RW: George Wells, a native of Scotland, has been in the semiconductor industry since 1960 when he was hired at Transitron in the U.S. Later, heeding the call of Silicon Valley, George traveled west to Fairchild Semiconductor where he held a variety of management positions in manufacturing and engineering. He was recruited to General Electric, eventually heading up all semiconductor operations there. In 1985, he became president and COO of LSI Logic, joining his old friend, Wilf Corrigan. And in 1992, he became CEO of Exar, a mixed signal semiconductor supplier.
RW: Well, I’m here with George Wells in his lovely Saratoga home. So George, tell me about growing up. What was your family like?
GW: Oh. Well, you want me to go back a long way, don’t you? [Laughs] Yeah, well, I was the youngest of four children and my next eldest brother, who’s still with us, he’s ten years older than I – there were four of us – three boys and a girl. And my early recollections unfortunately have to do with wartime pretty much because at the age of five years old, in the war, we were – our homes were bombed. And so that was a – that was a pretty tough time. We lost our house, the Nazis bombed the place. Town called Clydebank, which is about eight miles west of Glasgow – and where the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth and the QE2 were all built – were all built in my hometown in Scotland. And so we – we went hungry for a while. We were – we – and I – I remember that vividly because it did affect the family quite a bit – but we had to break up. We – two of us were in a hostel and – and the other two were in the YMCA and we were evacuated. And – but there was some lemonade out of the lemons because it – it brought us together very closely as a family. And we wondered if we’d ever see each other again, I mean they were still – still bombing the place routinely because it was a strategic shipbuilding town. Built a lot of aircraft carriers and destroyers and battleships there as well. So those are my early reco – recollections and – but as I was growing up, I was l – lucky that I didn’t find school any issue at all. I used to romp through the examinations with ease. But my big love was soccer. My father refereed soccer for twenty-five years, my brother played in the Scottish Premier League for a team called Hibernian, which was very famous in Scotland. The brother who’s next to me, Tommy, he actually played for Scotland. He wore the national jersey. And I was soccer crazy and I’m going to – I’m going to talk about football now, not soccer. I could never understand why they called American football football. Soccer is football, so we’ll talk about football for a minute or two. I wanted to play for the – the – the most important team in – arguably, the most important team in – in Scotland which was the Glasgow Rangers, but I was never quite good enough. I played for the high school team and I played for my university and I really wanted to be a professional football player. But my brother – my oldest brother, who died unfortunately two years ago at age of eighty-eight – he was my inspiration and I – I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He was also a brilliant mathematician and when he decided he was leaving school to support the family because we were – we were not well off, lower middle class. And my parents struggled – my father was a ship draftsman, which didn’t – didn’t bring in a lot of money. But Archie decided he was leaving school and the headmaster visited my mother and said you can’t let this happen. This boy has a phenomenal brain for numbers. He’s got to go to university. And my mother prevailed upon him but he wouldn’t listen. He said no, I’m – I’m going to go to work. And he went to work at the Singer Manufacturing Company, which you know very well is a sewing machine company, an American company. And there was a huge factory in Clydebank that made sewing machines, Singer sewing machines. So he went to work there. He’s sixteen years my senior and he was almost – he was like a second father to me. He took me to all of the games and I was all over the country with him on the – on the team bus and so on and so forth. But my mother had decided this wasn’t going to happen to this son. This guy was doing so well in school. She – and I didn’t know this – she was determined the heck with football. I’m – he’s going to get an education. So she planned my whole educational career and – and went to – made sure that I went to University of Glasgow. And fortunately we didn’t have to pay very much for it. It was Scot – Scottish education at the time was – was very highly rated in the world and I was able to go through university without paying for anything except the books. So that wasn’t – it was no big – no big strain on – financially for my folks, which was a good thing. But my mother planned the whole thing and she’s the reason I’m here today and enjoying such a – a nice life. When I was going through – when I went to university, all of this easy stuff at school went away. It was a grind. I didn’t have it as easy as I did in high school and I had to work very hard and – and mathematics was easy, but we had to do other courses. I did an astronomy course for a couple of years. But physics, I had some real trouble with physics and I really focused hard to get better grades in physics and of course, in the end, I m – I made it my major and I got an honors degree in physics from the Glasgow University in 1957. I liked the physics so much that I stayed on for two years postgraduate work and got very interested in nuclear physics and was – was headed for my PhD with the DSIR Department of Scientific and Industrial Research funding me at Glasgow, which had a huge synchrotron, a really great – and a Van de Graff accelerator – two really very important pieces of equipment. And – but after two years and – and having got – gotten my thesis through in two years, my wife, Rona, became pregnant and so we were married at – at – we were married in ’59 and she – she became pregnant almost immediately. And then I had to go find a job. So that’s – that’s pretty much the story. It was all about football and then all about high school and university. And in 1960, after spending a year at – at Wembley in England, working as a microwave research physicist for GEC, which was the best offer I got when I had to leave and I was there only for a year. And a company called Transitron – a semiconductor company called Transitron in the Boston area – town called Wakefield – advertised in a Sunday newspaper. My wife and I took the train down there; I took an interview at the Dorchester Hotel with Transitron and was hired that day. And six weeks later, we were in America, June 1960.
RW: Now did you have any concerns about moving to America or was it something you really kind of wanted to do?
GW: No, you know, the thing that really – the thing that really triggered it was with a – with a young family – and Rona had two kids by the time she was twenty – with a young family, my key was to – to earn a good living and make sure that I was going to take of them. And tax rate in – in England at the time, I was earning a thousand pounds a year, which in those days was about twenty-eight hundred dollars a year and the exchange rate was about two point eight to one. The government was taking about forty percent of that and I thought that was outrageous and that it didn’t leave me with much. So we weren’t saving very much money. I couldn’t buy a home; I didn’t have enough money to buy a home. And when the – when Transitron made this offer, wh – which was like three times what I was earning at GEC, I – I thought well – we’d – we’d – Rona and I talked about it and she was very adventurous. A self confessed tomboy when she was a girl and she was up for anything. So we had no qualms about it whatsoever. And what was fortunate was that in those days, there was no quota on Brits, no quota whatsoever. As many Brits as wanted to come into America were allowed to come into America. Now that changed but that – at 1960, there was no problem. I was in awe when I arrived, I was in awe. I thought oh, my, this magnificent country, magnificent manufacturing prowess and power. And I – and Rona and I had the attitude, well, you know, if it doesn’t work, we can always come back. I had done some night school teaching when I was going through university and I – I knew I – as a fallback position, I could teach. And I liked it, I enjoyed teaching. So we kind of said well, let’s give it a shot and see what happens. So no, we didn’t have any qualms. We knew there was a way back if we – we didn’t like it.
