Marvell's New CTO Wants 'Culture of Innovation'

Release time:2017-05-09
source:EE Times

Neil Kim is just what the doctor ordered for Marvell — a booster shot of positive, practical engineering energy for a company about halfway through a major surgical makeover. The former head of Broadcom’s central engineering group spent an hour with EE Times sharing his views at the end of his first week on the job as Marvell’s new chief technologist.

It’s been a wild ride at Marvell, and it’s not over yet. A year ago, Marvell founders — chief executive Sehat Sutardja and president Weili Dai, his wife — resigned as the company’s finances tumbled amid investigations of accounting practices. Revenues and profits had fallen from $3.6 billion and $435 million in 2015, respectively, to $2.6 billion with an $811 million loss a year later.

Since then, the company has essentially replaced its entire board and top tier of management. Last May, Rick Hill, former chief executive of Novellus Systems, became Marvell’s chairman. In June, Matthew Murphy, a senior executive from Maxim Integrated, was named chief executive. In less than a year, Murphy has hired a half-dozen execs under him, with Kim being the most recent, and the third to come from rival Broadcom.

The financial freefall stabilized in Marvell’s last fiscal year to revenues of $2.3 billion and a $21 million profit. The company has 4,600 employees, down nearly 40% from its peak of 7,300 in 2014. Current management estimates that another 900 will leave, and it has earmarked an undisclosed number of products it aims to cancel or sell off.

Murphy has indicated that he aims to complete the restructuring by October. Even when he is done, Marvell still faces a number of strategic challenges.

While it has been focused on rebuilding itself, the semiconductor industry around it has gone through a historic consolidation. Marvell’s top competitors in embedded processors, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi have beefed up for the next rounds of battle amid slowing market growth. Broadcom merged with Avago, and Qualcomm is set to gobble up NXP, enabling new levels of chip integration, savings, and economies of scale.

About half of Marvell’s current business is in a sunset sector — controllers for hard disk drives. It’s a business that depends on a few big customers.

Marvell’s second largest customer after Western Digital — Toshiba’s electronics group — is now up for sale. Its third biggest customer, WinTech, is a relatively small memory module maker.

Former CEO Sutardja was himself an engineer at heart. He was known for getting deeply involved in projects such as MoChi, a silicon interconnect that he described in a 2015 ISSCC keynote, one of his last major public talks.

Neil Kim spent the last 15 years of his career building and overseeing Broadcom’s central engineering group. It was known for being a disciplined practitioner of silicon design and reuse, a skill that the company relied on repeatedly as it grew by acquisition.

Kim retired from Broadcom last year just before Avago closed the deal to buy the company in one of the largest of many recent large mergers. We spoke to Kim after his first week at Marvell’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

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