What about your company’s legacy?
Ray Zinn is a man of esteemed vision. As the CEO of Micrel for 37 years – making him the longest-serving CEO in Silicon Valley – he’s learned a thing or two about how to build and run a business, as well as leaving a legacy. Tune in as Doug C. Brown and Ray discuss concepts from Ray’s new book, Tough Things First, and go in-depth on lessons learned over Ray’s career.
Raymond D. “Ray” Zinn is an entrepreneur, inventor, and author, and is the longest serving CEO of a publicly traded company in Silicon Valley. He is best known for conceptualizing and in effect inventing the Wafer Stepper and for co-founding semiconductor company Micrel, which provides essential components for smartphones, consumer electronics, and enterprise networks. He holds over 20 patents for semiconductor design, has been mentioned in several books, and recently released his latest book, Tough Things First.
Visit his website: ToughThingsFirst.com
We have Mr. Ray Zinn. Ray is a very interesting guy. He is Silicon Valley’s longest-serving CEO. Thirty-seven years at the helm of his company called Micrel, a microchip company. They built it up to about $280 million. They went IPO and they sold it off. Everybody made a lot of money. Ray wrote this great book called Tough Things First. Get the book. It’s by McGraw Hill and it’s out there. I would call it the strategic entrepreneurial Bible. Ray and I are discussing concepts of the book and around the business. Even though it’s not direct, “Do this and your revenues will grow because of this.” It’s all the supporting things that people miss in business, the psychology and the philosophy behind that, which drives the tactical initiatives that you may hear on the show. I’m going to go to the interview. You’re going to see and know that Ray is a very intelligent guy and has a lot of experience. He started his company because he could no longer be an employee. In his book, he clearly describes that process in that pathway. We talked a lot about vision, discipline, grit, knowing your numbers, the finance side of the business as well as your sales numbers, perspective, intuition and different things like that. You’re going to love this interview. Let’s go to the interview.
I am ultra excited to have Mr. Ray Zinn on the call with us. Ray and I have been talking a couple of times. He’s a fantastic guy. I will say more than highly intelligent. Get out your pen and paper, bring it forward, write down these ideas. We’re going to talk a lot. I’d love to talk about growth and longevity in a business. Ray is Silicon Valley’s longest–serving CEO. Not only is that a great triumphant accomplishment in most people’s lives but he wrote this book called Tough Things First by McGraw Hill. Get the book. It’s on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The reason I’m telling you this is I have read thousands of books on entrepreneurial endeavors. This book stuck out as the top book I’ve ever read. Ray, I’m not trying to buddy you up. I want to welcome you to the show but the reality is I was so impressed with the book. In our previous conversations, everybody needed to know what you have to say. Welcome to the show.
Thank you very much, Doug. I appreciate that intro.
You are welcome. You built a company called Micrel. I love some of the examples in the book. It’s reminiscent of some of the things that I was attracted to in my life as well. For those of you who don’t know Micrel or haven’t heard of the company, they are a company that produced microchips. Ray brought the company up to $280 million. The company went IPO, sold off. Now, Ray spends his time flying back and forth between two beautiful states of Montana and California. On this show, normally, what we do is talk a lot about specific CEO sales strategies. What I saw and read in this book, it’s all about growth and longevity. We can talk about growth but I love your view on longevity. Grow it for the long–term versus short–term exit strategies and many companies and what they do. Let’s start out with a vision. A lot of people talk about vision. They say, “Without vision, the earth shall perish,” but the reality is that vision, I believe, is critical in a company if they want to continuously grow it and have longevity. Could you describe what you see as vision and how important it is for a company to have it?
We need to talk about what is vision. Other than our eyesight is able to see. Vision has to be something that we have, like a dream. It has to be in our minds. We have to visualize it in our minds. That’s the problem. If your vision when you’re running your company is to take a salary, provide for your family, get in and get out or whatever. If that’s your vision, that’s more short–term. If your vision is long–term meaning you have this career path for yourself or your company, that vision has to say, “How do I do that? How I go from nothing, as you would, to this objective that I see in the future.”
When I started Micrel in November of 1978, I had a vision. At that time, I’m talking about when I first started. Providing a living for my family and having a decent job. As the company began to succeed, I said, “I can do something with this company.” My vision shifted a little bit. I said, “I’d hope to be able to sell this company within five years and then move on to something else.” In five years, I said, “I can do even more than that. I want to take this company public.” That was in 1985. I got the vision to take the company public, which we did in 1994.
