boss between Ray and I. There were many times … Ray ran a very transparent organization so reach up and down the organization was very open door policy if you will. Everybody talked to everybody and that would cause consternation between me and my boss and Ray. And there would be times where it would feel like a vice but through it all if you just had good communication and were honest about what you’re trying to achieve. Those ripples and waves that you describe they would just work themselves out. You just had to be patient for people again, go back to my trust thing. Hey look Ray’s trying to understand what I’m doing, he’s not trying to usurp your power or anything like that. So, again I’ll go back to trust. As long as they know that I’m fulfilling my role to get a project done and I’m not organizing around them, or with somebody else above them, managing those kinds of things.
The other thing is again Ray’s a very powerful guy. And some of the people that I had reporting to me didn’t understand that Ray was also very approachable. So what I would do is I would encourage them. I’d say, “Hey you know what, Ray’s the kind of guy who when he gives out bonuses he likes to know, did my bonus have any impact?” Well I encourage you to tell him, “Hey Ray, thanks a bunch.” And it took a lot of convincing and persuasion to say hey thanks Ray. But once they did I’ll tell you what they were just clicking their heels and they were very happy because Ray was receptive to their thank you.
And then I basically taught them that even though you’re below me in a hierarchal sense, you’re not below me and you’re not below Ray. We’re all people here and communicating and trusting one another is an important thing.
Ray Zinn: You know bottom line is the way you should look at, whether you’re an employee or whether you’re a boss, is treat others like you would be treated. Like you would want to be treated. The old saying, do onto others as you would have they do onto you. So, that’s really the key. The key is treat others like you’d like to be treated.
Rob Artigo: Thanks a lot Ray, we appreciate it. I’m Rob Artigo guest host today. And we’ve had Paul Moore with us here today.
Ray Zinn: Thanks a lot.
- May312017Read more
Sometimes you have to quit to get ahead. This happens when other things are holding you back.
Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, quit his job to found Micrel, the most consistently profitable semiconductor company in Silicon Valley. Hear his story about when to know when to drop the dead weight of a job.
Guy Smith: Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of the Tough Things First podcast. I am your guest host today, Guy Smith, and as always, we’re here with Ray Zinn, the founder and CEO of Micrel Corporation and the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley. Hello, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hello, Guy. Thank you for being with me again today.
Guy Smith: Thank you for being with me. I pick up more wisdom per unit of time sitting with you, than anything else I do during my day, that’s for sure. I want to go back in history. You had an interesting event, which led to you becoming an entrepreneur. You quite famously got fired for being aggressive and selling a product that basically didn’t exist. As a side note to all the listeners, I’ll mention is a product, which is now a standard piece of equipment in every semiconductor manufacturing facility that there is. For the audience, give us a short version of that origin story. What happened that caused you to suddenly say, “I’m going to go start a business?”
Ray Zinn: That’s a good one, Guy. I love telling this story, because it really rings true. I never thought of myself as starting my own company. I was perfectly happy working where I was. I was working for a company called Electromask. They made photo mask equipment for the semiconductor industry. Those were pieces of equipment used to image the circuitry onto the wafer, silicon wafer. For those that don’t know what that is, that’s a piece of almost like glass, but it’s gray colored, and it’s very thin, and it’s round, and they call it a wafer because of its physical size and looks. They made equipment that allowed the semiconductor manufacturers to create the image on the wafer. I was told by my boss, this was back in the early seventies, to go and visit a company called Texas Instrument down in Dallas Texas. When I went down there, we were a very small company and TI’s a very large company, and they didn’t want to see me.
