Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
Arm Momentum: Segars embraces exciting times
November 9th, 2017 by Peggy Aycinena
Last year, Japan-based SoftBank purchased ARM for $32 billion, just a few days after the Brexit vote, and took the company private. This year, SoftBank sold 25-percent of ARM to Saudi Arabia, in a deal that was part of the company’s (and kingdom’s) Vision Fund juggernaut.
Simon Segars has more than survived all of this change. He is still CEO of the most ubiquitous IP provider in the world, and now also has a seat on the Board of Directors of SoftBank.
As I prepared for my phone call with Segars last week, I was pretty sure he would decline to answer the bulk of the questions on my list. Surprisingly, however, he answered all of them, with ease and on the record. We started with the most astonishing news of all: ARM has changed its name.
Q: Why ARM to Arm?
Simon Segars: [laughing] When ARM was originally founded, it was called Advanced RISC Machines, and by the time we went public, everyone referred to it as ARM. So we went through the branding exercise – logos, fonts, colors – and at the IPO, renamed it as ARM. That was in 1998.
Now here we are in 2017, and a lot has changed. We thought it was time to rethink our branding and to introduce some fresh thinking into the company. We wanted to refresh our image.
[By asking] how do we want to present ourselves, all aspects of how we present things, we developed a refreshed brand image. We have changed from what looked like an old-fashioned set of fonts and logos to something fresher and more modern
Q: I cringe at the expense of all of the new letterhead and business cards.
Simon Segars: [laughing] Yes, that is true.
Q: How are things going with the company?
Simon Segars: Very good. We are in a really exciting time.
We are looking to the future – the new ways the technology will be used, new road maps, new technology, and the new IP our partners will be needing.
We are investing significantly in the world of IoT, so things that need to be connected will be. We know a world driven by data will usher in a new era for the company and the industry.
There is a lot going on with the company, and we are in a period of growth. Since the acquisition, we have hired over a thousand people.
Q: How many employees does Arm have at this point?
Simon Segars: Gosh, I believe it’s well over 5000.
Q: Where do you get your employees?
Simon Segars: From all over. We have grown globally, so yeah – from all sorts of places.
We are still actively recruiting graduates each year, with programs for hiring fresh out of university. And we have internships, but are not just hiring at the bottom. We are hiring at [all levels] into the company.
Q: In a nutshell, what is Arm’s technology?
Simon Segars: We have a platform to enable intelligence in semiconductor devices. We are trying to enable computers to be built and deployed in all form factors, all shapes and sizes.
Obviously the types of algorithms running in the data center need a different collection of intelligence than those in an IoT device. We are trying to enable all types of computers.
Q: AI and machine learning are the new emphasis in marketing. Are they also reflected in new technology initiatives at companies like Arm?
Simon Segars: Yes, AI and machine learning are very important in our spending on R&D. At Arm TechCon last week, I spoke about this in my keynote.
The future will be shaped by the ability to exploit the mass of data that will be generated by AI and machine learning, which will require new models as our partners create new [devices] to meet the needs.
Q: Do you work with customers to craft a core unique to their needs, or is the emphasis on developing something that can be used by many customers?
Simon Segars: The way we work with partners has changed, because of the size and scale of everything. We take our IP, we talk to our partners, and then try to supersize a road map so a single product can be used by many different customers.
We do build individual products for individual customers, but what we are [always doing is] is building a platform where we can work with an ecosystem that can support that industry.
Q: Are you a product company or a services company?
Simon Segars: Oh, definitely a product company, one that builds on efficiencies.
Q: Are those efficiencies working well for you?
Simon Segars: When you look at our product line-up, one could say that’s a lot of stuff. But the same CPU or GPU is being used by a lot of different people, in many, many different designs. That is a very efficient model.
They can run an ecosystem to support it, and [know there’s] a critical mass for these third-party companies with lots of potential customers for their products.
Q: Is it a selling point for your customers to say Arm Inside?