When I took the company public, that changed the whole environment and the whole scope of what my investors and my customers expect from the company. As you move along, your vision somewhat changes. When you first start out, you don’t have that knowledge or understanding. It’s like a teenager going into maturity and then getting married, getting an education or whatever moving on in their life. Things change. Your view of things change. Health, marriage, family situation or economy could be a factor. All these factors affect how you view your future. Do I make sense?
It makes total sense to me. What I find many times when I talk to entrepreneurs, they have an original vision but when they’re stuck, their vision diminished over time and they don’t have clarity of where they want to go. What I loved in the book was you talked about the end objective, not just moving the needle for now but what is the long–term play that you want out of the business. I believe that comes from the initial vision of what we want to create, staying with it throughout the process and adjusting as we need. Is that an agreeable statement to you? Would you see it differently?
It is. It depends upon when you started. I started in my 30s. When you’re in your 30s, you’re ten years out of college and you don’t know everything. You’re still trying to figure your way along in life. I had a young family. I didn’t have this vision of becoming a multi-billion dollar company back when I started it. I was trying to get going. I tried to get something started. I wished I could say I had this grandiose vision of becoming a top 100 company in the world. That wasn’t my vision. I wasn’t able to see that at that point. Even when I started college, I wanted to graduate but I didn’t see the end of graduating at that point. I didn’t know what I was going to do for a living. I just picked a career, business objective or school objective and then I followed it through. When I graduated, I went on from there. Don’t get lost in the weeds. Keep moving.
The whole concept is don’t stop. It’s like training for a marathon. It’s not a sprint. You have to keep building yourself up, maybe running a 3K, 5K, 10K, 20K and so forth. Keep moving forward with the end goal of making yourself accomplish more, doing the tough things first as I talked about in my book. I want your readers to think that back when I was in my 30s, I could see that I was going to be Silicon Valley’s longest–serving CEO. I didn’t know that at that time. I had some ideas in mind. I wanted to have a company that treats its employees well. We had a great culture. I wanted that from the very beginning. That’s what allowed me to keep growing and moving the goalposts as I moved my career along until I sold a company in 2015 after 37 years.
When I first started a company, I had no idea I was going to make 37 years. I thought people that were in their 70s were already dead. I didn’t think that I was going to make it past into my 80s. I had no thought of having this company until I was in my 70s. Every day, you grow and progress if you keep moving forward and not looking back. You don’t drive a car by looking in a rearview mirror. You drive a car by looking forward. You may look at a rearview mirror as a safety thing or if you’re backing up but you don’t go forward backing up. You look forward to going forward. Focus on the future. Don’t focus on the past.
One of the anchoring points is you want to build a great company culture. That was the anchoring point. You continue to keep doing that throughout the 37 years that you had the company. What I’ve found with vision a lot of times is the change. I’m not 30 any longer. When I was 30, I had a slightly different value set than I do now. When I had children, it changed my value sets and things like that. We will progress through life as long as we have a clear vision of where we want to go with the endpoint. You’re a pilot. As a pilot, you set your destination and you’re blown off course all the way along the process, wind shear and everything else that happens. I don’t know enough about being a pilot. If you leave from Boston and you fly to San Francisco, you probably come off course a little bit but you’re always constantly focused on getting to San Francisco.
One of the things that I love in your book, I love the stories especially, is about discipline. You talk a lot about discipline and how it carries you through. You were taught a great lesson from your father about discipline. When you were in college, you just wanted to graduate but you weren’t really sure what you wanted to do. You said, “I’m going to come out of college and figure out what I’m going to do with my life.” You got home after driving all night long and your father had a different view of what you were going to do with your life. What I found fascinating was your dad’s resolve to push you in the right direction, regardless.
That’s the key, Doug. Our parents are there for a reason. Thank goodness I had a good father. He could see what I couldn’t see. He had a vision that I did not have. I was 19 or 20 at the time and I just didn’t have that vision that my father had. He said, “You’re going to graduate from college or you’re going to leave home with nothing on as you would. You’re going to be penniless and clothless. You’re not going to have anything. You’re going to go out of the world as you came into it with nothing.” They wanted to make that point to me. Thank goodness that we have parents. We have mentors. If you do not have a father or a mother, maybe you have a mentor. Somebody who will lead you in the right direction because you can’t see everything when you’re that young.
