Problem solver Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

Ron Jankov likens his job at NetLogic Microsystems Inc. to that of a firefighter.

For the most part, he lets his people do their jobs, but when there’s an issue, he’s the first one on the scene to respond. So, while he may not be listed under 911 in the phone book, he is willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice to help his people with a problem.

Doing so has helped Jankov, NetLogic’s president and CEO, keep his 250 employees focused on the tasks at hand. As a result, the company reported revenue of $70.7 million for the first half of fiscal 2008, putting it on track for a big bump this year after the fabless semiconductor company posted fiscal 2007 revenue of $109 million.

Smart Business spoke with Jankov about how to keep employees from being paralyzed during times of adversity and why just dropping in on a meeting can be a good idea.

Help people calm down during adversity. You have to kind of thrive in adversity. That’s when you have to stand up and say, ‘If there’s a problem, then I own it,’ and almost kind of appreciate adversity because now you’re needed.

We had a problem about six months before we went public where we won a huge project and then, when we started to supply that program, we had a major manufacturing issue where it was costing us more to build the products than we were selling them to for. I had to go back and get a bridge loan — we got like $10 million, and we spent the whole $10 million — but we kept the program, and today, they continue to be our largest customer.

A lot of getting through that was just saying, ‘Hey, we can do this. I know I can get the investors to trust me to get through this.’ I had to tell the manufacturing guy, ‘Look, don’t panic; just get this thing fixed in six months. It doesn’t have to be fixed in two weeks because I know that’s not possible.’

Paralysis would stick in if you didn’t do that. The whole thing would just stop because nobody wants to make a decision that’s going to kill the company, so you can make them all comfortable by saying, ‘Hey, you can make the decision, and it’s not going to kill the company. You make the right decision, and I’ll make sure that it doesn’t kill the company.’

Direct your staff and then let them go. Once you have good people, you have to trust them and enable them to make the key decisions that they’re tasked with. If they’re VP of sales, for example, let them make those key calls on pricing and which customers to focus on, which suppliers to use. If you try to overrule them, you won’t keep good people.

It’s a thing you develop with each colleague at a different pace, and essentially you earn a certain amount of trust and understanding with each other. You come to some agreement on the philosophy of how this particular segment of the business should be run, and once you come to an agreement on that philosophy, then they move forward with that agreement.

Step into a meeting and take some ideas and criticism. Be out there listening to what people have to say. You want to just drop in on some meeting and say, ‘What’s this meeting about, how’s it going, do you have the tools you need, do you have the resources you need, what problems are you facing this month, this quarter, what’s your biggest single problem, and maybe there’s something I can do — or at least I’m aware of it even if there is nothing specific I can do to help out.’

The most important thing is to be seen as being able to accept criticism and be seen as open to accepting ideas that are not your own. If someone says, ‘We don’t like these tools; why haven’t we looked at this new tool on the market? Everyone says it’s hot; why aren’t we using it?’ We go out and we evaluate the tool, and, if they’re right, we buy it.

If you don’t ever do anything about it, people will stop bothering. But if they see that you act on it and you’re listening, then they know it’s worthwhile that they bring things up and are encouraged to do so.

Drive innovation by explaining your problem. If you go to even the entry-level engineers and you communicate very, very clearly what we’re trying to do and why and how it solves the bottleneck the customer has and they understand the problem, then they’re much more likely to come up with a solution than if you just tell them make it five times faster.

If they understand the bigger picture, they may come up with something that is truly innovative, meaning not just doing it faster than last time but also actually doing it differently because they understand the problem.

If you actually expose the entire situation to the employees and say, ‘Look, the customer thought he wanted this, but based on the latest input, now they need to do something slightly different,’ and if you make it very clear and communicate, then everyone will move forward in this new direction.

They need to feel that they are very close to the decision-making so that they can see the logic behind it and be part of that process.

HOW TO REACH: NetLogic Microsystems Inc., (650) 961-6676 or www.netlogicmicro.com' target='_blank'>www.netlogicmicro.com