Simon Segars: Our customer’s customers get a lot out of the Arm architecture. When someone can write software and run it on the [platforms] of 200 different people, that is definitely a value-add.
Q: Will we ever have an agency or standards body that quantifies the quality of a block of IP?
Simon Segars: There have been attempts, for instance which view would be supplied for a block of IP. But now the industry has matured enough, the de-facto standard of what you can expect from IP has also [matured].
I think if something like that was going to happen, it would have happened by now. Something like you are suggesting is not going to happen anytime soon.
Q: Who is your competition?
Simon Segars: We have competition on a number of fronts.
For instance, many companies are still building their own microprocessors. And in various applications, we compete with different people as we are pushing into the data center, and into networking and numerous architectures.
And there is RISC-V, which is new and disruptive in its own way. Who knows what will happen next?
We have lots of partnerships [through which] we shipped 17 billion chips in the last year, 100 billion chips cumulatively over the last 25 years.
Q: Is it the responsibility of the IP company to provide integration tools for incorporating a block of IP into a design, or is that still the provenance of EDA?
Simon Segars: Largely, yeah, that’s what the EDA companies do and why we partner with them. To make sure our mutual customers have a good experience in using our IP.
The EDA companies have a lot of expertise in place-and-route, in analysis, and in sign-off. It’s their expertise and why we choose to partner with them and not compete with them.
Q: Many saw it as opportunistic that the purchase of ARM was executed just days after the Brexit vote. Did SoftBank win as result, or ARM?
Simon Segars: Many people have said it was opportunistic, but you do not decide to spend $32 billion off the back of that kind of thing. We had been thinking about it for a long time, and Masayoshi Son [CEO of SoftBank]. It was just a coincidence and nothing more.
Q: Has it impacted the governance of Arm that the company is now partially owned by Saudi Arabia?
Simon Segars: No, it has not impacted us at all. It has not changed our board, our governance, or the way we are doing business.
The Vision Fund is run by SoftBank, and Saudi Arabia is the single largest investor, but it is not the only investor.
Q: How are you enjoying your role on the board of SoftBank?
Simon Segars: Masayoshi Son is one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met. He has a long view for business and technology that I have never seen in anyone.
The vision he is bringing to life is quite phenomenal. I am enjoying the position on his board, and the chance to help make his dreams a reality.
Q: How often are you in Japan?
Simon Segars: I have lost count, but it isn’t quite monthly. Yes, a lot of frequent flier miles.
Q: How often are you in Cambridge?
Simon Segars: In the last year, less than I had been in previous years.
Prior to the acquisition, I would go most months, but in the last year it’s been much less than that. I typically go for an extended period over the summer, and did do that again this year.
But the last 12 months have been abnormal with [respect to my schedule], and I can’t tell you yet what the new normal will be.
Q: How often are you in Silicon Valley, the place you currently call home?
Simon Segars: It has its peaks and flat period. I’ve always traveled a lot in my time at Arm, so my family is [somewhat accustomed] to that. And there have always been moments when it gets crazy.
Q: Arm has always expressed concern about the impact of technology on social issues.
Simon Segars: Yes, that was what I was talking about last week at TechCon.
What I observe is: As the IoT becomes a reality, as the digitalization of everyday life becomes greater and greater, unfortunately the threats to our security become greater and greater.
Computers were conceived prior to the notion that everything would be connected together by the Internet. The security model for your laptop was [designed] for putting a safe shell around it and protecting what’s inside.
But hackers are getting really clever. They try to phish you to get your credentials, and your passwords. And, people pick simple passwords and use the same password all over. It’s all a bit of a mess and security’s weak today because of the complexity. Complexity is definitely the enemy of security.
You can buy something today at Fry’s, but who knows if there is security [built into that product] or not. Most consumers are not experts on security. They explore that settings when they first buy a device, see that it’s all okay, and then they assume the system won’t introduce danger into their computer or personal life.