In fact, people were asking me in an interview, what am I doing now? I’m not sitting on a rock. I’m growing. I have ideas. I’m finishing my third book. I have this view of not stopping. Even though I use the word retired, I’m not really retired. Since the word that I’m playing golf or doing some innocuous thing, I have some goals, ideas and things I want to accomplish before I leave this earth. I’m not going to leave laying on a bed. I’m going to leave standing vertically. I may fall over when I go but I’m not going to be doing anything. No matter how old you are, no matter where you are in your career path, you still got to keep moving forward. I don’t care if you’re 105. You want to keep moving forward and do something with your life.
I sincerely believe that I got to write an article. It has to do with semiconductor supply and demand. I wrote about that. I want to keep progressing and producing. I want to do the tough things first every day. What I call myself is I’m an eccentric disciplinarian. I have the same discipline and routine. It’s called the extreme routine. I’m up at 6:00 in the morning. I’m exercising for an hour, an hour and a half, shower, eat my breakfast and start with the toughest thing I got to do for the day. I had my show with you. I was all ready for that. I have something beyond when we complete this show. I’ll be on to something else. I don’t want you to think that just because I’ve reached this point in my life that it’s all over. It’s not over.
I always say to people that as adults, we’re just an extension of our childhood. It continues as we grow in different aspects of our lives. That’s all. I don’t think a lot of people catch this. What I love about what you said was of all the people that I interview or I’ve had the pleasure of being in their company, one of the success factors that I see is they get up a little bit early and they focus on their human health right in the beginning. They do those tough things first right out of the gate. That seems to be a character trait or common thread. A lot of people will go, “How important is that to me growing a business?” To me, it’s everything because you’re setting your day up for success right from the beginning. You’re getting up and moving. How important is that?
Everybody that you’ve talked to has the same objective and thread. That is their health. That’s the same thing with your company’s health. When I was running my company, the first thing I did was worried about the company’s health. How are the people? How are my numbers? How are my customers? The company’s health is built around all the factors that your body’s health is focused on. You want that healthy company. You want to make sure you have enough reserves to carry forward during bad times. You want to make sure that your employees are happy, energetic and enthusiastic when they come to work. You want good company health. We talked about going to the doctor and have our regular physical checkup. Do the same thing with your company. Go to a physical checkup. We have a board directors meeting. We have a good CFO or other mentors. You want to make sure that the pulse of the company is healthy, with no arrhythmias and no problems that need to be repaired or fixed. The little things can turn into big things if you don’t keep your eye on the ball. You want to make sure the health of the company is good. That’s the first thing I did every single time I went to work. I checked the health of the company.
The little things can turn into big things if you don’t keep your eye on the ball. That’s sound advice. Ray, one of the things that I find entrepreneurs do which affects their revenue significantly is they don’t know how to focus. They get in. They have this vision. They get going. Then they run up against obstacles. You talk about focus in your book, knowing what to keep your attention on and how to respond to it. There’s a short–term and a long–term focus. How did you balance that as you were building your company over the 37 years?
There’s that day-to-day focus of the company, which is health. You’re not going to have a long–term if your short–term is unhealthy. You got to take care of yourself. Your company is part of your body. You want to make sure that the day-to-day things are taken care of. If you’re healthy then you can talk about running that marathon. If you’re not healthy, you’re not probably going to get out of bed. That’s a very important ingredient.
One thing I’d like to address with your readers is The Golden Rule. That’s the way I always operated. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Whether it be my customers or my employees, I said, “What would I like if I were on the other side? If I were a customer? If I were an employee? What would they want? What would I want from them?” One of the things I talked about with my people is are you living The Golden Rule if you’re a sales guy or a manufacturing person? The policy that we had at Micrel with regards to customers is The Golden Rule.
In other words, my customers want quality and they want service. Those are the two prime driving factors that customers want. If you go and look at reviews on Amazon for a product, you’ll notice that none of the customers are complaining about the price. They don’t talk about price. They talk about service and quality. That’s what they want. That’s what your employees want. They want service and quality. Quality on their job and service is you are taking care of them. That’s what customers want. That’s how you grow your business. It’s making sure your customers are happy. I don’t know of an unhappy customer because they’re no longer a customer. As I tell my people, it’s easier for us to keep an old one than just to find a new one so I want to keep my customers happy. That means I got to serve the living daylights out. I told my salespeople, “When a customer calls, you pick that phone up instantly and you act friendly. Even if they’re angry, you act friendly.” That’s the way we were able to hang on to our customers.
