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Mark Gilbert
Mark Gilbert
Mark has been involved in EDA recruiting for over 18 years. He is Founder and President of EDA Careers, but started his career in EDA as executive Vice President at EDA Jobs. Mark was also VP of Marketing and Business Development in the beginning of the Internet revolution and has been a … More »

Start Looking Now For Jobs Next Year… Mentor’s Wally Rhines…Why Is Mentor So Different,  First Of My 3-Part Interview..

November 20th, 2014 by Mark Gilbert

THE Following is an intriguing and insightful look into an EDA industry icon, Mentor’s CEO, Wally Rhines.  Since our talks were so insightful, leaving me so much to write about, I will quickly give you my thoughts on considering a year-end career change first, followed by my interpretation of “The Man From Mentor”.

The cycles for finding a job have changed immensely over the past year, plus it can take months and months just to find the right opportunity, and then more to go through the interview process. Even though it is clear that the advantage is, (for now), on the Candidates side, make no mistake; the process can still be long and arduous. Even knowing how hard it is to find good people, companies today continue to be so picky and take so long to pull the trigger on actually hiring.  Starting your search now, and I mean now, is the smartest thing you can do.  You should know that almost assuredly, you would start after the first of the year, even if the process goes quickly.  The New Year creates a great time to leave your old company and join a new.  Starting at the beginning of the year allows you to be part of annual kick-off meetings and everyone getting back to work after the holiday break; it is a simply a perfect time to fit in.  Call your favorite recruiter (hopefully ME…is there anyone better?) to discuss the possibilities and your particular situation. I will help walk you through the process. Together we can both develop a strong comprehensive plan on how to best approach the next stage of your career.  On to Wally…

I have been involved in EDA for close to 17 years, less than many of you and more than others, and one thing is for certain; there have been few personality constants in this business.  I would reasonably argue that Wally Rhines is absolutely one of those constants and further, one of the true stalwarts of EDA, for about as long as EDA is EDA.

I did this interview a short while back and while it is slightly dated, the content is certainly still relevant.  I can honestly say that sitting with Wally, one on one, for the 40+ minutes we did, told me volumes about this incredibly successful entrepreneur.  I could feel his passion for not only his company, but for the industry.  I saw this as something that differentiated him from Aart de Geus, Chairman and Co – CEO of Synopsys. (Click on past columns to read my Aart interviews). Where Aart is clearly Synopsys first, second and third, Wally is Mentor first; the industry does not fall that far behind for second and third.  I started by making sure that he knew this was not going to be another technical mumble jumble interview, and explained that I am the non-technical (fun I like to think) guy in this highly technical business. I’m the guy that writes about the industry from a very different perspective and more than just careers advice. Clearly, every other Columnist/Blogger out there writes about something analog or digital. That’s not my niche, I have a different mission.

We discussed the fact that I was a recruiter specializing in only EDA and surprisingly he knew exactly that.  Wally knew of my column and clearly understood that we were going to discuss things that others have never asked or discussed with him before, and so we began.  I started by discussing that I’ve had the honor to interview his respected nemesis…I mean colleague, Aart (de Geus) twice and that I found him to be a wonderful guy beyond just EDA.  Wally smiled, I was not exactly sure how to read the smile, but I will assume it was one meant to show agreement and respect.  (I just wish one of you developers could create something to read minds, which would have been so wonderful right then).

What he said next, told me volumes about his character. We had been casually talking for several minutes and he said that he had a 5:30 meeting and should we run out of time we could meet again to finish adding “whatever is best for you. I want to give you the time you deserve, I want to make sure we do not rush”.  This was so refreshingly compassionate and so different than the expected “we need to be done in x minutes”.  And speaks well to his character and demeanor and shows the man behind the famous smile

I asked Wally about the flurry of recent acquisitions…What’s going on out there in EDA? I mentioned the most recent, Nimbic, BDA, Jasper and Doulos…The list goes on and asked, is this like a feast to see who can get the most companies?

Wally’s answer fell nicely in line; he said that he did not think there were any fundamentals that transcend all of these acquisitions, that it was all simply a bit opportunistic. He told me that Mentor historically hasn’t done that many acquisitions, that most of their tools have been largely developed from within and admitted that it was a little unusual to do so many (3) in a relatively short period of time.  (Only one was of substantial size).

Wally said that Mentor’s general philosophy was to act when the opportunity arises for something that’s very unique or perhaps adds a capability to what the other major competitors already have or where it’s a key technology piece for something they would like to do in the future.

