An Interview With Joseph G. Thomas, Jr.

April 20, 2010
NF: After being part of larger corporations for a long time, M/A-COM Technology Solutions is now privately held, correct? JT: That's correct. We are now a private standalone company with our sole focus on the RF, microwave, and millimeter-wave ...

NF: After being part of larger corporations for a long time, M/A-COM Technology Solutions is now privately held, correct?

JT: That's correct. We are now a private standalone company with our sole focus on the RF, microwave, and millimeter-wave space. Our owner, John Ocampo, is a private investor. But more importantly for us, John has been a very successful entrepreneur in this industry for his entire career.

NF: How has the move to being private affected the company in terms of core competencies?

JT: It's too early to roll out a list of new core competencies, although we've certainly kicked off a set of new investments that will significantly impact us starting in about two to three years. However, there is a lot we are able to do in the meantime as a private standalone company on existing competencies. We can make changes very rapidly in how we drive the best competencies harder and not worry so much about trying to give attention to as many things as we did in the recent past.

NF: Your employees have been through a lot of changes. What steps has the firm taken to make them feel secure and motivated during the transition back to a private company?

JT: Our employee base has been through a lot, given the double sale of our business during last year's economic-meltdown period (which in itself negatively impacted all companies). But we have very resilient employees. We've begun to re-invigorate our employees through a series of effortsthe most important of which is the ability to communicate a solid future. We've done a better job of communicating our near-term goals and getting employees involved with many improvement projects. We have informal, focused employee meetings and have instituted multiple employee recognition vehicles, such as a service awards programtapping back into many things that have done well for us in our 60-year history when we were a standalone company. Our financial performance has improvednot to where I want us to eventually be, but the cash our business generates from operations allows us to increase our investment levels for future growth. The evolving market recovery is also helping ushaving any uncertainty regarding the spin-off activity well behind us at this point.

NF: What is the company culture like today at M/A-COM Technology Solutions?

JT: The biggest shifts are very much a "can-do" attitude and the ability to move faster as a private standalone company. Also, we're a much smaller company compared to when we were part of some larger corporations. So today, every employee has the ability to make a noticeable impact as well as really be heard.

NF: Can you tell me about the company's history, which goes back more than 60 years?

JT: Sure, it has been an interesting ride. Having been here for almost 35 years, I've seen a lot of changes. To start at the beginning, our company was founded as Microwave Associates in August of 1950. Our first customer was the US Army, to which we provided glass tubing for cutting-edge radar systems. Focused on the rapidly emerging semiconductor business, the company expanded its horizons in the late 1960s and 1970s through strategic and extensive R&D investment. The company name was changed to M/A-COM, Inc. in 1978 to reflect the evolving nature of the company.

During the 1990s, M/A-COM reinvented itself again by shifting its major focus from the defense sector to the commercial market. It did so by broadening its technology and market approach to include a variety of wireless systemsin particular private and public radio networks. Starting in 1995, the company went through a series of leadership changes resulting from being acquired and divested by companies like AMP, Tyco, Tyco Electronics, and finally Cobham plc in 2008. Cobham consolidated the component business assets in the newly formed M/ACOM Technology Solutions, Inc. for further divestiture. In 2009, John Ocampo, industry veteran and entrepreneur, acquired M/A-COM Tech. Today, M/A-COM Technology Solutions is getting back to its roots and building on its innovations over the last 60 years. Aerospace and defense, CATV/broadcast, test and instrumentation, and point-to-point communications are now the growth drivers. In 2010, M/A-COM Tech began seeing a return to profitable growth and industry leadership. Our goal is to be known by everyone in the industry as the First Name in Microwave the company that delivers innovative products by innovative people.

NF: Now that M/A-COM Tech is a smaller, more focused company in terms of technology, what types of opportunities will you pursue?

JT: Our predominant growth focus is in the RF semiconductor space. The core technology areas are amplification, switching, and frequency-generation functions realized with our radio-frequency integrated circuits (RFICs), transistors, and diode products for applications in the radar, communications, and industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) markets. New areas also are being added. Some are showing rapid results while others will come on-stream in a couple of years.

NF: M/A-COM Tech recently released a line of voltage-controlled oscillators (VCOs) for backhaul. Is infrastructure your biggest market focus?

JT: It's a growth area for sure but I wouldn't call it our largest. It is off to a very good start, given the fact that we introduced the initial products well under a year ago. Overall, our plan for backhaul is to expand our product offering so we can essentially supply all of the key elements of our customer's block diagram.

NF: In the past, you and I spoke about emerging opportunities in sensing technologies. Can you define sensing for our readers and explain the reasons for growth?

JT: There are multiple opportunities for wireless or wired sensing. There are opportunities in the safety, positioning, and "green" areas. We have a new product ramping this year in the positioning area that works in the Ford Sync program. We've enjoyed the run-up, as Ford has done very well over the past year. In the green area, a good target is a play on improving the efficiency of the grid. This effort is a new one for us and we'll have a better assessment of it over the next year.

NF: How do safety and security fall into the market for sensing?

JT: Perimeter security is a great example. Here, the term "perimeter" can be that of a person, the footprint of a building, a nation's border, or even a defined zone of atmosphere. Sensingeither passive or activeallows for the continuous monitoring of some criteria that helps to enable safety or security. M/A-COM Tech was a pioneer in the wideband millimeter-wave sensing products that are used in passive airport-screening applications. This same technology can be ported to a police vehicle. When an officer pulls over a subject, he or she could then "look" into the vehicle to see if the suspect is armed from the safety of the police vehicle.

NF: Please tell me about the opportunities you see in "green" technology.

JT: Green technology is not only good for the environment; it's also good for business. Today, M/A-COM Tech products enable green applications at both the appliance level as well as in the infrastructure for "smart-grid" applications. Our products are used to extend battery life in mobile handheld devices and enable "Energy Star"-rated products like set-top boxes for CATV networks. They also are used in the automaticmeter- reading (AMR) units in smart grids. We are currently on a program with the Department of Energy (DOE) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop technology that may someday be deployed in the grid itself to help improve transmission efficiencies

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