The other thing that was important was the price. Customers don’t like price changes. Their products last about five years. That’s the length of a normal product. They don’t want your price to go down and go back up again. They want stable pricing. In your business, how can you have stable pricing? Your cost materials are going to go up and down. You’re going to have all kinds of issues like that. If you have stable costs and your pricing is stable, your customers are going to be happy.
I would attribute back right to that being service. If you can get stability in that then you’re giving service in the perception of value. People always look at quality and service. Those are the two main driving factors in a buying decision and buying confidence. If we can instill that, as you did with your salespeople, “Even if you’re having a bad day and they’re having a bad day, you’re not going to have a bad day. You’re going to make their day better.” That is a service–related growth factor, which a lot of people don’t think about. They don’t think about the way somebody answers their phone could be a revenue loss or a revenue gain in the company. Those of you who haven’t trained your folks to be consistent on how they answer the phone, take the lesson from Ray. It’s a very strong, wonderful lesson about how to drive revenue growth.
Here’s what we do. When we answer the phone, the first thing we say is, “How can I help you?” Those are the first words out of our mouths. That’s the key. You might say, “This is so-and-so. How can I help you? I’m here to serve you. I’m here to take care of your problems. What can I do to help you?” That makes a customer smile. He may be so mad or he wants to spit but if you say how can I help you, that’s what he wants. He didn’t call you to find out what the weather is. He’s got a problem. He wants your help.
If you can solve that problem then you will be his best friend. Guess who he’s going to think of when he has a time and need for a product sale or service sale from? You. I’m following the book a bit. In the book, you talked about finance and entrepreneurs need a grasp on their financial numbers. I have found with many clients I’ve worked with was they don’t have a firm grasp on that. They push it off to their CPA or to the CFO and they’re not reviewing the numbers. I teach them to review the numbers in their sales journey and in their business in general. I think it’s a critical factor in the growth and longevity of a company. Do you feel the same?
If I ask you, Doug, what is your resting heart rate, what would you say?
Honestly, I wouldn’t even know. I should.
Your resting heart rate should be around 60. You should know those numbers. You should also know how many breaths you’re taking in an hour. You should know how many steps you need to take in a day to be healthy. There are certain things that you need to know to be healthy. There are certain parameters with regard to running a company that the numbers have to match. You want to make sure your cashflow is positive. You should know what those numbers are. You should know what your breakeven point is. You should know how many days your outstanding receivables are. What are your payables standings? You should know all those off the top of your head. You don’t have to be an accountant. You don’t have to be a financial genius. You just have to have a memory. Keep a little notepad that has those little cheat sheets that you keep track of that you know these are the parameters, this is what my current ratio and long–term debt is. You have those little numbers written down. You know those numbers and you commit them to memory. If you don’t know what the current ratio or quick ratio is, look them up. You can Google. You can find anything. Become familiar with your numbers. Know what those numbers mean.
You didn’t know what your resting heart rate is. You should know, Doug. Those are important parameters that help keep you going. The same thing with running a company. There are certain parameters that you must know like your debt to equity, current ratio or asset ratio. All those things that go into running a successful company even though you may be an engineer and not have a finance background. It makes no difference. There are certain parameters that you need to know and understand. It’s like operating a car. You should know what the brakes are, what the throttle is and how the car functions or you shouldn’t be in it. Don’t try to drive a car or fly an airplane. Don’t fly an airplane unless you know how to do it. Don’t run the company unless you know how to do that. There are certain things you can do to learn. There are classes you can take. There are night classes you can take. There are online classes available that will help you become familiar with the certain health parameters that are necessary to run your company.
Ray, I have a favor to ask of you. When you talk to my wife, don’t tell her I didn’t know my resting heartbeat because she was a fitness instructor for many years. She’ll come back at me on that one.
Do you know what it takes you to test it?
A minute or two minutes. I don’t know.
You can measure it for ten seconds and then multiply it to six. That’s what you do. If you’re resting heartbeat is 10 beats in 10 seconds, times 6 it’s equal to 60 beats a minute. It’s simple to do. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s nothing. It’s like flying an airplane. By the way, if you’re flying a little Cessna 152, compare that with a Boeing 737 or a 767. You have to know a little bit more. In other words, as your plane gets bigger, as you start flying more passengers, you’re going to have a little more training, a little more safety knowledge. The same thing with running your company or a little company. Maybe 2 or 3 people in a company. It’s like flying a 152. It’s not much to learn and know. If you get to be a 1,000–people company like on an airplane you’re carrying several hundred passengers. The airplane is bigger and there are more parameters you have to know. You’re generally flying further and not flying a short distance. You’re flying a long way then there’s a lot of information you need to do to be successful and land that plane safely with your passengers.
