When asked to write a 2012 outlook piece, it seemed like a reasonable request and I agreed to do it. As the article deadline approached and I started to think about what I would write, it occurred to me that with the swirling global events, how was I going to add clarity to a topic that has stymied the best economists and even world leaders? So rather than comment on where the market is heading, I thought I would write about how a company like Linear Technology Corp. is coping in this environment and how it will navigate through an uncertain 2012. This approach brought clarity to my thinking and hopefully to this article.
The current business environment is exacerbated by recent natural disasters from earthquakes, tsunamis and floods, but the biggest challenges that we will face in 2012 are man-made, deficit economies in the United States and Europe, combined with a slowing Asia. With this as a backdrop, not all is doom and gloom. Linear Technology celebrated its 30 year anniversary this year and it was the company's best year yet. Sales reached nearly $1.5 billion, growing 27 per cent over the prior year, recording record sales, record growth and record earnings. So even in a difficult market, a company, well positioned from a product, customer and end-market perspective can do well. A strong rising or falling economic tide will move all companies, but Linear runs a tight ship and has successfully managed through these cycles in the past. This was true 10 years ago during the dot-com bust and was again true during the 2009 financial crisis and subsequent recession. So what does 2012 hold, and how will Linear adjust to an ever more pessimistic market outlook?
Lothar Maier, CEO of Linear Technology Corp.
The short answer is very little is going to change in our basic approach and strategy. Products take a year or two to develop and end-customer product design-in takes another year or two. This means that the cycle from the start of a new product design to actual sales ranges from two to four years. Linear Technology avoids making frequent, short-term course corrections since they can have a negative impact on longer term goals. Linear Technology is a financially healthy company that can continue to invest during market downturns with the belief that staying the course will benefit the company as markets improve. This was again proven true as the 2009/2010 financial crises and recession passed.
During this business cycle the company maintained all of its development efforts and all of its manufacturing capability, and we found ourselves well positioned when the market turned around. This strategy was key to our rapid growth during our 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, growing faster than all of our competitors and still maintaining the shortest lead-times in the industry. Linear will continue to follow this path going into 2012.
Reading this article is better than reading LTC's annual report in that it clearly states both the market focus and results and the reasons why they are in those segments. A key point is that they try to avoid short term changes in strategy and understand markets do take time to develop.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.