Power play Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2009

Nine months after its founding in 1988, Balu Balakrishnan joined Power Integrations Inc. as a key engineer, and his near departure soon after could have been the end of the story.

Instead, 14 years later, he was named the company’s president and CEO and continues to lead Power Integrations forward.

In 1988, the company was targeting the high-end market of power supplies and planned to charge a premium. But after designing products that no one wanted to buy, Balakrishnan insisted on speaking with customers to ferret out the problem and found that the key point of resistance was not with the products but with the price.

He realized that the company’s high-end marketing strategy didn’t make sense, and it had to find a way to appeal to the mass market. Months later, he presented his plans for taking the company in a new direction, only to be met with ridicule.

The next day, he planned to resign, but two venture capitalists asked him to continue working on his ideas. He agreed, and toiled for two years before introducing TOPSwitch, the company’s first commercial product. Based on this single product, introduced in 1994, Power Integrations went public in 1997. Today, TOPSwitch is in its fifth generation and has sold more than 1 billion units, and the company continues to focus on mass-market, high-voltage power conversion applications.

Power Integrations now employs 350 people, whom Balakrishnan empowers to make decisions, and he gives managers the power to spend money as if it is their own, without getting his permission for purchases. As a result, the company has a 2 percent attrition rate, and knowing that he has employee loyalty allows Balakrishnan to plan his company’s future as much as 20 years ahead.

How to reach: Power Integrations Inc., (408) 414-9200 or www.powerint.com