RW: So you’re in semiconductors now.
GW: Mmm hmm.
RW: Who did you meet there that I might know of?
GW: Oh, there were quite a few people that were there. I was – we were there about two months when a good friend of mine, a boy – a man called Bob Lloyd – he was very kind to us, an Englishman and he – he took us everywhere. I couldn’t drive; I’d never owned a car. I never owned a bike. In all my life, I’d never had a bike, never mind a car. So I couldn’t drive and Bob used to transport me back and forth to work and he would take Rona and I off on weekends. And he was an Englishman and one day he said, hey, I’ve got a – a message from a friend of mine who was at London University, a man called Wilf Corrigan and he’s coming over and he needs a place to stay. Well, Rona and I were in this – it’s a boardinghouse type of thing. It was a house and it had three – had three bachelor pads upstairs and Bob was in one of them. And so he was saying how about Wilf going in the – one of the others. So we went down to the airport and met him and brought him back and that’s when I met Wilf. He was hired by Transitron just a couple of months after I was. Bob Swanson, who I mentioned a little earlier, who now runs Linear Technology and has done a great job with that company for a lot of years, he was on the same bench as I. We were doing – you know, we were doing research on semiconductors. Jim Diller, you may remember Jim Diller. He was at Transitron at that time. So there were quite a few – a few names. I’m trying to think of the other chap who was at National who became a vice-president at National in the – in the later years. But anyway –yeah, it was quite a few.
RW: But Transitron itself was high up on the American semiconductor manufacturer.
GW: Oh, they were the predominant manufacturer of semiconductors at that time. They had the m – m – a market share lead, a substantial market share lead. And at that time, I think the – the market was over, what, three hundred million or something dollars. Three hundred million dollar market. And you know, it’s about what, two hundred fifty billion now. Yeah, it’s been a great ride. But yeah, Transitron was – was predominant, Texas Instruments, which not many people know this, but Texas Instruments started off as an oil company. They – they did oil electronics and got into the – and got into the semiconductor business quite a bit after Transitron had started. And it was – it was interesting in those days because most of the semiconductor stuff was done on the East Coast by the larger companies like RCA and GE. So Transitron was the only stand alone semiconductor of any magnitude in the early days. So that’s – that’s one of the reasons I went there because I saw semiconductors making a huge difference in the space game. Remember my interest in astronomy, I thought these devices – these devices will get us on the moon because they’re so small and require such small power supplies that the problem of the day, which was called payload, was trying to get the rockets payload, or the weight of the – the rocket, trying to get that rocket out of the Earth’s gravitational pull. And a lot of the electronics in there were huge – huge power supplies and large vacuum tubes and these things were going to replace them. So that kind of – that kind of attracted me to – to the semiconductor business, to – yeah, but. no doubt about it Transitron was number one at the time.
RW: So what at Transitron – what was your position?
GW: I was a process engineer. Simply a process engineer and developing new processes and ways to do things more cost effectively. This was in the days when gold was thirty-five bucks an ounce and we could sell anything that rectified for six dollars. And that same rectifier would probably cost about seven cents today. Yeah, so it – so it was – it was all about development. It was developing processes that could improve the reli – reliability and improve the cost effectiveness of semiconductors. I was a bit – a bit concerned when I realized that even although I was on a salary, that was three times as much as I was earning in England. There were a lot of Europeans here were brought over by Transitron. Quite a few Dutch guys, couple of Irish guys, Welsh guys, English guys and I found out later that the American engineers were being paid much more than the European imports. And you know how when you’re young and you’re young – you – you got these ideals and, you know, I didn’t think that was right. So I went to the president of Transitron, who was the one who hired me in London, and I said you know, Dave, this is not right. You know, you’re paying these guys fifty percent on top of what you’re paying us and, frankly, I think we’re better educated. I do. And I did think that. I think that’s, you know, it’s not – it doesn’t sit well with me. And he said well, I’ll tell you what George, I’ll – I’ll increase your salary by eight hundred a year starting Monday. And that ticked me off. I said no, sorry. That’s not going to work. So I quit. I just flat quit and I went looking for a job. And long story short, I did some interviewing and I ended up working for another chap that you know, I think – Tom Longo. You know Tom Longo, Doctor Tom Longo?
GW: Who hired me to Sylvania, GTE Sylvania, who had a very good semiconductor program going. And in fact, it was just about the time when the integrated circuit, as opposed to discrete devices like diodes and transistors – but when the integrated circuit was invented by some say Bob Noyce and some say it’s a Texan. And I think it was Bob that invented it, but anyway, when the integrated circuit was invented, the – Sylvania developed a very, very sophisticated IC that went by the name of SUHL, S – U – H – L. Sylvania ultra high level logic, SUHL. And the only contender in the IC race at the time was TI with their T squared L line. The only problem with the Sylvania stuff was that it was very difficult to manufacture, very difficult to yield on a consistently high basis, so it was more costly. And as history will record, the Texans won out because they had the lower cost device, even though it wasn’t as – as – as good – it wasn’t as technically capable, didn’t have the features of SUHL. They could get it at the right price and that was – that was why SUHL eventually died out. It just couldn’t compete. So I was there until just after the death of Kennedy and I my folks got sick and I returned to England to work for ITT in Kent, England. And was there three years and then came back to Sylvania after three years. So that – that – it was then in ’69 – and I remember when I left England, the – the key event of that year was the World Cup, which – the Football World Cup, which England won. So I got to see that before I came back to the States.