You tell stories about when you were flying. You put the plane on autopilot and it dipped down. You weren’t paying attention. You were having a conversation with your wife. All of a sudden, the siren goes off. It wails and gives you like, “Ray, we’re going to hit the mountain.” You talk about key indicators. I’ve always found key indicators. Usually, half a dozen of them are critical and one of them evidently in your health is knowing your resting heart. That one I stand corrected on. Thank you. In a business, we also have these key indicators. If I recall correctly, it was about six or so that you focused on the airplane but it applies to business. How many key indicators should people be looking at? Does it depend if they’re flying the Cessna or a Boeing 737?
The parameters are the same. When you’re flying an airplane, there are six primary instruments that you follow. We call it doing the scan. You’re scanning those things constantly. They’re the same on a Boeing. On a large plane, there’s a scan pattern you want to do. Maybe you’re slightly scanning a different way but the scan pattern is the same. You’re still doing that in running your company whether you’re running a 3-person company or a 1,000–people company. There’s a pattern that you want to keep track of. You want to make sure you have at least a quarter worth of cash in the bank, you know what your breakeven is and you know what your costs and gross margins are. There’s a scan pattern that you need when you run the company that applies to us. The bigger the company, the bigger the problem but the patterns and the scans the same. Does that make sense?
It makes total sense. Thanks for sharing that. We’re talking with Ray Zinn. He wrote a book called Tough Things First. I’ve read this book now twice and I’m going back through it again. Here’s the thing I want everybody to understand. Go get the book. I don’t push books on this show as you know but go get it. I’ll call it the strategic entrepreneurial Bible that you should be having and reviewing. Each time I read it, I learned new things. I’ve read lots of books. The bottom line is this one I think is the number one. Go, get the book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Ray, I could keep you on here all day but I know you’re a busy guy and you got other things to do. I’d love to talk about one thing that you wrote about, which is entrepreneurial intuition. I agree with this that entrepreneurial intuition doesn’t exist. It’s driven by the relentless observation of everything having principles, wisdom, knowledge and being able to make decisions quickly through intuition. The reason I bring this up is that as I’m affiliated with the training industry so many people talk about, “Go with the gut intuition,” but they don’t describe what that is. You did a great job. It’s a very clear job for me in understanding what that is. Would you describe for the people reading what is intuition? Why is it so important in a business?
Knowledge without experience is teaching. Experience without knowledge is you’re just a journeyman. I don’t mean to minimize both teachings and being a journeyman but knowledge plus experience is wisdom. What you have is you combine your knowledge, which you need to achieve with experience that you grow and develop in your particular field and the proper application of that is wisdom. It’s wisdom that drives intuition. If we don’t have knowledge or experience then it’s like flipping a coin. You’re going to be right half the time but that’s not good in running a business. You don’t want to run a business only half the time. In other words, correctly. Those are not the ones that succeed. In order to get that number up to 75% to 80% correct decisions, you can say, “How do I do that? How do I get from just flipping a coin to be able to beat the odds? I’m now making decisions 75% to 80% of the time is correct.” That’s a combination of knowledge and experience. That’s how you get there.
When you say, “Follow your gut.” When we talk about that, that comes from our knowledge and experience combined. That is the gut experience, the gut knowledge that you have. Follow your intuition. In other words, get out of your mind and heart. Your heart is in the middle of your chest. Your brain is at the top of your head. Your gut is down below. We don’t say, “Follow your heart or your mind.” We don’t say that. We say, “Follow your gut,” because that’s a different part. It’s down in the bowels. That’s getting out of your mind, out of your heart. Your heart is a good thing because it’s sensitive. Your feelings are in your heart. Your mind is where your knowledge is. That’s where your brain is. That’s your background. Combine that with that feeling that you get and knowing, “I’ve been there before. I know that. I feel that. That’s in your gut. That’s bowels. That’s down deep in the heart of your system.” That’s why we say follow your gut. It’s combining all that knowledge, all that experience and coming up with the right answer. It’s been my experience that good entrepreneurs, top–notch people, make decisions in half the time with twice the results that the others do. The good thing about having that gut knowledge is you can make quick decisions. They’re better and more accurate.
