Sonics’ Randy Smith: Why Integrity makes IP tick
November 20th, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena
Randy Smith bring a lot of humanity to his role as Vice President of Marketing at Sonics, and a lot of frequent flier miles. The day after we spoke by phone last week, he was set to fly to Japan for a week on business. When I asked if Japan was a new destination for him, he laughed.
“I’ve been to Japan over 150 times,” he said, “and because of that, I have lifelong business relationships there, having worked closely with customers, EDA vendors, design services and IP providers. That’s why my business card used to say ‘Randysan Marketing’. I always look forward to going to Japan, because it gives me the opportunity to touch bases with customers there and to [reconnect] with colleagues.”
Smith has recently transitioned from interim VP of Marketing at Sonics to full time, part of the reason for our phone call. I asked if that change is an indication of growth at the company.
He said, “Absolutely. When I was first brought in as a consultant a year ago, it was meant to improve the overall market function. The company feels that has been going well, so in order to expand the role where I am presenting the company publicly and working with the customers, this [transition] is very appropriate and represents a mutual commitment between us.
“In fact, I have already been much more involved on the partner side. Now along with working more closely with customers, I am working even more closely with EDA partners and design services.”
I asked if Sonics partners with companies in a comparable manner to ARM.
He responded, “Sonics is very well-connected to ARM. They make cores and we connect [those cores] to everybody else’s cores.
“The IP business requires a lot of effort to build an ecosystem. This year, the average number of IP blocks per chip is 120, and only a few of those are ARM cores. Clearly, ARM is happy to dominate [in some sectors] and competes with us in some areas, but they don’t want to dominate every segment. It’s a hard balancing act to draw so much revenue out of a market, and yet not kill it.
“For us at Sonics, the nature of IP is such that there is healthy competition, yet we are quite a bit ahead of those other companies. We have the piece that interconnects everything on the chip and is central to security, power management, and performance.
“There are so many different things we tie into that the key to our differentiation is ease of integration. What we see as the IP mantra is not just ease of use, but ease of integration. How can we help our customers work within our environment, and how can they easily figure out how to use our technology. That’s our differentiation.”
Speaking of ARM, I asked Smith about the Kaufman dinner in early November where former Artisan CEO Mark Templeton and current ARM CEO Simon Segers honored Lucio Lanza. Smith agreed it had been a great evening, which lead to a lengthy personal recollection about the many people mentioned during the presentation that Smith has known and worked with over the years. I asked if he’s ever thought about writing a history of the industry.
He said, “Actually, I started to write that book a few years ago, but now I don’t have time. There’s just so much to do here at Sonics. The ecosystem we have here is just massive, so many companies want to talk with us and work with us, plus our customers need our attention.
“I did get a chance to help Dan Nenni with his recent book,” he acknowledged, “and have done a few blogs over the years for SemiWiki. I’m particularly interested in the ‘butterfly affect’, how an acquisition in one company can cause a competing company to [fail or succeed] based on how that acquisition is handled.”
Smith knows of what he speaks when it comes to these types of business nuances, particularly in IP.
“This is actually the fourth IP company I’ve been associated with,” he said. “First was Silicon Architects, which as bought by Synopsys in 1995, then I was with Artisan prior to the ARM acquisition, then it was TriMedia Technologies, a Philips spin-out, and now Sonics.”
“When you consider IP versus EDA,” he added, “both types of companies exist for the same reason. Even though their customers think these things could be done internally, they understand that for specialized development and bandwidth considerations it’s preferred to have third-party companies providing the products with their better technical solutions.”
Smith then spoke at length about the importance of integrity in business practices, something which he pursues with diligence. “That’s why each time I go back to Japan, even though I [may be working for a company] that is not a good fit with a particular customer’s needs, they still trust me.
“They will call me and express concern that a former company I have worked with is not honoring an agreement set up [years ago]. In those cases, I will go back and get involved [resolving the issue] until it is settled, that is how important this idea of business integrity is to me.”
“And,” he noted, “integrity is particularly important in IP. The customers really need to be able to trust you.”
Speaking of trust and respect, I asked Smith if he feels Marketing gets enough respect for the impact it has on decisions made at a technical company.
He said, “In very technical fields, it takes people [developing] the brightest ideas to succeed and often those ideas come from Marketing. Marketing never gets enough credit, but I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. [In reality], it just takes a lot of hard work on the part of everybody to get products out there that will work with the ecosystem and the customers, particularly in IP.”
Smith noted that today the technical marketplace has become so complex, it takes many contributors to create product ideas.
“Look at how the big EDA companies have evolved,” he said. “Cadence and Synopsys, for instance. They no longer have just one CTO. Now they have multiple CTOs, each [targeting] a specific product area. So much technical depth is required, one CTO at the top just can’t understand everything.”
It all seems so daunting, I asked Smith if young people are put off coming into the industry, either into IP or EDA.
He said, “This work definitely requires young people with intelligence and enthusiasm. But I love mentoring young people, giving them the history of the industry so they can learn what we’ve done and why.
“I love that a young person who is willing to take some coaching can succeed. It’s one of the most rewarding things I do, to help young people learn to develop strategies and understand the cumulative effect of [their efforts].”
It’s abundantly clear in talking with Randy Smith that even well into his career, he continues to be fascinated by his work and its impact on both the technical and human ecosystem. But certainly it can’t all be goodness and light, so in wrapping up our call I asked how quickly he recovers from the rigors of these trans-Pacific trips.
Smith responded with a chuckle: “It’s one of my personal things that I’m a lifelong Oakland Raiders fan. My dad used to be a trumpet player in the Raiders’ band in the 1970’s, so I got to watch a lot of games right on the field.”
Today, that loyalty’s being transferred to the next generation: “Immediately after I land at SFO at the end of this upcoming trip to Japan, I’m taking to BART to meet up with my son [at the stadium in Oakland] to tailgate and go to the game.”
He laughed again, “Only after that, will I go home!”
That Smith family loyalty was rewarded this evening. The Oakland Raiders finally won their first game this season, 24-20 over the Kansas City Chiefs. Undoubtedly due to Randy Smith’s efforts to get to the game!
Tags: ARM, Cadence, Dan Nenni, Lucio Lanza, Mark Templeton, Randy Smith, SemiWiki, Simon Segars, Sonics, Synpsys