GW: And came back to Sylvania. They’d heard that both my parents had died and – and they asked me to go back, so I went back in a – an engineering manager’s position and spent another three years there before coming to California. Well, Wilf had been asking - Wilf Corrigan had been calling me when I was at Transitron, asking me to come and join him at Motorola. And – my – we weren’t ready to go another three thousand miles away from home, so we didn’t do that. But in ’69, we did. Wilf finally got my attention and so I came and joined Fairchild, where – where – where Wilf was – had just come over from Motorola to help Les Hogan and he – Les Hogan and his heroes.
RW: And so…
GW: So that was ’69.
RW: Okay. So that’s when you went to Fairchild and moved out to California?
RW: Now you had been in New England, you’d been in Old England.
RW: And then California.
RW: Now what – could you contrast those?
GW: Yeah. Well, I – I was I was very lucky. I mean, I’ve always been – I’ve been very lucky in my life, I have to say. You know, they talk about being in the right place at the right time and so and so and then being exposed to the right kind of people and meeting the right kind of people. It’s very important. And I was lucky in that way. But what happened was I went back to – to work for ITT – International Telephone Telegraph – in their semiconductor activity and I was hired on in two jobs. I was to run R and D – well, second in command for research and development, working on low cost devices. That was my job, get the costs out. But I was also the – the chief process engineer for the manufacturing line so I wore two hats and ITT is a great company. ITT did more for me than any other company I have ever worked for in terms of educating me in management. One of the – one of these seminars I went to that was put on by the company was very – was very interesting because the chap came over at the end of it and he said you know, George, you’re an engineer, you’re a physicist and so on. And so he said I know you love it, he said, but you have management talent. You know, in these – in these – in these seminars we’ve been having, you seem to ask all the right questions. He said you really ought to think about jumping off the engineering ladder and getting on the management ladder. I never forgot that and that was – that was a key piece of advice that I’ve – I did take – take him up on. So I was lucky, that was just very lucky and I – I owe ITT a lot for that. They – they were great. I knew Harold Geneen very well, who was – who ran ITT at the time. And – and what was interesting was when I back to England and – for that three year period – the Prime Minister came out to see me because at the time I left the first time from England – England, it was called a brain drain. There was a brain drain going on. The Prime Minister called me a brain gain and he wanted to try and rally a sense that that these engineers are coming back, they’re getting educated in the States and they’re coming back with all this knowledge. We’re getting a brain gain out of that. And it was played up in the newspapers and so on so people took notice and I was getting phone calls to go work here, there and everywhere. But ITT was the – the – the – the – the - really was the time I decided I’m going for a management career and it could be engineering management. That would be okay, too. It wasn’t that I was going out of engineering. So that’s – that was the mindset when I came back to the States and, obviously right after I came to Fairchild, that was a – a very fast track career for me in management.
RW: Well, how did your family accept these – these changes? Pretty radical social change.
GW: Oh, yeah. I mean, it was very tough to – to leave the first time because my mother and father were still alive the first time and my brothers and sister –y’ see, we were a very close family. And there was a lot of gnashing of teeth and a lot of tears that – that fell, but everybody was encouraging me to go. Get out of this place. Go, you know, find – find your new life. I was never – I was never – there was never any doubt about – about what they wanted for me, too, and that helped a lot. And – and the second time around it was obviously a lot easier because my parents were gone, they had gone – they had died. And in my first trip, I was bringing people over on vacation and they loved that, so that made it a little bit easier that they could come and – and – and then I’m coming to California. Oh, boy. And that – so I had lots of visits from – from my brothers and sister then and it – it wasn’t so bad second time around.
RW: Well, there is less of a – a class distinction here in California. It – would – once you’re established, people really don’t care what your family was, where you went to college or…
GW: Well, you know, the – the thing there about the – the – the ITT experience – when I really got to get a feel for California, was also very fortunate. We were – at that time, the planar technology had just been invented and – and Bob Noyce again and – at Fairchild. And so they’d formed – Fairchild formed a – a division called the licensing division, which was licensing its planar technology and in fact licensing all of its technology. And as Chief Process Engineer for ITT Semiconductor in England, I suggested that we should license the planar technology to – because to me, it made – well, to anybody who knew anything about semiconductors, this was a technology that was going to revolutionize how – how we made transistors. It was going to make them so much more reliable, it was going to make them so much more manufacturable, much higher yield, much less costly. And so I prevailed upon my management team at ITT that we should license and we did. We paid seven million dollars for all of Fairchild’s technology. And as the Chief Process Engineer, I was the one who came over to California for just a short spell of time, maybe two or three weeks at a time, and took the technology back. A one man show. When I arrived at three – one – three Fairchild Drive the first time, the lobby was filled with Japanese guys with their cameras and five people from NEC and four people from Sony and this kind of thing and I was there on my own. So I got to – to sample California and thought it was a wonderful place. There was a sense at the time, I don’t think there was any real truth in it, there was a sense in the time, the climate of California was a better place to be making semiconductors than the damp and cold and wet East Coast, especially in the winter. I think it was fallacious, but there was a lot of belief that that was true and – and so suddenly, instead of all these companies on the East Coast having – having the entire semiconductor pie, Fairchild came up and then of course all of the other offspring of Fairchild. But it was that first time coming over to take the technology back that gave me a look at California and I thought, this – I – I saw the research labs up – up in Palo Alto and I thought this is semiconductor Mecca. I’ve got to join this company someday. And six years later was – was the day. Very lucky.
RW: Well, certainly Fairchild was a very political place and as you’re moving into management, you must have gotten a – a little – little involved in – in the politics.
GW: It was hard not to. Yeah, it was hard not to. Although I was – I was lucky there as well. I – I wasn’t in the crossfire at all. I mean, I was – I – I – I was really a spectator to the politics for a long time because it was just after Hogan’s Heroes, here I’d come from Motorola to take over Fairchild, and there was a battle royal between the people who were Fairchilders and the people who were moving in from Motorola. And of course, the Motorolans were hiring people from Phoenix to come out and – and build a – a – a group of talented people to – to improve this company called Fairchild. So there was –there quite a lot of infighting between the – the new and the old and because I was coming from GTE Sylvania, you know, I was – I did – it didn’t matter. I was in neutral so I didn’t get caught up in that too much. But – but later on, you know, you in – inevitably, you do get the politics playing a role, but fortunately I – I never really felt myself – I never felt God, what a place this is to work. It’s a terrible place, the politics are awful. I never felt that way about it. So it was there, but I was fortunate rather than a part of it.