There’s a story in the book. I’m going to paraphrase it. Please chime in. Intuition is based on knowledge and experience and then we start contrasting and looking at things. We try to solve problems. We come up with ideas, which some people call vision. I have this vision for this product or this program. You did this while working for a company. I have to say this is a strong backbone and your decision on this one. You were working for a company. You were tasked to sell to Texas Instruments, which was a very difficult company to get into. You tried multiple times and the urging of your sales manager is, “You kept going.” You came up with a really creative way of getting in. We don’t have to go into that.
When you got there, you had this idea of this wafer stepper. Here’s the thing I want people to understand. This didn’t exist when you hit Texas Instruments. Nobody had this. You had this understanding and the knowledge and you looked at it and say, “I think this would work in the industry.” Your company wanted Texas Instruments to buy their existing equipment but what you said was, “I’ll come in and I’ll pitch this idea on a wafer stepper.” You’ve got into the tour. Folks, read the book. It’s nothing short of brilliant how we got into the office.
When you got into the office, you started explaining this and you were thinking, “It might create some interest.” All of a sudden, they bit on the wafer stepper, which your company didn’t even have. It wasn’t even produced. Since they bid on it, you got to give them a proposal. You threw out a proposal and you say, “I’ll shoot for the moon.” Back then, it was like $800,000 for this. We need a minimum of $4 million or something like that. It was a $3 million deal you put together in the ether. There was nothing that you could even deliver. Texas Instrument came back and said, “No problem. Here you go.”
Now you have to take this back to your company and engineering doesn’t even know about it. No one knows about this idea but you just made a $3 million–plus sale. The response from the company is, “I found reminiscent of something I did and I can explain. You sold this thing.” Now your company has to deliver upon this thing. Your boss comes in, puts a letter on your desk and basically says there’s no chance we can deliver on this. How did this all play out? This is where intuition comes in and seeing down the line and matching. You stayed consistent with that focus and discipline through this whole process even though there were a lot of pushback points. Were you thinking at some time like, “What did I do?”
I did. I knew it’s possible. I had that intuition. I had that experience and knowledge. We could do it. I saw what the equipment capable of doing. I thought of thinking outside the box a little bit and we can make it happen. They did. It cost them a ton of money. The biggest problem is the lack of their heart is in it. You have to be behind something if you want to make it happen. I saw it through. I made it happen. I was a bit of a Maverick. In the movie Top Gun, the main player is called Maverick. He was somebody who thought outside the box. His superiors didn’t like Maverick because he was always doing things differently. He was not conformance. He wasn’t stepping in line. That’s what was happening to me. I was getting them to get outside their comfort zone or cocoon. Let’s do something difficult. Nothing in life worth having comes free. You have to look beyond the box even further than that. You got to go further than just outside the box. You got to go over the horizon, beyond the mountains.
That’s what a visionary can do. A visionary can see what others cannot see. That’s what a visionary is. That is so important because they’re stuck in the box. The lights are out to them. They don’t know how to get outside the box. They were as comfortable staying inside the box, inside your cocoon and in your comfort zone. Those are all comfortable. That’s not how we grow. We don’t grow by being comfortable. You got to push yourself. I call it learning to love the things you hate. Overcoming the things that are holding you back. You have far more potential and capability than you think you do. You have to say, “I’m far more capable than what it appears and I have to go find out where the boundaries are.” You keep pushing yourself.
I ultimately grew the company to be a multi-million dollar company by pushing the boundaries and kept saying, “Keep moving the goalposts. We can do better. We can go further.” If you could have a complete video history of what happened when I started the company in 1978 to when I sold it, you see a heck of a story. You will see all the ups and downs. I went through eight downturns that I had to deal with. I had to deal with the loss of important people. I had every obstacle that every company had been faced with. When I went public in December of 1994, I lost my eyesight completely when I was in London during the roadshow. I lost it completely. I was flying blind. I had to give presentations that I couldn’t see anymore. At the same time, I had to put all the thoughts in my head about, “I’m just going blind. What’s that going to do the rest of my life?” I had to put those aside, forget about my health issue and focus on the job of convincing investors to invest in the company. Think about that. I lost my eyesight instantly and still made a huge presentation to the point where the company’s stock was overprescribed.
