Better before bigger: How Linear Tech was built: Page 2 of 6

July 24, 2015 // By Steve Taranovich, EDN
I [Steve Taranovich writes] recently visited the 2015 UBM ACE Awards Lifetime Achievement Award recipients, Linear Technology’s Bob Swanson, chairman of the board, and Bob Dobkin, CTO. These men are an important part of the early days of electronics in Silicon Valley and have seen the transition from Germanium transistor designs in electronic circuits, on through to the early days of the Integrated Circuit (IC) and finally, culminating in the co-founding of Linear Technology, deemed one of the most profitable and successful companies in Silicon Valley today.

EDN: Both of you have been in the electronics industry since the early days of germanium transistor technology and have grown and excelled personally over the last 50+ years as successful engineers as well as founding Linear Technology and bringing that company to a very profitable and influential position in the analog semiconductor community in so many ways. To what do you attribute this successful longevity? I can’t think of many, if any, electronics companies that have achieved such a long and successful run with the same leadership and engineering-oriented corporate culture in this tough industry of ours.

Swanson: When I was at National and ran their analog group, there were three design groups: the advanced linear group that Bob Dobkin ran, standard linear ICs that Jim Solomon ran, and a third one that was consumer linear integrated circuits (CLIC) headed by Tim Isbell. A bunch of us were getting frustrated near 1981 and I decided I was going to leave. I was thinking “How do we get this thing started? How can we possibly succeed? Especially in an analog business where a lot of people think it’s last year’s technology. So I said ‘What can we do better than everybody else?’ and ‘Is there anything we can do better?’ Because if we can’t answer that question yet, we might as well stay at National.

The choices I had involved Bob (Dobkin), who was running the advanced analog group, but he was making really ‘slick’ general-purpose things like voltage regulators and amplifiers, and so forth. The other groups were working on things like speech recognition and speech synthesis and a lot of way far out in time projects. So, if we were going to get this company off the ground, we couldn’t have projects that took five years to get any sales. His (Dobkin’s) products went to market quickly and saw sales after a year and a half. OK so that’s three years and not 5, 6, 7, or 8 years. So I said let’s start this company. Bob (Dobkin) is the guy that I want to start it with!

Bob Dobkin pointing to his 43 patents on Linear Technology’s Patent Honor Roll.

Dobkin: It’s important that when you’re coming up with products for a new company, you have to give the customer a benefit. Right from the start we tried to give the customer a benefit in performance, we provided support, and when complications came up, we were there to help the customer. And it’s Bob’s (Swanson’s) fault that we have efficient manufacturing, good delivery, and we never gave the customer anything to complain about regarding the products.