RW: So then what did – did you do at Fairchild as you moved up the ranks?
GW: Well, it was – it was kind of an interesting time. You know, it was 1969, 1970, ’71 when there was a recession hit. And when I came over, I was given P – a P and – I – I was given responsibility for P and L for the manufacturing and sales of PNP transistors. PNP transistors had been a real enigma, they – they were very, very difficult to make because of the nature of P type material, which tended to produce in a transistor very, very high leakage count. And that’s the – that’s – that’s going to kill the device. See - it just won’t work. NPN transistors were much more easily manufactured and they were the – they had the bulk – by far the bulk of the transistor market at the time, NPN. But I had discovered at Sylvania a – a – a way to make PNPs as manufacturable as NPNs. Luck again. I tried a process for one reason and the result was a huge improvement in leakage. It wasn’t intended to be, it was for some other reason and suddenly I was looking at these yields that I’ve never seen before. So we were – we were in the PNP business in a big way. I actually started up a pilot line at Sylvania. We were selling those devices in a T018 header or T05 header for a hundred bucks apiece and it was costing about three bucks to make them. It was a – it was a gold mine for Sylvania. I know Wilf Corrigan had heard about that and having had a PNP experience at Motorola, when he interviewed me and I told him about what I was doing with PNPs, he thought hey, you know, it’s time you came. So that – that’s – Wilf was the one who had me go. So I went and I – I was running the PNP transistor P and L, which was, you know, profit and loss responsibility for my ver – the very first time in my life. And I liked it. But then came the – had some fun with us, too. Then came the – the recession and we had to cut back and so I was given the job of being process engineering manager for all of transistors under Wilf. It was actually Greg Reyes I worked for. Greg reported to Wilf. And so I had that for – for just a few months and then we found – Wilf came to me one day and he said you know, when you were at Sylvania, did you – did you design any power transistors? And I said oh, yeah, designed quite a few. He says well, you are now running the military group, you’re going to run the military group. Wh – why? And he said well, we have a – a contract with Sandia who are building a fuse and Bendix is the manufacturer; Sandia is the – the – the government arm of this. And we’re building this – we’re trying to build this power transistor – and this is very early on after he arrived. And he said we haven’t shipped a part in two years. We can’t make it. So I need you to design and make it and – and ship these. They don’t need a lot of them. They’re for b – they’re bomb fuses, atomic bomb fuses. I said so you’re making me the boss of the whole thing? Yeah. Well, it wasn’t a very big group, you know, I think we did maybe twenty or thirty million a year or something like that in revenues. So I designed the part and went out to Kansas City and met with Bendix and I was going in there and they had all the admirals and the majors and the generals, whatever, and I was scared stiff when I walked into the Bendix lobby. And I was coming – I was the Messiah, right? I was coming to save them all because I had designed this and they were looking for schedules. When are we going to get them, when are we going to get them? And I hadn’t really done anything except design it. We didn’t have any parts that worked yet. So I walked in there pretty scared and I signed in the book and the lady went nuts. You’re not a citizen. I said no. You can’t come in here. So they had to shuttle us all over to the other side of town. And – and I gave them a presentation and I gave my – and they pushed like we got to have them in six weeks. I – I can’t do it in six weeks. You got to give me – I need more time. Two months. Anyway, well, it was a happy ending because we did ship the product but that was – at that time, it suddenly became obvious I was going to have to become a citizen if I was going to be involved with military devices.
RW: Well, so much of the early work was for the military.
GW: Aye – well, of course, as – as you know, the – yes, it had by far a huge – huge amount – the largest amount of market share of any country in the world. And I think it was because of the military. And I remember when I was at Sylvania and my boss would come and say hey, we’ve got to put forward a proposal for this device and it’s yours, and I’d say I’m – I’m busy, I don’t want to be bothered doing that. Hey, they’re funding the research, we got to do this, this is part of your deal, you know. And I used to complain but in – in retrospect, it was the military that gave the U.S. semiconductor industry its enormous lead because after we had done the design and – and done all the work for the military product, after a certain period of time, the military let us ship it to the domestic market and the world market, yeah. So it was a tremendous – it was a tremendous infusion of R and D dollars that came from the military and gave us that huge start. Absolutely right.
RW: So then – then what did you do?
GW: Well, then Wilf came to me one day and he said that – that the recession was still underway – it was 19 – 1971 and it was – we were still struggling and I remember waking up one morning and going to look at the backlog from my devices and it was if the computer industry had colluded into saying that they were cancelling all their business. All of the bookings disappeared overnight, they were all cancelled. It was a disaster. And – but Wilf came to me and he said okay, I – I think I need to make a changeup in San Rafael. San Rafael was a diode manufacturing plant, about twenty minutes by car north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Rafael. And he said George, I want you to run the plant. I said run the plant? Wilf, I’ve never run a plant before. He says you know, George, it’s funny that nobody who’s ever – never run a plant before can say I’ve run a plant before. You know, you – this is – if you’re going to run a plant, yeah, here it is, you know. So I went up to the – there and – and Wilf’s mandate was you get it profitable or you close it. Well, we got it profitable and a lot of what’s been going on in the last year and a half were the kinds of things that I was doing which was to hold the head count. Don’t hire anybody and let the revenues catch up with the costs until they’re comfortably above the costs and then you make a profit. And that’s what I did at San Rafael. And the diode division actually became the highest profit margin from a percentage standpoint of any of the divisions of Fairchild. And I was there through ’74 at which point Wilf asked me to do the same again in the transistor division and we did that as well. And then he put the two, diode and transistor, together and I ran that for a while. And then he asked me to go do the same with the linear division and then he asked me to do the same again with the digital division. So year after year, we – he’d just give me more and more responsibility and the – before it was all over, of course, I had all fifteen divisions working for me. So that was a very fast track.