You’re doing the tough things first. You’re tackling the difficult things. You’re doing the things through the setbacks and the rebound. The struggle is guaranteed in business. It’s what we do with that struggle that determines whether or not we’re successful in the endeavor that we’re going through. I’m going to keep promoting this book. The book talks about all of these facets. Some people would say, “These are soft skills.” No. This is the common thread that I have seen through companies who have built into the hundreds of millions into the billions of dollars. There is a common pattern. Ray, you lay it out masterfully in the book. I really appreciate you doing so. Thank you for being here. Someone is going to read this and then they’re going to go, “That’s where I’m stuck,” or, “This is where I need to go.” Buy the book. Ray, if somebody wants to get ahold of you, is there some other place that they could go to learn more about you, contact your company or whatever method you would like to share with the readers?
We have a website, ToughThingsFirst.com. They can go there. There are ways to ask me questions. There are ways to put your comments in. We have all of our articles on there. We have all the musings I write every day are on there. They can follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. We’re on all the normal social media channels. We’re easy to find and easy to get to. We’re happy to answer questions of people that have questions or would like us to help them in a particular area. We’re more than willing to help them. We like to see that people are successful. We’re here to help them become successful. Please follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. Go to my website and learn more about who I am and what I can do. I’m on Wikipedia. We’re easy to find.
Ray, I want to thank you for being here. We’re talking to Mr. Ray Zinn, Silicon Valley’s longest-serving CEO. He wrote an excellent book called Tough Things First. Ray, I’m very grateful you’re here. I know you didn’t have to be and I really appreciate the fact that you took the time to share your knowledge with people now via the show. Thank you.
You’re welcome. Thanks for inviting me, Doug. It’s been a pleasure.
I have read this book twice now. I’m going to go back through it again. Each time I go through it, there’s another layer within. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience where you’ve watched a movie, you go back and you watch the movie the second time. You’re like, “I didn’t realize that scene happened this way.” You watch it 2 or 3 more times and you’ll find other things. The same thing happens with this book. It is a training course for how to be an entrepreneur and how to do it for growth and longevity. I highly recommend you go get the book. I pitched the book four times in the show because it is that good. Ray is an amazing guy. He spends his time between Montana and California.
He’s at a place in his life where money is not an issue any longer. It’s all about legacy for the gentleman. It’s all about giving back. You’ll know that throughout everything that you do with him. He’s got other resources that you can go at. It’s been a pleasure. Here’s the thing, if you like this show, please go up and give it a five-star review. I would be very grateful. If you have comments or questions, send them in. Send them to Doug@BusinessSuccessFactors on things or topics you’d like me to cover. I’d be happy to do that. I’m going to continue to keep bringing you high-quality people and content so that you can learn. Ray and I discussed struggle is guaranteed in business but success is not. Success is predicated or built off of what you do with the struggle. Part of the mission here on the show is to make sure that you get the information, when you hit a roadblock, you hit a setback or you avoid the roadblock because you’ve had the information upfront. Go out. Sell a lot. Make a lot of money and be happy.
Raymond D. “Ray” Zinn is an inventor, entrepreneur, investor, angel, bestselling author, and the longest-serving CEO of a publicly-traded company in Silicon Valley. He is also the founder of a nationally launched ZinnStarter program at colleges around the country, providing financial and mentoring support for students to launch new products and companies. In 2015, Ray published his first book, Tough Things First, with McGraw Hill. The book covers Zinn’s analysis of his nearly 40 years at the helm of Micrel, a Silicon Valley institution along with the critical factors that entrepreneurs and seasoned executives alike need to know, including the intricacies of nurturing corporate culture, how to make every employee (and every human) feel valued, the impact and limitations of policies and procedures, and how to manage growth.
Zinn is also known for conceptualizing and in effect inventing the Wafer Stepper, and for cofounding semiconductor company Micrel (acquired by Microchip in 2015), which provides essential components for smartphones, consumer electronics, and enterprise networks. He served as Chief Executive Officer, Chairman of its Board of Directors, and President since the Company’s inception in 1978.
Zinn led Micrel profitably through eight major downturns in global chip markets, an impressive achievement. Many chip companies weren’t able to make it through one downturn and very few have survived through all the major downturns. Micrel has been profitable from its very first year, aside from one year during the dot-com implosion.
Ray Zinn holds over 20 patents for semiconductor design. He has been mentioned in several books, including Jim Fixx’s The Complete Book of Running and Essentialism by Greg McKeown.