In fact, they rudely told me to leave. Here I’ve flown all the way from, as you would, San Francisco to Dallas and I wasn’t very happy about being asked to leave and just get back on the airplane and fly home. I told my boss that I was rudely told to leave and he said, “Well, any good sale’s guy doesn’t give up. He goes back again.” I said, “Ah, okay.” I was a young kid, I was just really young, I was in my early thirties. I jumped back on the airplane, went back up there again, and this time they escorted me out with two security guards and actually threw me down some steps and I tore my pants, my suit pants. I was very unhappy and told my boss, “That’s it. I’m not going to go back there again.” He said, “Ah well, you’ve got to get into TI, you absolutely must get in there.” I said, “They don’t have the southern hospitality I was expecting and so I don’t really think, I don’t want to go back.”
Anyway, he implored me to go and visit them again. This time when I went down I had to come up with some reason to get in the door so that I wasn’t going to be thrown out again. I didn’t wear one of my new suits again, because I was afraid it was going to get torn, so I wore one of my older suits expecting to get thrown out. When I went in there, I dreamed up this idea of when the receptionist asked me who … When I asked to speak to this particular individual, the receptionist asked me, “Well, who may I say is calling?” I didn’t want to give my name again, so I just said, “Tell him his brother’s here.” I then … She called up to speak to the TI employee and told him that his brother was down in the lobby to see him. Down came this individual waltzing down the stairs and he looked around, he didn’t see his brother, obviously, and so we went to the receptionist, receptionist pointed toward me.
I was sitting on a couch and I had this Cheshire grin on my face and he came over. He said, “Well, how dare you?” He was so mad, he was just red in the face and angry. I said, “Well, aren’t we all brothers and sisters anyway?” He laughed. He thought that was a fun way of getting him to come and acknowledge me. He took my hand, lifted me up off the couch, and he said, “Come up to my office.” We went up there and so I began talking to him about what they needed, what kind of the direction the industry was going to head, and what they would like to see. On the way back to the Bay area, I thought of an idea of how we might create a new piece of equipment, a new concept, called the wafer stepper. I was working for a small company, and didn’t have a lot of resources, and so I didn’t want to break it to him because they were already strapped doing what they were doing anyway.
I kept it to myself and just tried to get TI to buy other equipment that we had and kept using this new piece of equipment, this wafer stepper as kind of like a carrot. I tried to get them to buy the stuff and they just kept bugging me about this wafer stepper. Finally, I created this idea of how we might develop it and design it, but my company never knew about it. I thought I could just keep putting TI off and still get in the door with some of our current equipment. That didn’t work. They absolutely were emphatic, they wanted to buy this equipment, and since I made it sound so inviting and so real, because I wanted to, given the fact that I wanted to get in the door, I made it sound very … Like it was imminent, like we were ready to start producing it any day, that they finally just said, “We’re going to give you an order.”
They gave me an order for three of these systems, but they wanted a price, and so I had to think about what kind of price to charge them. I came up with this idea, this price of this system. The current system that they were purchasing to do a similar job was about $50,000. I thought, “Well, if I had the price high enough, they wouldn’t give me an order.” When I told them that the price was $800,000, which is 10 times, more than 10 times the price of their current solution, they didn’t blink an eye, they gave me a PO for three of those. Here I am, here I got this order for $2.4 million. Anyway, so I told my boss about it, because TI kept bugging about the delivery on it. He was very upset and he was infuriated with me, because they were already strapped and didn’t really have an opportunity to work on it.
I became kind of persona non grata at the company and ultimately, they invited me to leave, saying that I really shouldn’t work for anybody else, because I didn’t seem to fit in, that I really should go off on my own. I went home that evening after being down in the LA area visiting my company and told my wife as I walked up the stairs, “I was never going to work for anybody ever again.” She said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I don’t know, I’ll think about it. I’ll have to come up with something, because I’m not going to work for anybody ever again.” That was mid-1976 that that happened. Since July of 1976, I’ve only worked for myself.
Guy Smith: The short story there and I’m so amused by this, is that you conceptualized the wafer stepper and despite your best efforts to not do it, managed to sell it to TI anyway, and then had to hand a purchase order for this nonexistent equipment to your boss. That’s when they said, “You really probably should go work for yourself.” That led to 37 years of almost continuous profitability, only missed one year, and that was due to a massive write off of a redundant facility that you had, so that’s … I think getting fired was actually a great thing for you. Do you think you would’ve ever started a business had you not been fired?