I persisted and asked why so many so fast, “it seems that the three of you are almost in a race making it so there are no start-ups left”.  He dismissed that as a coincidence and simply felt that while it was interesting that some of the others occurred at the same time, that they would have eventually occurred, that this was simply a question of timing.  He noted that the EDA industry has done especially well over the last four years, since the downturn in 2008-9, that overall cash flow’s were strong and profit – growth is good and felt that all of this contributes to why the Start-ups are being gobbled up.  I had to add some humor, sarcasm to the interview and asked if he thought Carl (Ichan) was happy? (Carl is a major shareholder in Mentor and someone that has caused considerable friction for Wally or so the papers say). He quite diplomatically said that all his shareholders seem to be quite happy and pointed out that the EDA industry has been growing at a 9.3 percent clip the last four years, which we all know is quite exceptional.

Being that we were in the middle of DAC with appointments back to back, I was surprised by his “chill factor”, his relaxed demeanor… he was more at ease than I expected and an obvious seasoned pro at answering questions…I decided to go back to a comment he made about how organic their tools are and how they have inherently developed most of their stuff internally rather than through acquisition.  I asked him if what separated Mentor from the BIG 3 was that Mentor was much more of an incubator, where Cadence and Synopsys both, have been built largely by acquisitions. He responded after thinking a bit and said that he believed it was clearly a differentiator and felt that some of it may come from the fact that their headquarters are in Oregon, and that even though they have 500 people in the Bay Area, the company historically grew its whole product line and the people, internally. Only later did they start to compliment their offerings through M&A’s.  Mentor was built with the internal discipline to develop products, that was their culture and that started back in the 90s.  Upon reflecting a moment, he said that perhaps acquisition might have been the better way to go…I found that quite interesting.

Most of us know that each of the top EDA companies have always had their own distinct reputation, personality if you will.  I expressed my personal belief that the general perception about Mentor was always considered to be that they were kind-of the good guys out there. I went on to say that Cadence was a revolving door for employees; they’ve changed management faster than most people change underwear…most people. Synopsys was better but they had their issues but Mentor people didn’t leave and added “trust me I have tried” (Not sure he appreciated my comment “and trust me, I’ve tried, Not sure it’s the smartest thing to tell the CEO when you’re interviewing him, that you’ve tried to steal his people), but well, that’s my sense of humor, warped as that may be.  I wanted to know specifically what philosophically had he done differently, what methodology did he use to run his business that really differentiated them from both Synopsys and Cadence, and Magma in its day?

He said that Mentor started out with what he would call family values, maybe better said, a culture that exudes family…from early on, they had child a development center, family events, etc. and doing so made it feel harder to leave a family as opposed to a company, theorizing that it is a lot easier to leave a company, than it is to leave a family. The social interaction helped to build bonds with people that gave them a sense of loyalty. Wally said it went deeper than just that, because more than just planting roots, Mentor was a company that was impeccably high in integrity. He believed that the typical politicking that you have in a lot of companies did not happen (to a great extent) at Mentor. He claimed that by creating a delegated decentralized decision-making structure, so that employees had relatively autonomous divisions, that over time this created a sense of loyalty.

We talked further about this sense of empowerment and he admitted it had both negatives and positives, but relished in the fact that Mentor empowered people at lower levels and the metrics, are metrics that people can affect by their own actions. He even discussed their variable compensation, which is all numerically determined. A single division can have a great year and can earn a nice bump to their salary and conversely others can get zero, as it is all based on the numbers. Wally takes great pride in the fact that Mentor employees AND their spouses understand this, and they think it’s at least fair, if not generous.

Mentor is an interesting company that has without a doubt created the most loyalty…simply stated, people do not leave mentor easily and much can be said for the senior management’s willingness to get involved and really understand the people and the business. Wally told me that if you go to the Mentor cafeteria on an average day, you’ll see Greg Hinckley, the COO, having lunch with developers that are individual contributors and that senior management does this all the time. When they travel to their sites, they meet with the individual people, and that creates a sense of connectivity that he feels really helps to create the sense of culture that permeates Mentor.  When people start thinking about moving on,  he hopes they realize how good it is to be part of a family that cares about them.

A lot more of my talk with Wally still to come, including where all this technology might ultimately take us and what controls need to be considered to make sure the greater good does not work to our detriment, and that is what is being built to make life better won’t ultimately create much greater problems to humanity down the line.

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