RW: So what – what – what happened next? You were, I mean…
GW: Well, I had all of the…
RW: Give you the…
GW: I was – I – I finished up as the Executive VP of Fairchild, reporting to Wilf with these fifteen divisions and, along the way, picking up the watch division and – which I immediately made the decision to get out of. And that – that went fine except we had to stay in it – and when you’re in the business of making watches, you can’t just dump it and walk away. You have to service them, put the new parts and the – you know, the bits and pieces. And I think it’s three years you have to remain in the business before you can close it. But we did a lot of repairs and we did a lot of selling of components for watches and it was during that three year period, we actually turned a profit, our watch division. We’d – we’d made a good profit in – in the first couple of years but then it got tough because the Swiss just weren’t about to give up on the – their watch business. And the – Hong Kong was – was the – Hong Kong they were building watches much more cheaply than we could. So it was a – it was a tough go after the first couple of years with the LED watches and then the LCD watches. And so I shut that down, but that was one of the fifteen and – fifteen divisions. And so I got to the – the point where I had all of it, really. All of semiconductor and – and a few bits of pieces more like watch. And I was there until Schlumberger came along and – and bought Fairchild and Wilf – Wilf did a masterful job with that. He – he – I think the stock was selling for about forty-two dollars a share, Fairchild stock at the time, and he was able through skillful negotiations – they had to have been – I wasn’t there, but they had to have been very skillful negotiations, to get sixty-six dollars a share for Fairchild, cash. And – and it was shortly after that that Wilf left Fairchild. I stayed on, made a commitment to stay on two years and I worked for Wilf’s replacement, a Schlumberger guy.
RW: Yeah. Tom Roberts.
GW: Tom Roberts, yes.
RW: Tell me about Tom Roberts.
GW: Oh, are you sure? [Laughs] Tom was – Tom was a tough guy. Tom was a Marine. He was a finance guy from Schlumberger and believed that only the Schlumberger way would work. And he began a process of decentralization because Schlumberger was decentralized. Every – every little drill that read my wells – oil wells was an entity unto itself. And he believed in that and it was tragic. It was tragic. It was a very, very bad mistake. Just as an example, fifteen divisions, we had one central purchasing group, and a number of these divisions were buying the same part. Let’s say it was a package part, sixteen lead package. With, the – the purchasing power of all the divisions, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of the units, that the man who’s running purchasing has got some leverage with all that. But what Tom wanted to do was break it down and give every division its own purchasing manager, who was now left with a much less a volume to get the price that you need. And so there was – th – we – we lost a lot of those price breaks because of that and it really wasn’t a good time and I stayed there for the two years I promised and then left. And – and that – like that time, I went to work for GE. I took over as CEO of Intersil, which was a wholly owned subsidiary.
RW: But how interesting, you worked for arguably the worst run company, at least in semiconductors.
GW: Ah, it was…
RW: When – and then you went to the best run U.S. company, at least in general…
RW: As a conglomerate.
RW: So you’ve seen both sides.
GW: Oh, yeah. And there’s no comparison. [Laughs] There’s no way of comparing them. GE was fantastic company, fantastic company.
RW: Yet they couldn’t make it in semiconductors.
GW: They could not make it in semiconductors. They got – after I left, I think they lasted about another five years, about four or five years. And I – I really don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened there, but it was – we did pretty well at Intersil and then, of course, I picked up the gate array division – and by the way, I bought this LSI Logic software to do that and I think I made Wilf’s quota on that – that thing when we bought that software and tried to get us into gate array business. But there – there was a problem there because our engineering team, which was run by a guy called Jimmy Dykes, who was my boss, they didn’t want to use purchased software and they fought it. They fought it very hard, you know, not invented here. So a – a very common engineering failing, I’m sorry to say, but they wouldn’t use it and so we never really got off the ground with gate arrays with our own software. And then I took on the – then they gave me the power transistor division up in Syracuse, New York. And I had the Ireland and Bombay and India and – and Europe and so on and so forth so but I left after three years and I left because I didn’t want to go back to the East Coast. And my boss had told me, Jimmy Dykes, who was my boss, he told me that Jack Welch has his eye on me and he wanted to move me as fast as he could through the organization. So that I was probably going to take Jimmy’s job very quickly and then I would be expected to go back to Connecticut. And I thought, you know, we don’t want to do that.
RW: But Welch, of course, was famous.
GW: Oh, he’s a great – he’s a great guy.
RW: What was your impression?
GW: I’ll tell you a story about Jack Welch and – and I think you’ll understand why I think so highly of him. We used to do a management review every December – January, sorry. Every January in Boca Raton – this is GE now – where all the managers would get together at a hotel, five hundred of us, and we’d go through our businesses and several businesses were chosen to give their – what they were doing so that the management group as a whole got to know a bit more about this huge company called GE. And at the end of that conference, we would get together and Jack Welch would sit in and listen to Jim Dykes, my boss, talk about me and my direct reports. And I was in that meeting, so it was Jack Welch, Jimmy Dykes and me. And – and Jack’s first focus was where are the fast flyers? Who are your stars? Tell me about them, where are they? And he would delve; he would dig deep, looking for high potential individuals. And we’d talk about – and so what are – what are you giving them for stock options, what’s his salary going to be? And this was at the level next to me, he didn’t go further than that with a – the salaries and so on. And irascible guy, I mean, short fuse. Don’t give him too much detail, get right – get to the heart of the matter and get on with it. You know, he was a – he’s a very busy guy. But anyway, I – after I left, I left in March – the year I left, I left in March. And at the end of January, after I had left, I got a call from Jimmy Dykes, my boss before I left, and he said George, there’s a check in the mail. It’s from GE and you’re probably going to wonder what the heck it is. It’s yours. Just take it and put it in the bank. And then he went on to explain that they were having this management meeting and Jimmy was explaining with the guy who took my place the various different guys’ salaries and options and so on. And we got – and they got all done, he said, and then Jack said to me, where’s Well’s numbers? He said Jack, are you going soft in the head? George left us nine months ago, ten months ago. He says I know that, I know that. But he worked for us for three months – January, February, March. What was his incentive target? And Jimmy said eighty thousand dollars. He said well, you send him a check for twenty thousand dollars tomorrow. He worked for it, you give him it. And that – that, to me, is a high integrity guy. I – I – I never forgot that. And when he came out for his book signing, he’d actually written a couple books, but when he came out for his book signing on his first trip to San Jose, I went to see him – went to see the book signing. And when he saw me, he just put his arms around me and a – a huge hug there in front of everybody. And yeah, he was – he was a class guy, class guy. The first time I met him, a – a little bit of fun – of a funny story. The first time I met Jack, you know he was quite a good golfer. He played in the – the Pro Am there in Pebble Beach a couple times. And he was a sixteen handicapper, but he really wasn’t a sixteen handicapper. He was a lot better than a the sixteen handicapper. He was a sandbagger. Anyway, I was on one tee and he was on a – on a tee that was coming the other way and I had my ball and then I sliced it and it was going right for the foursome that was on that tee. And I screamed it as hard as I could – fore – and they all hit the deck. And I walked over there and I was so, so, s – feeling so bad and then I felt a whole lot worse when Jack Welch got up and said something like, boy, you must really need my job something fierce to – to do that. Now that was at the same management meeting that we used to go to every year, but this is my first one. And we’d work from seven in the morning until about noontime and then we’d play golf in the afternoon for, I think, it was three straight days we did that. So that was my first introduction to him and – and I got lucky because how – how is somebody going to forget the guy that almost killed him?