Ray Zinn: Probably not. I mean, I can’t say for sure. Years later, I think it was in the eighties, Tom Peters wrote a book called In Pursuit of Excellence, and he wrote in his book that, “If you’re not getting fired, you’re just not trying hard enough.” That rang true with me, because I was trying pretty hard and I got fired. For all of you out there, hey, it’s okay to get fired, because that means you’re trying harder and if you’re not trying harder, maybe you should try harder, because you really are not putting forth your best effort unless you’re pushing the limits. That’s what I did. The reason I started Micrel was I just said, “I’m going to come up with a company that I can really have control over and be able to run it my way and not be saddled with all these other corporate rules and regulations that these other folks had to suffer with.”
Guy Smith: Well, short of being fired, what should somebody look out for in themselves that tells them that they really should work for themselves? I mean, there are a lot of geniuses here in Silicon Valley, a lot of people who have an idea or a momentary spark of inspiration, but what is the signal that they should see in themselves that say, “No, I’m really going to do better if I go strike out on my own.”
Ray Zinn: Well, short of getting fired, and I still think that’s the way to do it, is you get yourself fired and then you have to go do something else. Short of that, is if you have a knack or a feeling that you’d like to start your own company, you think you have the energy, you have the wherewithal to do it, hey, give it a shot. I mean, as long as your family’s willing to support it and you’ve got the resources to go and do it, do it.
Guy Smith: Well, and that’s probably the signal, which is going to go out to Silicon Valley, because there are a lot of people here who want to follow that dream. There’s a lot of examples here in Silicon Valley of people who just had a good idea and had enough guts to go do it and they made marvelous things happen like Ray did for 37 years at Micrel. If you want, and you should do this, go by the Tough Things First website, ToughThingsFirst.com, there’s a series of social links up at the top. You can connect directly with Ray Zinn through that path and if you haven’t already, and I will drive this point home, do get a copy of his book, Tough Things First, because it is going to be a tour de force education on what it takes to be a leader, to be a manager, to be an executive, to be humanistic in your approach to life, and it is arguably one of the best business and perhaps life books that you’re going to read this year and maybe ever. Thanks again and tune in for another episode next week.
- May242017Read more
The outlook for businesses in the U.S. is in flux, and the climate may be right to entice some companies to bring off shore manufacturing back. Tough Things First guest host Rob Artigo, talks with Ray Zinn and Ray’s former employee, Paul Moore, to get an idea of what it will take to bring those businesses back.
- May172017Read more
Managing your workforce and worker’s pool. In this edition of Tough Things First, Ray Zinn is host to David Williams, successful entrepreneur and author, to discuss the challenges and benefits of modern hiring.
Ray Zinn: Thank you ever so much for joining me today. So this is Dave Williams of Fishbowl, and a great author and a contributing writer for Forbes. And this is Ray Zinn of “Tough Things First.”
If I look back at the history of my company, I would say that 95 percent of all the people that we terminated were RIFed, Reduction In Force, as opposed to actually firing because they didn’t perform.
David Williams: Utah, where we’re centered, it’s the technology bed of the universe; at least in the Western Hemisphere. Per capita, we’re extremely competitive, extremely entrepreneurial. There’s a lot of West Coast, East Coast, out of the country companies that are settling into this area because there’s three universities that pump out incredible graduates. The cost of living and the cost of doing business in Utah versus the coast is so much more manageable that a lot of people have chosen this as a great hub for them to move either their headquarters or to have a major regional presence here.
Ray Zinn: Maybe you’ll become the Silicon Valley of the mountains.
David Williams: Well, it’s actually called Silicon Slopes. You probably know that from having been out here, they call this area Silicon Slopes. Because of the mountains, and because of Silicon Valley, it’s not a valley, it’s The Slopes.
