by Nitin Dahad
Source: The Chilli, the media platform for high-tech entrepreneurs, investors and advisors
ARM has been one of the key players of the UK electronics industry for over a decade. Having started out in 1990 with just 12 engineers, Sir Robin Saxby (57), now the chairman of ARM Holdings, certainly has many stories to tell about growing an electronics company from nothing to becoming a global force in the semiconductor industry. In an exclusive dialogue with The Chilli, Sir Robin offers his thoughts and lessons for other entrepreneurs.
1. What prompted you to get into electronics, where did you study, what drove you to do what you do?
2. What were some of the early jobs you did, and what was your big break in management?
3. How did you get into ES2 and what were the challenges here as the first pan-European company and a pioneer?
4. How did you get involved with ARM?
5. Describe the scene at ARM in the early days. What were the challenges?
6. Who were the first customers, where did you make your first breakthrough, and what challenges did you face?
7. You hear about ARM 7, 9, 11 and others but don’t hear about ARM 2, 3, 4 etc. Is there any reason for this?
8. The success of ARM in licensing the whole industry with the ARM processor is well now known. What we would like to know is how did you get to charge such a high license fee, and what were the parameters that influenced it?
9. Part of the ARM success has been the vast numbers of partnerships. What makes successful partnerships and what is your advice for startups with regard to this aspect.
10. Other IP companies have tried to emulate the ARM model, but have had mixed results. What do you think differentiates good IP companies from also-rans?
11. As semiconductor IP becomes an integral part of most semiconductor SoC designs, what do you see as the opportunities for IP companies?
12. ARM sits in the middle of all the different design flows and has to work with various EDA companies. As some EDA companies have entered the IP business, how do you think the industry will shape out in the future regarding IP vs EDA design flows, especially when systems become more complex and IP is offered as a complete platform design including tools, OS and applications, as well as the hardware IP?
13. The 1984 recession was blamed for the demise of Cambridge based computer companies such as Acorn, Sinclair, and Tangerine. US based PC companies have had similar recessions (read Dell, HP/Compaq, IBM) and yet they still survived in one form or the other. What factors do you think helped them survive the droughts, while UK based companies withered away? In hindsight, what were the missing elements from the UK side?
14. As you know, a major part of the entrepreneur’s challenge is the management of different risks and crossfire. The skills of surviving the crossfire and endeavours can only come from learning, experience of others, and practice. Again in hindsight, do you think not enough managers were willing to take the risks?
15. Part of the globalisation process requires understanding, adapting, and assimilating foreign markets, cultures, business styles. Do you think that this part is widely recognised in Cambridge and the UK? What can be done to alleviate this? What advice do you have for the next generation entrepreneurs?
16. What message would you like give to engineers thinking of starting up their own venture or new startups in their early stages?