RW: So did then Wilf Corrigan come calling again?
GW: Well, what happened – that was an interesting story. I don’t know if you know who Tom Sege was? Do you remember Tom Sege? Tom Sege, I think a Hungarian man. He used to run Varian and with my background in – in nuclear physics – we were in an era where ion implantation became part of the semiconductor process. And of course, ion implantation is – is very much related to nuclear physics. But when I decided to leave, I asked the people at GE, I’ll give you six months. I’m not going back to Fairfield, I’m not going back to Connecticut. But I’ll give you six months to find somebody. But in the meantime, I’m going to go looking for a job and that was decided between Dykes and I. And I said please don’t tell Jack Welch, I don’t want Jack Welch to know this until I’ve got a job and then we can tell him that I’m going to be – if I get a job in two months, it’ll be four months more. But don’t tell him right now and they vowed not to tell him. And they wanted to know why and I said because he’d talk me out of it. Jack Welch, I would do anything for that guy and he asks me and begs me to stay and I got some lovely letters at Intersil saying great job and what a great performance and very nice quarter. Jack used to send these cards, congratulatory cards, they were very nice. And so I would’ve done anything for Jack Welch and I knew that if he asked me to stay, I wouldn’t be able to refuse him. So I didn’t want him to know. But once I’d locked in a job, then it would be okay because he’d understand that I’d – I’d done it and he might be mad at me for a while, but then that’s too bad. I needed to do this. I started interviewing and a headhunter got a hold of me. I guess he found out I was looking and he said hey, there’s a – a job at Varian and I said well, you need to know I’ve given GE six months. So I’m not in any big hurry here. Oh, that’s fine. Tom Sege is a very thorough man, he’s - he’s trying to find a president for Varian and he takes his time about that, he’s very thorough. So he said six months isn’t all that bad. I think he – for the right guy, he’d probably wait. So we – we began – said there are fourteen candidates. Jerome Meyer – I don’t know if you remember Jerome Meyer, but he – he ended up running Tektronix up in the north, up in the northwest. And he said there’s fourteen of you and he’s interviewing you, each – each one of you. So in fact, I came – I came for my interview and Rona and I went to dinner with he and his wife and he wanted to do it again. So I had dinner with him again and the process was getting along – going along just fine for about two or three months. Finally, the headhunter called me up and he said the board has w – and – and I met with the board members as well. The board has – has – has reduced it to two candidates and they’ve told Tom Sege he gets to pick. Either one of you or Tom Sege – or – or Jerome Meyer would – would be fine with them. He said George, I happen to know that Tom likes you, so you’re going to be getting an offer. I said wait, wait, wait, I mean, when? You know, there’s something – we’re only three months in here; you told me it would be six. He said no, no, he – he’ll wait. I’m sure he’ll wait. He’s doing a – he’s doing a couple of more calls but I think he’s going to – I think he’s going to give you an offer. I said well, that’s great. Terrific. Couple of days went by and Sege made a phone call to Wilf Corrigan - and this – this is one of these defining moments in your life, a job, you know – and he said to – he said to Wilf, you know this guy Wells, right? He’s worked for you for a long time, right? You know him personally, right? Ah, yeah, yeah, George was the best man at my wedding, you know. We are - known a long time, right, 1960. Well, I – what do you think? Do you think he could w – work for me? You think it – he could take on Varian? And Wilf says, oh, why? Why do you ask this? Because he’s leaving GE. Wilf said I didn’t know that. Oh, he said, you guys would get on great. Yeah, yeah, he’s – he’d be fine. Wilf hung up the phone and picked it right back up again and called me and said are you leaving GE? I said yeah, I’m looking for a job. He says well, stop looking. He says you get your ass over here, I need a president. [Laughs] And so I went over and that’s how I came to join LSI Logic.
RW: So you became president of LSI Logic.
GW: Mmm. Yes, that’s right. ’85 – 1985. Company had done eighty-four million dollars in revenues the we – the – the year before, and I thought – a phenomenal – a phenomenal future ahead of it. So I saw it as a huge opportunity and it – it was interesting to me that in the first staff meeting, a number of the staff wasn’t sure that the company would be able to get on with its current strategy o – of using the gate array technology. They just weren’t sure because inherent in that technology, as you know, Rob, there’s a lot of silicon that doesn’t ultimately get used in the chip. And the custom devices, which were built from scratch, used a lot less silicon to provide the same design and were obviously, from a silicon standpoint, cheaper. But of course, the beauty of the gate array was – and this is where I saw the value of it – and it was hard convincing some of the staff members to hang in there and we needed to just take advantage of the fact that we prefabricated the first, I don’t know, twelve, thirteen, fourteen steps in the manufacturing process and held that – those in inventory and then when the design was completed, we produced the mask that would – that would connect only those transistors that we needed to be connected and left the others unused. But that took a lot less time than starting from scratch with a custom design. And so my focus became one of reducing the turnaround time because it turned out a lot of these buyers were willing to pay twenty-five thousand dollars just to take a week out of the schedule. So using the gate array technology, we could turn – we could turn prototypes in two or three weeks, whereas with a custom device, it would take four, five, six weeks sometimes. So we had the edge on getting prototypes to the customers so he could look at them. And the software was so beautifully designed that – and the test tapes and so on were so beautifully constructed that it was very unusual that our gate arrays did not pass the electrical specifications on a first pass. Very few t – very few times did we have to redo them and that was seen as extremely valuable for the customers and was the core of the success of LSI Logic in those days.