Ray Zinn: You do have a valley, but you could be called, Silicon Utah Valley, or something.
David Williams: Yeah, there is a formal organization and newspaper and web presence called the Silicon Slopes that has put a label on this area and all the companies that reside here.
My point is, back to your point, the mean age of my employees is maybe 27, 28ish. I hire a lot of 22, 23, 24 year old individuals out of school, and they often become trainers, that go onsite to companies. So you have a 25, 26, 28 year old male or female going out all over the world [inaudible 00:03:04] for companies. I don’t lose people. People often ask me, “What’s your turnover rate?” And I say, “Maybe one a year?” That’s just unheard of in …
Ray Zinn: That’s incredible.
David Williams: Especially when we’re … all the accolades that we receive as a company and then my people get headhunted, it seems like daily. So, how do you keep a good employee a long time? The point being is, how do we keep our people in the company?
I just wrote an article this week on how to stay in a company forever, and why a young person should not job hop. And why it’s beneficial to [inaudible 00:03:53] a period of time.
Ray Zinn: I wrote a little blog on that myself, so you and I are singing on the same sheet of music.
David Williams: Yeah.
Ray Zinn: The thing with your company though, David, is that your average employee is 27, but by the time you’re Micrel’s age, 37 years, you’re going to be in your 50’s.
David Williams: Yeah.
Ray Zinn: Especially if you don’t have any turnover, and if they stay with the company. That’s what happened to me. My people, according to my board, got long in the tooth. When I hired them, they were in their 20’s. Because we kept them, because we didn’t RIF a lot of people, and because we were so tenacious about being a people oriented company, they stuck with us, they stayed with us. They were having grandchildren by the time the company was 37 years old.
David Williams: Yeah. So cool.
Ray Zinn: [crosstalk 00:04:43] When you get to your 30 and 40 years as a company, you’re going to have some pretty old employees.
David Williams: Absolutely. Even 15 years old as a company, looking around and seeing a lot of the same faces as I started with is really rewarding. I can’t even imagine what 30-35-40 years [crosstalk 00:05:02] must feel like, Ray.
Ray Zinn: I had a friend who recently, he’s 63 years old, he recently interviewed at Google. You can’t ask you for your age, but as soon as he walked in the door and they saw him, they basically excused him. They’re not hiring anybody over 45. Google’s only maybe less than ten years old. For crying out loud. What’re they gonna do? They’re just gonna RIF their work force every five years.
David Williams: Yes. Yes they do.
Ray Zinn: That’s a shame. How are you going to build loyalty and trust if you’re constantly RIFing your workforce?
David Williams: My opinion is on that matter is that they’re Google, so they can get all the people they ever ever want.
Ray Zinn: But is that right? Is that the kind of culture we want to build America on though, David?
David Williams: Not you and I, we don’t, because we don’t believe in that philosophy of churning people just to use them as resources, and when they don’t work anymore, you spit them out. We don’t believe in that philosophy, but a lot of the companies today do. Unfortunately, a good person may age, and get to the point where they think that they’re antiquated. Or a 45 year old, to you and me, is still very young. [crosstalk 00:06:22] Naturally, has a lot of wisdom to share …
Ray Zinn: Absolutely.
David Williams: … with these people who don’t have the experience.
Ray Zinn: You can’t develop your intuition until you’re over 40, in my mind.
David Williams: Yeah, and just the experience this 45 year old has had, versus a 22 year old smarty-pants from Stanford. I think there’s some type of recipe that these bigger companies need to embrace in order to have some of this tenured, long in the tooth – I haven’t heard that phrase since I was a young kid, by the way. I love that
Ray Zinn: That shows my age.
David Williams: It’s something my dad and my uncle – I’d always hear on the farm and the ranch, “Oh, they’re long in the tooth.” And I’d keep going, “Wow. Are their teeth really longer?”
