Interview: David Kirk, CEO of Murata Electronics North America

April 11, 2011
Interview by Nancy Friedrich

NF: We've all witnessed the horrible devastation in Japan due to the record earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power-plant breakdowns. Is Murata Electronics North America doing anything to help with disaster relief? Is there anything that our readers can do to help you in those efforts?

DK: Our parent company, Murata Manufacturing Co., sent emergency supplies to Tome City and the Izumi district of Sendai City. We then announced the donation of 100 million yen (US $1,230,000) to help relief and recovery efforts in communities affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Our Murata Electronics North America group will match employees' donations. I think your readers could help by making donations to the American Red Cross.

NF: Thanks for letting us know how we can help. We understand that you are the first US-based CEO of Murata's North American Headquarter operations. That's quite an honor. What do you think inspired this change?

DK: The current President of Murata Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Tsuneo Murata, spent his early years with Murata in some entrepreneurial-type business based in the US. He understands the speed with which decisions are made in organizations like that. As the company's business has grown and gone global, it has become increasingly difficult to manage and move quickly with the now-increased speed of business. The typical four-year rotation of an expat has been successful, and many of the people who have passed through North America are now in key leadership positions. It's difficult, howeverwith such a short cycleto build deeper, longer-term relationships in the market and maintain a pulse on emerging technologies and applications. This can be done best through locals, who have longer-term relationships, connections in the venture-capitalist community, standards bodies, etc. and can build long-term partnerships.

NF: Given the cultural differences between the parent company in Japan and Murata Electronics North America, what challenges do you face?

DK: Understanding how decisions get made and communication are the real keys. Preparation and building confidence will be important to increase the speed of business inside the Murata decision-making process. The investment and partnership with RF Monolithics (RFM) is a good example, as this was processed and completed within eight weeks.

NF: Are the market opportunities different between the North American division and the parent company?

DK: The North American markets overlap in areas like communications. Design wins achieved in North America are critical to securing business at the overseas assembly houses or subcontractors. There are other markets that are different here, though, such as industrial and healthcare. There are emerging applications within these markets like smart grid, energy management, andin general wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity. Many standards also emerge from the North American market, such as ZigBee, WirelessHART, and the Continua Health Alliance.

NF: When you look at the RF and microwave landscape, where do you see the most interesting, new opportunities for Murata Electronics North America?

DK: The communications market still holds a lot of opportunities, as you can imagine. But the emerging M2M market holds so many new and exciting opportunities. The Murata Wireless Solutions team has recently launched a ZigBeePro module and also a new USNAP module for the smart-energy home-area-network (HAN) market.

NF: Tell us about Murata's evolution from a provider of capacitors and miniaturized components to more modular approaches. Have there been any major bumps in the road?

DK: I think "evolution" best describes the process. Murata has blended its core competencies, such as various miniaturized components, with some acquired technologies and its high-volume-production expertise. This took timeand when blended with the latest semiconductor product, culminates in industry-leading modules. I don't think there were any major bumps in the road, but Murata has done a few acquisitions over the years. Those certainly helped, and the company will continue to look for ways to improve that process and speed up integration.

NF: Although you were most recently head of RF Monolithics, you spent 14 years at Murata Electronics North America earlier in your career. Do you feel like you're "coming home" in a sense?

DK: This is most definitely a "coming home." I started with Murata right out of college as a Product Engineer. I got a wonderful education with good, high-quality products and also on how business is done with an international flavor. The 13 years at RFM were also extremely valuable in understanding a public company, reporting requirements, pressures to change and grow the business, investor expectations, etc. In my time at RFM, it transitioned from mainly a surface-acoustic-wave (SAW) component companyfocused on the automotive marketto a module supplier in diverse markets, such as medical and industrial. I am sure things have changed at Murata, as you can never really go home again. But I am very much looking forward to being back.

NF: If you were to post one quote or mantra in your office to inspire you as you take your new position, what would it be?

DK: I am not very big on these types of things, but the overall concept is easy. The goal is to grow the business, profitably. Once a goal is set, the only way to achieve it is to "work together." If everyone is focused in the same direction, as a unified unit, we will be successful.

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