RW: But Wilf had a lot of fabs scattered around the world.
GW: Yes, he did.
RW: But usually based around a deal.
GW: Yes, Toshiba.
RW: …you can get. Ultimately, did that prove economical?
GW: No. No, it didn’t. And the – I think Jerry Sanders claims that men – that real men have fabs. That – that assertion was fallacious. A lot of companies sprang up just around the 1990 timeframe and they were known as fabless semiconductors, where they would, in fact, do all the design work but when it came to the manufacturing of the silicon, they would, in fact, farm out to companies like Taiwan Semiconductor, TSMC, and the likes of those who were in the business of what was called foundry silicon. And they had a set process and that was the part that I think Wilf didn’t like, the fact that we were going to have to use someone else’s process because our process developed in house at LSI Logic was so crucial because it was tied to the design rules and the design requirements for – for us. That’s why they worked so well. So to go to somebody else’s process was what I think caused Wilf to decide to maintain his own fabs with the LSI Logic process instead of going to a commoner - garden process everybody used to build their chips. But of course, the volume will out – the higher the volume, the lower the cost and these people were just churning out millions of wafers a year and, ultimately, it just wasn’t going to – wasn’t going to work as turnaround times came down on their – their part of the business as well. But it – yeah, it became too – too costly. The problem was as the technology moves on, and we went from – I remember when I was in 6 – 1960, I was using twenty-five micron technology. That was the order of the day, now we’re talking, you know, nanometers. Ten to the ninth m – me – that is just incredible how many transistors you can put on a piece of silicon these days. And in those days, I used to put one on – because the IC hadn’t been invented yet. Anyway, yeah, so it – it – it turned out that it was better to offload the p – the buying – the manufacturing of the silicon and just focus on the design work and doing good testing and high quality control.
RW: Well, when did you leave LSI?
GW: ’92. I left in 1992 and went to become the CEO of a company called Exar, which is in Fremont. And they were a manufacturer of mixed signal semiconductors and I spent three years there as CEO. Got that turned around and we doubled the stock in it within a year and that was an interesting time. Twenty-two percent owned by a Japanese company and I come to find out that there were a lot of spies within Exar that were working for the owners, the twenty-two percent owners. Company called Rohm, R-O-H-M, in Japan and so I immediately bought out those shares and made Exar an American company. And we moved from a building that was across the street from Rohm in San Jose to Fremont, built our own building in – and con – discontinued any involvement with Rohm. And I was there for three years, three good years, great years and – and then went – and then decided – I had set a target to retire in 1960 when I – oh, excuse me, when I was sixty years old. I decided that that would be it. I had achieved what I wanted to achieve, which was to become the CEO of a publicly held American company and I did that. And I thought well, you know, it’s time for – it’s time for the family now. It’s time for me to go back and – and be a husband and be a father because that career took a lot of time away from home. So I left in ’92 and – sorry - I left in ’95 from Exar. Stayed on the board to help the new CEO for about a year and then retired. Retired thirteen years ago.
RW: Well you have seen the industry, almost from its beginning, and in the U.K., in East Coast of U.S., West Coast U.S., so what makes Silicon Valley work so well?
GW: Just a phenomenal concentration of intellectual capability. It’s just – it’s an amazing place. It’s a place that knows how to reinvent itself whenever it’s necessary. I remember taking a call a – at Fairchild - in my la – latter years at Fairchild – and I was there fourteen years. But I remember getting a call and the guy saying well, it looks like Silicon Valley’s dead in the – dead in the dust and so on and so forth. And that was a bad time, that was a very bad time and I said no. I’ve seen this movie four times. This movie has – always has a happy ending. And we’ll come back, you know. And I think about that time was when biotech was beginning to gain a foothold and the software guys were starting to make a foothold, you know. It was – and there it was, you know, and he said would you be willing to go on the air and say that on my radio show, that you think it’s only a matter of time and you’ll be back? Is that – is that what you’re telling me. I said sure. So I’ll – I’ll call you tomorrow, four-thirty. So he calls me up and he was very good about his questions, he only asked me the questions he said he would and I made it very clear that this is not the demise of Silicon Valley and I’m not going anywhere. This place is – it’s such a beautiful place to begin with. It’s a very desirable place to live and people just love to be here and they’re smart. We’ve got U – the University of Stanford, we’ve got Berkeley, we’ve got San Jose State, which is, you know, is not as prestigious, perhaps, as the other two, but it’s turning out a lot of great engineers and so on. I don’t see this place in a – a demise at all. And he said oh, well, thank you very mu – much, mister. This is KQNB from Melbourne, Australia. I didn’t know the guy was in Australia. But of course, the – the movie’s played a couple of times since then and it’s – it’s doing the same again. It’s coming back.
RW: Well, George, thank you.
GW: Oh, you’re very welcome.
RW: This has been so much fun.
GW: Yeah, I’ve enjoyed it, too. It’s a…
RW: Would you mind taking Kathy on a little tour of your – of your place?
GW: No, not at all. I’d be glad to show you around.
K: So George, you were telling me about how long you’ve lived here?
GW: Yeah, I – we – we bought this house about twenty years ago and an interesting thing about it was the house that was here before this one was turned around. It was facing that road, so it was called Horseshoe – it was a – a Horseshoe Drive address. And that house burned down. And the builder came out and – and he built this house, but he turned it this way and it became part of Carnelian Circle, those four homes here. And the interesting thing about this guy here is he won the San Jose Lottery and bought that house.
GW: Yeah. I think it was like fifty million dollars or something.
K: Nice. That’s my retirement right there.
GW: He’s – he’s a…
K: Although I don’t want to be a Lotto winner.
GW: He’s a character, he’s a good guy and I’m – these people over here and here, I coached both their sons in soccer, so.
GW: Football, I call it.
K: You’re – now you’re coaching?
GW: No, I used to. I don’t anymore. I used to play a lot and coach as well and referee. I did it all. But – but when we came here, the – the landscaping was – was like this. This was here. But in the back, it was all bare, just bare ground. So I actually designed the pool and designed the trees and the island and everything else and then had them come in and do it, so. But it’s been twenty years and Rona died, it’ll be six years on April the 30 th when she passed.