Ray Zinn: Your gums recede, that’s why you look long in the tooth.
David Williams: Yeah. So true. I would encourage all of these up-and-coming, mega companies to not forget the wisdom that some tenured players can bring into your company to add to this high octane, high horsepower, “I can rule the world without any experience” mentality. There needs to be a mix. We hire dads, uncles. We don’t shy away from hiring a 50 year old person to come into a support team that has 22 to 28 year old people on em.
Ray Zinn: [crosstalk 00:07:51] How about if they were 60? Would you hire a person that was 60?
David Williams: Age doesn’t matter to me at all. They could be 80. If they still want to work, and they have the appetite, and they can add value. This is what I look for, probably the same thing you do, right? If they can look at me and say they will give their very best each day, they’re willing to make mistakes, they’re a team player, they’re teachable, and they’re honest; they’re in.
Ray Zinn: I love it, David. Now you’re going to have these cultural differences. You’re not going to have the Millennials, as your company would say. We’re nothing but a Millennial company. Like Google does. We’re basically a Millennial type company. They don’t want to have these generation gaps, as we call them. When I ran Micrel, and I retired at 78, I had people working for me that were 18, 19 years old. I get along perfectly well with them. They were my grandkids age, but I still got along with them because we related. I treated them as equals, and recognized them and praised them for their contribution. You can have these generation differences as long as your company is geared that way. You have that philosophy in your company that we will not develop these silos, these differences, that we’ll have unique relationships with these different generations.
David Williams: Spot on. Yeah, I just don’t believe … so what if you’re 60? And so what if you’re a Millennial company? It comes down to human decency and respect for all. That 60 year old, it’s amazing how invigorated they can become around the youth. And to your point, I don’t even think of age, Ray, when I think of people. That never really crosses … I may think of an age if they do kind of a silly, youthful thing. Just being young, and they just made a youthful mistake. Yeah, I may think, “Well, they’re just young.” I don’t see age at all, I see just people.
Ray Zinn: Good. So we’re –
David Williams: Doing different things.
Ray Zinn: That’s beautiful. This individual I was telling you about, that interviewed at Google, ended up at Box, which is another local Silicon Valley company.
David Williams: Yeah.
Ray Zinn: Evidently they don’t mind if you’re over 60.
David Williams: That’s cool. Good for them.
Ray Zinn: Well anyway, thank you. This has been a great conversation, David. I look forward to you and I being able to get back together, and just talking about some of these very contemporary issues that effect employees in their everyday lives, and their jobs. When I look at a workplace, as an extension of our home. They say there’s no place like home and I really believe that, and if you can make work seem like home, look how much better off your employees are going to be. How much happier, how much more willing they are to put in the time and the effort if they look at work as just another room in their home. All right my friend. Thank you for joining me today.
David Williams: Thank you, Ray.
- May032017Read more
The best entrepreneurs possess vision and insight, but those two attributes are sometimes not easily understood. Tough Things First guest host Rob Artigo, talks with Ray Zinn and Ray’s former employee, Paul Moore, to discuss the difference between vision and insight and why they work best together.
- Apr262017Read more
Change comes voluntarily and sometimes by force, as with the sudden loss of a job, but is there a right way and wrong way to take the next step? In this episode of Tough Things First, Ray Zinn is host to Jeff Moore, successful entrepreneur and life coach, to discuss making the big changes in life.
- Mar222017Read more
Some call it a top priority for businesses in 2017; Be focused more on Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things, but is it always possible? In this Tough Tings First podcast, Ray Zinn talks about the basics of AI and IOT, and how to make them part of your business plan.
- Feb152017Read more
Product start-ups inevitably face questions about costs, and wonder if it could be cheaper to move manufacturing offshore. There are upsides and downsides. Do you know the risks? Ray Zinn has experience and answers no entrepreneurs should go without. Guest host Rob Artigo returns for another addition of Tough Things First.
