[Nfbc-info] (Legally blind) Micrel's Ray Zinn ends run as Silicon Valley's longest-serving CEO..

Brian Buhrow buhrow at nfbcal.org
Fri Jul 31 23:51:34 UTC 2015

	Hello.  The following article is taken from Today's San Jose Mercury
news.  I thought folks on this list might be as interested as I was to read
that Ray continued to serve as CEO of Micrel after going blind in 1994,
even taking it public.
This reminds us, once again, there is life after blindness and we really
can live the lives we want.  Now, can we get him to a convention to tell us
how he did it?


   Micrel' Ray Zinn ends run as Silicon Valley's longest-serving CEO

      By Heather Somerville

      hsomerville at mercurynews.com

      Posted:   07/31/2015 03:53:17 PM PDT
      Updated:   07/31/2015 04:25:50 PM PDT

      SAN JOSE -- Ray Zinn finished his last day as Silicon Valley's
      longest-serving CEO of a public company on Friday, shutting his
      briefcase one last time on nearly four decades of valley booms and

      It was a goodbye to Micrel, the semiconductor company he started in
      1978, during the golden years for the silicon chip from which the
      valley derived its name. It was also a goodbye to an industry he
      expects may all but disappear from the region that birthed it.

      The semiconductor industry has been beaten and battered by
      consolidation, price-cutting and competition from Asia, but Zinn
      steered Micrel through the storm, finally relinquishing the captain's
      seat this spring. In May, fellow chipmaker Microchip bought Micrel, one
      of the valley's oldest semiconductor firms, for $839 million, making
      Zinn's firm just the latest victim of the massive contraction that has
      rocked the industry.

      It is a slightly somber note on which Zinn, 77, now retires.

      "I didn't want to sell, but given the situation and the offer by
      Microchip, I couldn't pass it up," he said. "I had to act on behalf of
      the shareholders. Not necessarily what I wanted to happen, but that's
      what did happen."

      That's not to say Zinn gives in easily. He guided the company through
      five U.S. recessions and buffered the blow of the dot-com bust, which
      cut Micrel's revenue by about 37 percent. He closed down one of
      Micrel's two fabrication plants, a $29 million loss, and laid off about
      10 percent of the workforce in 2002.

      "I didn't want to lose money because I had this record going of never
      losing money," Zinn said. "That broke the streak."

      But Micrel emerged that year with a mere $50,000 loss on its books, a
      relative success in an environment where tech companies were shuttering
      up and down Silicon Valley. He credits his fiscal caution, perhaps
      ingrained in him after watching his father lose the family's cattle
      ranch in Southern California.

      "I watch every cent," he said. "I'm frugal."

      Micrel last year made $247.6 million in revenue, a 4 percent increase
      from 2013, and its ranking is No. 127 among the top 150 public
      companies in Silicon Valley, according to this newspaper's research.
      Its stock price Friday was about $14; share prices topped out at $76
      during the dot-com boom.

      In many ways, its glory days are over. The Micrel office, in the
      northeast corner of San Jose, is an old building with faded carpets and
      tired decor. By Silicon Valley standards, it's an antique -- "like a
      blast back to 1994," one former employee called it -- and has none of
      the perks offered by most tech companies today.

      "There's no free lunch," Zinn says.

      The relative dryness of Micrel compared to the luxuries of San
      Francisco startups had made it a less than desirable place to work,
      according to some former employees. On Glassdoor, a website to rate
      employers and businesses, former employees complained Micrel is "a very
      old fashioned company. No jeans allowed, even on Fridays, zero
      amenities -- no coffee, tea, not even free napkin."

      Zinn is not a man of excess, which makes him an outlier in Silicon
      Valley today. Zinn's compensation at Micrel last year was $1.2 million
      and he dislikes the sky-high levels of venture funding, with deals now
      reaching the billion-dollar mark, and valuations companies such as Uber
      and Airbnb have boasted, which he calls "horribly inflated." He
      cautions that entrepreneurs who are raising monster funding rounds are
      diluting their ownership of their companies to the point that they no
      longer have control. Zinn himself has never raised venture capital
      money; he bootstrapped Micrel with his own savings and a $300,000 loan
      from Bank of the West.

      "Who has the gold has the gun," he said. "I just didn't want them to
      have control." Zinn kept ownership of about a fourth of the company.

      He says he sees warning signs of a tech bubble, and cautions that many
      of the so-called "unicorns" -- companies with a valuation of $1 billion
      or more -- may not be around in three to five years. He's a fan of
      Uber, but he's more skeptical of other concepts, such as grocery

      "Unless you've been in business for 10 years, I wouldn't predict you've
      got a sustainable business," he said. "You've got to keep reinventing
      yourself every five to eight years. If you can't reinvent yourself,
      you're dead."

      Zinn plans to pass on the decades of wisdom he acquired to young
      entrepreneurs as an investor and mentor in retirement. After 37 years,
      Zinn is believed to be the longest-serving CEO of a public company in
      Silicon Valley; John Chambers of Cisco, until recently the
      longest-serving CEO of a Fortune 500 company, served 20 years.

      "I have the most productive years of my life ahead of me," he said. "I
      am not just going to and go sit on a rock in Hawaii."

      Zinn is one of the oldest veterans of the semiconductor business, which
      he joined 52 years ago with a job at Fairchild Semiconductors. Life in
      the Silicon Valley was a far cry from the ranch in El Centro where he
      grew up, on the border with Mexico.

      "I went from wearing gloves and a T-shirt and Levi's and a hat to a
      business suit," he said.

      The oldest of 11 kids, Zinn worked hard from a young age. He got his
      driver's license at age 13 and drove 15 miles, sometimes in the middle
      of night, to get water for the ranch. After the family went bankrupt --
      several cattle were stolen and $10,000 worth of hay was destroyed in a
      fire, sending the family's already precarious finances into shambles --
      and his father died at the age of 52, Zinn helped his mom raise his
      nine younger siblings.

      "It was a tough life but it was an honest life," he said.

      The tenacity he needed as a boy carried into his professional life,
      evident in Zinn's decision to continue running the company after he
      became legally blind in 1994, just before the company's IPO. And
      tenacity certainly helped Zinn continue leading a semiconductor company
      even as the valley became not a silicon-driven region but, as he said,
      "Software Valley." He fought off bids from Chinese companies to buy
      Micrel and pressure from activist investors to sell the company. But he
      left Micrel on Friday with a touch of resignation.

      When asked if Microchip -- and thus Micrel -- will still be around in
      10 years, Zinn said: "No."

      "The future of the industry concerns me because unless we do something
      about advancing technology, how are we going to maintain our dominant
      position in semiconductors?" he said.

      But that is no longer Zinn's question to answer.

      Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at

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