Back to the Future

For in 1984, ex-IBMer Ning Nan of CADI in San Jose, whose tiny company had just been acquired by MGC, urged three additional talented IBM engineers (John Cooper, Bob Vincent & John Isaac by name) to leave IBM and the dreary confines of the Northeast for sunny CA to join Ning’s San Jose MGC satellite operation. (Cooper, Vincent & Isaac had been instrumental in developing the IBM Federal Systems Division in-house PCB system, for which IBM had issued a rare couple of Outstanding Achievement Awards). With these additional resources, MGC San Jose switched to a PCB focus and its previous IC work was moved to Oregon. [ Note: Remember these three names: Cooper, Vincent, & Isaac); these folks were to play significant roles in the MGC PCB saga for years to come].

Messrs. Cooper and Vincent immediately rolled up their sleeves and started from scratch on the development of MGC Board Station, which would become Mentor Graphics’ first entry into the PCB market in 1987. [ Note: Thanks to ongoing updates and rewrites, MGC Board Station is still in use today by many users worldwide as their primary board design solution].

As other EDA vendors entered the automated board design market in the late 80’s, intense competition was generated among Mentor and its new board rivals, all fighting for fresh shares of this new market segment. All these vendors grew as the market rapidly expanded, until the typical merger mania cycle started.

[ Note: In another 80’s move that will pop up later, we note that John Cooper (and David Chyan) left Mentor Graphics during 1989 to form Cooper & Chyan Technologies (CCT) to create independently the next generation of printed circuit board routing technology.]


A New GM for the PCB Division

In late 1989, a new General Manager was recruited from outside MGC whose name may be familiar to the readers of the EDA WEEKLY.

That’s right, c’est moi! Yours truly was on the job in early January 1990 in time to attend the annual Mentor Graphics Worldwide Sales Kickoff in Oregon.


Dr. Henke (circa 1989)

Thus began the four consecutive years of PCB Division progress briefly described in paragraph two of the Prologue. During these years, the PCB Division succeeded in achieving the leading worldwide PCB market share in both 1992 and 1993.

Appendix I contains a list of some the Division’s specific 1990 – 1993 accomplishments, recalled to the writer’s mind via the assistance of one John Isaac (yes, the very same person who joined MGC PCB from IBM in 1984, and the person that the fresh-in-1990 PCB GM named as his official Director of Marketing at the earliest opportunity).

As Appendix I states, the MGC PCB Division subsequently changed to a different general manager in 1994.

The MGC PCB Story 1995 -1999

Not surprisingly, MGC competitors ignored MGC’s internal 1993 corporate changes and 1994 PCB Division changes, with the printed circuit board market share dogfight continuing with even more intensity. Cadence and Racal Redac (bought by Zuken in 1994) started to gain market share.

Then, in 1997, a pivotal moment arrived. CCT went public and soon after was purchased by Cadence. Recall that John Cooper and David Chyan had left MGC in 1989 to develop a new autorouter. Once introduced to the market by CCT a few years later, the latest CCT router proved to be excellent and the MGC PCB Division OEM’d it.

By 1995, other MGC PCB competitors also began to OEM and integrate the CCT router within their layout solutions, although Mentor remained CCT’s largest OEM benefactor (e.g. MGC paid CCT some $7 million in OEM royalties in 1997 alone).

When CCT began to entertain bids to be acquired, MGC reportedly participated in the bidding to buy CCT the company, but MGC ultimately was unwilling to match the bid level Cadence had reached.

Cadence’s subsequent purchase of CCT changed the ball game. It left Mentor at the mercy of a strong competitor for the key piece of PCB functionality (interactive and automatic routing). It also gave Cadence direct access to Mentor’s installed PCB base via customer support for the CCT router. Cadence soon surpassed Mentor in PCB market share, according to reports at the time.

It’s fair to say that the 1995 through 1998 period was not one of progress for Mentor’s PCB business.

A Game Changer

While Mentor Graphics led the world in PCB market share in 1992 and 1993, its years of relative inattention to that market from 1995 to 1998 proved costly.

By 1999, Mentor top management finally decided once again to reach outside for a new PCB Division GM.

In March of 1999, Mentor hired Henry Potts as VP and GM of the PCB Division. Henry came to Mentor with an extensive resume of IC and Systems development management experience at Hitachi, Motorola, VLSI Technology, Schlumberger and Texas Instruments.

Henry Potts joined Mentor Graphics in March of 1999 as Vice President and General Manager of the Systems Design Division. Potts brought more than 33 years of experience in the electronics industry to his role at Mentor Graphics, including experience in IC & Systems development to serving as President and CEO of a venture capital funded startup. He served as a Senior Vice President for Hitachi Semiconductor where he oversaw all marketing and product development activities for microprocessor and embedded products for the US markets. He had also held senior management positions at Motorola, VLSI Technology, Schlumberger and Texas Instruments. Potts has a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Southwestern Louisiana.

Potts knew from his experience that there was far more to designing an electronic system than simply laying out the PCB grid. He also realized, perhaps ahead of his peers, that developing an advanced electronic product was a collaborative team effort. Not only does a customer design team need high levels of productivity and the ability to handle the most advanced technologies in the PCB design process, but also (as Potts theorized early on) that the customers would need to implement concurrency and co-design among the entire systems development parts: PCB, IC/Package, FPGA, MCAD, procurement and manufacturing. Note that these “C” terms: collaboration, co-design, concurrency ... were seldom found in the vocabularies of EDA executives at the Millennium.

Potts also patiently set about gradually persuading Mentor’s top management that offering PCB systems design software was a very good business to pursue and should not be treated as a “cash cow”, but rather that it should be and must be suitably supported with substantial R&D and strategic acquisitions. Bravo!

But first things first. As the new person in charge, Potts had inherited a PCB product line whose key component (the interactive and autorouting technology) was then owned by an arch rival. According to an article by Richard Goering of EE|Times dated November 2, 1999, Potts said at the time, “By not having the ability to offer one continuous flow, we were not able to satisfy all the requirements of our customers.”

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