During my recent visit to Japan, I had the pleasure of meeting David Uze, president of Freescale Semiconductor Japan, in his Tokyo office.
Nicknamed “Uzi” by his boss Henri Richard, Freescale’s senior vice president , Uze has powers to speak after the manner of a machine gun can -- either in impeccable Japanese or in his native English. Meeting Uze struck me as something of an otherworldly experience, underscoring Uze’s self-characterization: “I am from another planet.”
Having spent most of his adult professional life in Japan, Uze built successful careers both at Dell and AMD in Japan.
Uze, originally from Iowa, is not the cut-and-dried, MBA-homogenized American business exec who favors platitudes like “business is business,” and who sees “the American way” (whatever that is) as the only way. Nor does he style himself after the “inscrutable” Japanese manager who shrugs off the expectations of his stateside bosses by citing Japanese exceptionalism and invoking the deadly, action-stifling phrase, “Shoganai,” or “Like it or lump it.”
David Uze, president of Freescale Semiconductor Japan
Uze depicts himself as neither American nor Japanese. He takes a pride in being aggressive (“When I find obstacles, I’ll go under, going around, go over or go through them to get the job done.” ), but understands Japan well enough to know how patient he must be to win Japanese partners’ trust. He is a believer, at bottom, in “emotional sales.”
The jury is still out, though, on how truly successful Uze will become in helping Freescale unfold the Japanese market. He joined Freescale only eight months ago. But I will say this: Uze is, bar none, one of the most energetic people I’ve ever met.
His favorite tagline, when introducing himself, is “shinimono gurui no David.” Roughly translated: “I am David, working hard enough to kill myself – to get things done.”
Melodramatic? Maybe. At least, it was for me at first.
But Uze eventually emerges as the genuine article. He seems to strike almost everyone he meets as honest, and infectious. When I met him, as impressed as I was by his language skills, I was overwhelmed by his vitality.
Freescale Semiconductor Japan’s challenges in the land of automotive and consumer electronics products are many-fold, especially since the U.S. company is batting against Renesas, now the MCU giant, on its home turf. Freescale CEO Rich Beyer could clearly use, especially in Japan, more high-motor, high-impact leaders like Uze.
Freescale is no longer the number one company in the automotive MCU segment. Globally, it’s now number two, with the second largest share in automotive semiconductors, according to Gartner. Freescale’s automotive ICs also come in second in China.
In Japan whose auto manufacturers demand “zero defects,” a steady and uninterrupted supply, better cost, and unmatched service and support, Freescale , and by extension, Uze and his team, have a lot to prove. Uze said that Japanese automotive companies are telling Freescale: “We don’t want any more vendors. We want partners.”
Uze, however, noted that he is getting ample ammunition from U.S. headquarters. Take the example of supply for Freescale’s semiconductor products. Uze said senior management at Freescale has taken action to “prioritize Japanese customers.” He noted, “My customers in Japan are delighted.” This includes Freescale’s decision to spent $224 million through the first three quarters of 2010 on additional testing and manufacturing facilities.
To meet Beyer’s mandate to be number one globally across all of Freescale’s businesses, Uze and his Japanese team don’t expect to get a lot of sleep. Uze said, “My personal goal by 2020 is to have Freescale Semiconductor Japan contribute 20 percent or more to the company’s worldwide revenue.”
Ambitious? No question. Impossible? Never say never.
The markets Freescale must go after range from networking, automotive to industrial (i.e. factory automation) and consumer businesses. Among all of them, the consumer business might be toughest. But being based in Japan, “We have to go after it,” said Uze. The idea is that Freescale must be able to offer “visionary” ideas to Japanese customers, whether a solution for e-readers or for the many types of smart devices. “We need to understand the future needs of consumers and our customers in Japan and China,” said Uze.
Uze claims that he thrives on the David-vs- Goliath scenario. He believes he did exactly that when he worked for Dell Japan, and later at AMD in Japan. While at AMD, Uze spent 22 months hounding a Japanese PC OEM -- until the company finally switched its CPU’s from Intel to AMD.
Uze’s goal is to motivate every employee at Freescale Semiconductor Japan to become a “David” fighting against the Goliath of Japan Inc.
While refusing to accept the conventional wisdom that Japanese OEMs only do businesses with Japanese chip vendors, Uze is confident that his enthusiasm will inevitably win over some Japanese OEMs. But for Freescale at large to win bigger, Uze’s tougher assignment is to convince 210 employees at Freescale Semiconductor Japan – many of whom go back to the day when Freescale was a part of Motorola, America’s most-storied technology company – that they need to take up their slings and join Uze in fighting the invincible foe.