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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

ESD Alliance: Sonics’ Grant Pierce elected Board Chair

February 9th, 2017 by Peggy Aycinena

This week, the ESD Alliance
announced that Sonics CEO Grant Pierce has been elected chair of the organization’s Board of Directors. His election is unique in several ways: Pierce is the first CEO of an IP company to lead the Alliance; he replaces two co-chairs, Cadence CEO Lip-Bu Tan and PDF Solutions, John Kibarian; and he is only the second CEO of a non-publicly traded company to serve as Board Chair, the other being Jasper CEO Kathryn Kranen who took the reins in 2012.

When Pierce and I spoke by phone on Tuesday about his election, he noted the unique circumstances of his new leadership role: “When I joined the board several years ago, it was with the intention to add a new point of view to what was then the EDA Consortium, to help the organization reflect the emerging reality of what was happening in the marketplace with respect to IP companies.

“In some ways, the IP companies consider themselves to be a necessary evil. Every chip developed today involves some sort of third-party IP, so having a place on the Board of the ESD Alliance is essential.”

Pierce also referenced early input from Kathryn Kranen: “When I joined the Board, I spoke at length with Kathryn, who was Board Chair at the time. She believed this job to be well placed when in the hands of one of the smaller companies in the organization, the CEOs of the larger companies being almost too busy to find the time needed to effectively lead.

“Of course, I don’t have a lot of time either, but when I joined the Board it was with the express intention of playing an active role in the process of re-defining EDAC. And it was my efforts, along with those of many others in the group, that lead directly to the creation of the ESD Alliance early last year.

“The EDA Consortium looked at chip design as a matter for the EDA world alone, but that missed the point of what is needed today in the complex ecosystem that surrounds design.

“Now, not only does the ESD Alliance include the IP perspective, it also looks at the overall systems perspective, including embedded software. Something I feel very strongly about, as does Bob Smith [ESD Alliance Executive Director] and the entire Board of Directors.

“So having served on the board these several years, and knowing what a wonderful guy Bob Smith is to work with – that he is local, so it’s convenient for the two us to connect and work together on various projects for the organization – I concluded that I should put my hat in the ring for a term as Board Chair and the Board agreed with my decision.”

I asked Pierce if he was fully apprised as to what all will be expected of him going forward. Is he sure he really has time to continue to lead Sonics, a company he co-founded 20 years ago, and also lead the ESD Alliance?

He laughed, and said, “Well, the past chairs who are still on the board said they would read me into the Chairman’s Book of Secrets, and I look forward to that.

“But seriously, this organization has had to take some action in order to continue to be relevant to the industry, to continue to lead.

“We all know that it requires a more diverse groups of companies, as I mentioned – system companies, embedded software, IP, EDA, and the like – if we want to continue to be a vital part of the culture of exchanging new ideas and, importantly, encouraging new startups.

“The Board knows I would like to continue to grow the ranks of smaller companies as members of the ESD Alliance, and now I’ve got the opportunity to make some of this happen.”

I asked Pierce to articulate the argument for membership for small companies, particularly those on fixed budgets for which the ESD Alliance membership fees might be a challenge.

He recounted his own company’s journey with respect to membership: “I recognized that Sonics had been in business for a long time, since 1996, yet we were not members of EDAC until we joined the Board. And the reason for that shift in our thinking was very straightforward – the membership of Simon Segars and ARM.

“As a leader in the IP industry, ARM had a very large customer constituency – arguably an even more robust constituency that of the EDA world – and they wanted to learn more and understand better the ecosystem within which their processors were being used.

“That thinking [dovetailed] with our own efforts to understand the environment, so following Simon’s lead we joined the EDAC Board.”

“And now,” Pierce reiterated, “we’re all involved in the continuing process of changing EDAC into the ESD Alliance.”

“I look forward to working with Bob Smith,” he added, “in reviewing the programs the group is investing in – some need to be updated, and some haven’t been looked at in a long time – so when we talk to companies about joining, those organizations that touch every part of chip design can see the value of being part of the Alliance.”

“Of course, for chip design,” Pierce continued, “power, performance and area are still paramount concerns in the day-to-day life of everyone in the ecosystem. Which is why I’ve started to work on promoting the theme that this is what brings the software and the IP and the design flow together.

“Certainly EDA has been thinking along these lines for a long, long time – looking at the physical side of the chips – but the process libraries in the IP world and the process technologies for the foundries are also now part of the equation, and the software that sits on top of the systems.

“The path the ESD Alliance is headed down now will drive things that can’t be done by one company, or one class of companies, things for which the whole ecosystem must function together.

“And although the ESD Alliance is not a standards body, we are in a position to identify where emerging standards might take the industry and to provide the leadership to push for the economic benefits that such standards can provide.

“In particular, consider the importance of power: The California Energy Commission has just come out with power standards that should apply to monitors and desktop PCs. The ESD Alliance has an opportunity to provide leadership in this area.

“Helping to accelerate good design would make all of us more sensitive to the energy demands of the products we create – a definite win for everybody involved. We don’t need any more regulation, at least here in California, but we could work as an organization to coordinate efforts across our industries to help achieve this end.”

“This is the type of conversation,” Pierce said, “that Bob Smith and I are having right now: How can we put the strength of the ESD Alliance to even better use for all?”

Grant Pierce’s admirable sentiments aside – those aimed at fostering a holistic framework within which the ESD Alliance could contribute a defining role – I asked if he could also work on issuing an Executive Order with regards to one of my own favorite agenda items.

Could we get past the formalities, I asked, and start calling the organization ESDA? It’s so much more sleek than The ESD Alliance, so much more in the spirit of the old, succinct EDAC days.

Pierce again laughed, but declined to commit: “Well, I haven’t issued any Executive Orders yet, but if that one seems important, I’ll see what I can do.

“Meanwhile, I think I’ll be busy building relationships with the rest of the Board, to make sure the membership is thriving and that the organization is in a good financial position.

“I also hope we’ll be able to do some experimentation – and in my case, some quick learning – to create a compelling argument for an even larger, even more diverse membership.

“The ESD Alliance offers great opportunities for collaboration that every member company can benefit from. We want to continue to drive home this message across the entire ecosystem.”


About Grant Pierce …

Pierce is a co-founder of Sonics, Inc., was elected to the ESD Alliance (formerly the EDA Consortium) Board of Directors in 2014 and will serve as chairman until the next board elections in 2018.

He has served as Sonics’ CEO and President, and as Chairman of the Board of Directors since 1997.

Over the earlier part of his more than 30-year career in high technology, Pierce served in senior management roles in a wide range of companies that built digital media and communications devices, object-oriented software development environments, fabless semiconductors, mini-computer systems, and peripherals.

Pierce is a former CPA, and began his career with Arthur Andersen and Co.


ESD Alliance Board of Directors …

• Aart de Geus, Chairman and CEO of Synopsys
• Dean Drako, President and CEO of IC Manage
• Amit Gupta, President and CEO of Solido Design Automation
• John Kibarian, President, CEO and Co-founder of PDF Solutions
• Lucio Lanza, Managing director at Lanza techVentures
• Wally Rhines, Chairman and CEO of Mentor Graphics
• Simon Segars, CEO of ARM
• Lip-Bu Tan, President and CEO of Cadence Design Systems
• Bob Smith, Executive Director of ESD Alliance [newly elected]


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