K: I’m sorry to hear that.
GW: And I haven’t done – and –and – and right now I’m beginning to pay attention about – and you see, I’m having these doors replaced soon and I’m having the garage doors fixed up and the – I just put a lining on the – on the crawl space. I’ve done all kinds of work and it’s ongoing. You know, it’s a…
K: It’s always going to be ongoing, isn’t it?
GW: It’s a huge task and maintenance is just – it can get a wee bit wearing at times. We have five bedrooms here. My own bedroom and bathroom in here. So there’s – there’s some work done – needing done in here as well.
K: Well, you know, homes are always needing to have attention.
GW: Aye. So – so that’s that. This used to be the living room, but – and we used to use this place. When Rona was alive, we used this place and we had lots of parties in here and we used to play those games, you know, murder games, where you come in and you got murder and you got to figure out who the – who the killer is. I – I was always a big fan of snooker. I used to play for the University at snooker, it was a – a University sport where I went. So I got – I couldn’t get up – you know, the snooker table’s much bigger than this, so the room wouldn’t hold it, so I got myself a pool table instead. These are my kids. This is my daughter on her wedding day. This is my son and this is my son. Two of them are having birthdays this month, so. All right, so this is the – this is where I usually – and when you guys leave, I’ll be on this. [Laughter]
K: Oh, good. Good.
GW: And this one has its own bathroom, so this is – this is where the guests like to stay, in here.
K: This is the guest room?
GW: Yeah. This is where they like to stay because they have their own bathroom. You don’t have to get up in the middle of the night and walk. And that’s the laundry room. Another bathroom for the people using the pool. And this is the messiest room in the house.
K: Yeah, well, this is where miracles happen, right?
GW: Aye. Aye. Right enough .
K: This is…
GW: So. Yeah, that’s the day we opened the NASDAQ. I’m the one that come – the board called QLogic and we – when we opened the NASDAQ. This was Rona, see, she was very ill there. She died about two months later, ovarian cancer.
K: Oh, that’s too bad.
GW: But she made the trip to New York and we – we opened the NASDAQ. She enjoyed those. All mess of stuff here. All these damn golf balls. Play a lot of golf.
K: Hey, see that.
GW: And I find a few golf balls here and I found a few over there and I found a few – I got to get all these together. Two hundred and fifty-two golf balls there. I won every one of them in these games that we play up at the club for the seniors because the prize is always golf balls. So that’s thirty three worth right there. All right.
GW: This is my niece’s daughter. She’s going to come and spend a couple of weeks with me in June. So that’s good. That’s my two grandkids. This one’s going to be an opera singer, she’s fourteen. He’s a math whiz. Wins all the math prizes at school, so he – he’s…
K: Now you were saying that you designed this whole backyard.
GW: Yes, yeah. Yep. So yeah, I – I built – I made, you know, the design for the pool. I haven’t got the cushions on these yet because it’s still going to rain, still going to rain. But this was great for the kids. You know, we used to have these – well, it was at birthday’s ,somebody’s birthday we would have those big blowup pools, you know, and they’d jump around in there. They had a blast there with the pool as well, so. This is it.
GW: Got about ….
K: Nice and tranquil.
GW: Got about an acre here in total. It’s about one acre. Yeah, we’ve had a lot. Yeah, it’s been a fun house in its day.
K: Well, you know what? It’s not over.
GW: Oh, no.
K: It can still be a fun house.
GW: Oh, yeah. It is on occasion. They came up at Easter, all the family came up at Easter. What a blast. We really had a blast. The Easter egg hunt, I’m still finding eggs they never found. They were those plastic ones and we’d put a d – we’d put a dollar in them or a quarter in them and so on.
K: You’re still finding them?
GW: Still finding those eggs, yeah. My – my – see this here? My granddaughter, she’s eleven years old and – and she – she looked at this when I first gave it and she went hmm. Okay, I think it’s more like that, Dad. L.A.? Ugh. She doesn’t like L.A. There’s a Superman candle, see, everywhere. And you know what that is? That’s the Scottish flag.
K: Is it?
GW: It’s called a Saltire. Yeah, flag of St Andrews.
K: I noticed that there’s Superman in each of the rooms.
K: Is there a story behind that? Is that just something…
GW: Yeah, yeah. It’s a bit self serving, but it – it goes like this. My wife had ovarian cancer for - she suffered with it for four years and she went into remission after a year and a half. But then it came back and it was really bad. It was – and she was the kind of person just would get up in the morning and do her thing until she collapsed.
GW: And so latterly, it was – she needed a lot of care and attention and I – I gave her that. I mean, it was – I was – I was, you know, I’d retired. It was fine. Nothing better to do than take care of her. And she had a couple of physical therapists who christened her GG – God’s Grace.
GW: That was their name for her. And their name for me was SM.
GW: Come to find out that meant Superman. So after that, I kept getting these kinds of things in the mail and here, I got that big – somebody brought me that big poster on the wall and in the – the little – all the stuff that’s Superman. So I guess that’s me.
K: So now it’s carried on in each of the rooms, right?
GW: I – that’s right. Everybody’s – everybody’s signed on. They’re all – they all liked that title. But that – so that’s that story, yeah. And this is…
K: This is my favorite part of the entire house right here.
GW: Well, you know, I’m going to tell you – I’m going to tell you a story about this.
K: This is a beautiful kitchen.
GW: I didn’t even know how to barbeque when Rona died. I never even lit a barbeque. I didn’t attempt to – I could boil an egg. That was about it – but when she died, I – I decided I’m going to have to learn some new skills. So I spend a lot of time in here now. I never used – I never used to spend any. Yeah, I – and I do some – I have some specialties I make, especially my soups. My soup – everybody likes the soup. And the way I cook the halibut. And then those are my two favorites and I do a few other things, but up until she died, I had a hard time boiling water. So we live and learn.
K: Yeah. You going to give some competition to the Naked Chef?
GW: I don’t think so.
GW: I’m – no, I don’t think so.
K: All right.
GW: So there you are.
K: Beautiful home. Thank you for the tour.
GW: Thanks very much.
GW: Thanks for coming.