Now roll the clock forward till another trillion devices are connected. Things have got to change, and the security around everything. The companies who develop electronics products will need to develop standards, and those standards should be around security features – because the customers [are trusting them to do that].
There is a contract, even today, between those who create electronic systems and the consumer, between the producer of the systems and the user.
Q: That is all admirable, but even the EDA companies refuse to take responsibility for the quality of the products their tools are used to produce.
Simon Segars: I have a comment about that, and I disagree.
[That sort of thing] is ultimately self-limiting, and is very true for EDA companies that make tools that don’t work. If people don’t trust a product, they won’t deploy it, so the companies need to get it right.
This industry is small enough that if we produce something that doesn’t work, the customers are aware, so the companies do take responsibility.
Q: Why belong to the ESD Alliance?
Simon Segars: I care that my licensees have a great experience integrating my IP with the EDA tools, which is why we belong to the ESD Alliance.
When I first got introduced to EDAC by Bob Gardner, now the ESD Alliance, it seemed like a forum where the key leaders of EDA come together and it seemed like a good idea to have a healthy relationship with them.
Q: You’re on the Board of Directors for the ESD Alliance. How do you have time to be involved, given everything else on your plate?
Simon Segars: [laughing] It’s got to be said that I am somewhat busy, but still it’s important. And it’s not the most time-consuming thing I do.
We have a good set of relationships with the companies in the EDA Alliance. It’s an example of an ecosystem that helps our customers get better results, quickly and more predictably.
Q: Do you think there needs to be more IP companies in the Alliance?
Simon Segars: Other IP companies are certainly welcome to join, but the Alliance is about more than just IP. Many other people and companies need to be involved.
Q: Can a tech company be lead by someone without a technical background, or does that role require a technologist who has somehow picked up the requisite business acumen?
Simon Segars: Having a strong technical background is important for running a technical company, but a number of people do it successfully without that background. In the main, however, you do need a strong technical background.
I know a lot of people with engineering backgrounds who go on to get an MBA, and get their expertise that way. I’ve learned it through by being fortunate enough to be in a company that was growing fast, and having the opportunity to learn from others.
There are different ways to get there, but the point of running a business is to run it successfully on behalf of the share holders, to produce great technology, and do a good job.
Q: I’m quite the Anglophile, but am still worried about the perception of not-great food in the UK.
Simon Segars: [laughing] Sadly, we are doing nothing to improve the perception of food in the UK.
Certainly, in the big cities in the UK, you can find all sorts of food – bad, good, in between. And in the last 10 to 15 years, in London in particular, the breadth and depth of [food offerings] has been excellent.
Q: But still, can we outlaw the full English breakfast, with the bangers and bacon, fried slice, fried tomatoes and fried eggs? So much cholesterol, it’s the stuff of your cardiologist’s nightmare.
Simon Segars: [laughing] You can get fat even on healthy food the world around.
As for the English breakfast, you can choose to eat it, or not. Although I don’t eat the cooked breakfast very often, I do admit that a guilty pleasure of mine is the full English.
Simon Segars is CEO of Arm Holdings. He led the development of early ground-breaking Arm processors – the Arm7 and Arm9 – powering the world’s first digital mobile phones. He played a key role in developing industry standards, and his engineering work led to him being granted several embedded-systems patents.
He became VP of Engineering in 2001, and before being named as Arm CEO in July 2013, held several other strategy positions including Global Head of Sales. He was personally responsible for expanding the company’s U.S. business and strengthening its leadership and relationships in California’s Silicon Valley, where he still lives with his family.
Segars helped steer the company through the 2016 acquisition by SoftBank, and in June 2017, was elected to serve on the SoftBank Board of Directors. He also sits on the boards of the Global Semiconductor Alliance [GSA], the ESD Alliance [formerly the EDA Consortium], Techworks, and is a Non-executive Director at Dolby Laboratories, Inc.
Segars has a BEng in Electronic Engineering from the University of Sussex, and an MSc in Computer Science from the University of Manchester.