- Feb082017Read more
As an entrepreneur you want to get going … but sometimes it is hard to get started. You may not start like you think you would have started. Make up your mind about your starting path.
- Jan252017Read more
You want to get things done, you have no time for sweet talk, you are a go-getter. Are you leaving splinters in your path? You may want to reconsider a different approach.
- Jan182017Read more
The truth can be so blunt it hurts, or is it your delivery? Consider the delivery and the amount kindness in your message.
- Jan182017Read more
Are you willing to take the hit? You are the leader and the leader takes ownership and responsibility along with the consequences. If you are not willing to take the heat, don’t think about leading.
- Jan042017Read more
“Not Invented Here” is usually uttered with contempt and sarcasm. What does the NIH bug do to an organization? It isn’t pretty and you need to watch for it.
- Dec142016Read more
The pool of workers is a constantly changing mix of people with differing values and perspectives. The millennial generation is here and ready to work. How do you attract talent? You have to adapt to their world view.
- Nov302016Read more
Communication is the heart of an organization and the heart of relationships. However, there are time we try not to listen to one another. Learn the signs of when listening leads to bad results.
- Nov232016Read more
What is a good lifestyle? We carry the lifestyle choices we make like baggage. Choose your lifestyle well and live it, today, tomorrow and into your golden years.
- Nov162016Read more
Can you create your own truth? Are your observations truth? What is the truth? Do we actually know the truth? Your truth and your customer’s truth may be different, so learn how to take care in creating your story.
- Nov092016Read more
What are the criteria for a hero? Simple habits make a person a hero in the eyes of those who surround them. Learn how to turn your team members into heroes.
- Nov022016Read more
Looking for employee inspiration, education and motivation? In this week’s podcast, Ray Zinn talks about the “Friday Talk” technique used at Micrel. These talks were successful in generating and sharing multiple points of view and subjects and helping to condition and reinforce values within every part of a company.
- Oct142016Read more
This presidential election has demonstrated the lowest levels of common decency and the most disgusting form of vulgar communications, disrespect. Many of us are so confused and upset at the latest attacks that we’re left wondering if we should even take the time to vote. In this podcast, Ray Zinn openly discuss our challenging feelings and ultimately the importance of voting our voice and believing that no matter what the outcome, we have a tremendous country.
- Oct122016Read more
David Greer — an entrepreneur, angel investor and business coach — discusses with Ray Zinn why corporate culture is so important, and the steps Ray took to create a culture that drove the most consistently profitable semiconductor company in Silicon Valley.
- Sep142016Read more
David Greer — an entrepreneur, angel investor and business coach — discusses strategic corporate planning with Ray Zinn, who ran the most consistently profitable semiconductor company in Silicon Valley.
- Aug312016Read more
Life and work are marathons, not sprints – regardless of what too many startups believe. But few employees are marathon runners. One of your jobs is to keep the momentum going throughout your organization so that employees don’t fade out or leave the company.
Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, with 37 years heading the most consistantly profitable semiconductor company, knows a few things about keeping employees engaged, happy and productive over the long haul.
- Aug102016Read more
Ray Zinn knows adversity. He went blind during his company’s IPO, yet stayed at the helm for another 20 years. Learn whey when the going gets tough, entrepreneurs get tough too. Start treating adversity as a growth opportunity to gamifiy success.
- Aug032016Read more
Angie Carrillo, a student at Draper University and co-founder of Liks.co, interviews Ray Zinn about funding startups. The wide-ranging discussion covers what founders need to think about when they seek money to get things going.
- Jul202016Read more
Greg McKeown, the New York Times bestselling author of Essentialism interviews Ray Zinn to discuss discipline and how is makes leaders more effective.
Greg McKeown has dedicated his career to discovering why some people break through to the next level—and others don’t. The definitive treatment of this issue is addressed in McKeown’s latest project: the instant New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Ray Zinn is quoted in Essentualism and now the two discuss their mutual interest about doing more by doing less.