‘Exit interview’ with Carlo Bozotti of STMicroelectronics
Bozotti was CEO of ST for the last 13 of those years and oversaw the creation of ST-Ericsson, the 50:50 joint venture between STMicroelectronics and Ericsson focusing on semiconductors and platforms for mobile applications. Although this venture was unsuccessful Bozotti then drove the turnaround of the company with a shift towards more stable, longer-term markets such as automotive and industrial electronics and revenues growing 20 percent in 2017.
Peter Clarke met Bozotti shortly after his retirement from ST to look back at a long career and ask “What next for Carlo Bozotti?”
eeNews: Where were you born and educated?
Carlo Bozotti: Close to Milan in a place called Noviglio in 1952. I went to elementary school there and at age 11 I had to take a bus to Pavia to go to junior high school, then to liceo scientifico. I also went to university there. Liceo scientifico is a form of specialised secondary school in Italy.
eeNews: What drew you to study science, engineering?
Carlo Bozotti: I liked physics and maths in high school and so I went on to take electronic engineering at university. We were the class of 71 and many of us still meet up a couple of times a year. The first couple of years were general but then the next three years the course was more specialized; quantum physics, semiconductor device operation, lasers and advanced optics and so on. We were already looking at integrated circuits and we made a discrete device as part of the course. We even talked about digital electronics.
And one of the assistant professors there also worked at SGS, as it was then.
eeNews: Can you remember the discrete device you made?
Carlo Bozotti: Yes, it was a 5A, 400Vceo bipolar power transistor. We were working on the optimization of the switching times. It was only a bidimensional study but very interesting. I can even remember the part number. It was a BU126-type device, which was used for power supplies in television.
Next: Music was my thing
eeNews: But was there anything in your childhood, in Noviglio, that drew you to engineering rather than physics or to electronics rather than another type of engineering.
Carlo Bozotti: Not really, music was my thing. I started learning piano as a child but stopped when I went to junior high school. But I picked it up again at 15 and was in a band until the second year of university, playing keyboards. We used to support some big acts and played in front of as many as 2,000 people; Saturday nights, Sunday nights. Sometimes we would open for the main band and then close the evening at midnight and have two hours’ drive to get back to Noviglio.
eeNews: What was the line-up and what sort of music did you play?
Carlo Bozotti: Two guitars, keyboards, bass and drums. We were called Le Immagini, which translates as The Images. We played two types of music. One was international pop music. I liked Brian Auger, a Hammond organist with a jazz influence; Santana, Deep Purple, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Genesis. And then we played Italian music, still contemporary but slightly different.
I can play Jazz piano a bit and it is one of the things I want to do more of now.
Carlo Bozotti: Jazz pianist and power guy.
eeNews: When did you join SGS?
Carlo Bozotti: In 1977 on February 1. It was my first real job and I had done 41 years and 4 months when I retired. The company found the original employment contract that I signed and gave it back me when I retired. I worked at Castelletto on power semiconductors. I am a power guy at heart. ST still has the facility and I went there recently. Now it is focused on smartpower technologies.
eeNews: Can you remember what you did on your first day at work?
Carlo Bozotti: Not really, but my first job at SGS was measuring the performance of transistors we were producing and making sure they matched the requirements. We had a 3-inch fab there for production. Castelletto is important to me because it was the first phase of my career; my first trip to the United States was to discuss power transistors and my first time in an airplane was a flight down to Catania [SGS manufacturing site in Sicily].
Castelletto was an R&D fab for power semiconductors and I remember I had access to a curve tracer for measuring I-V characteristics and, of course, it was very different to how it is now. I had something that was partly an office and partly a measurement lab and was employed as product and applications engineer for the next three years.
Next: Influencers, mentors
eeNews: How did you progress through the company? Who were your influencers, mentors?
Carlo Bozotti: Well then I moved to Agrate [SGS’ headquarters site] at the beginning of 1980 to take on technical marketing for bipolar analog ICs. Prior to that SGS had essentially been a consumer/TV component maker and we were now looking to migrate and develop ICs for automotive, industrial and telecommunications applications. We were working with customers like Olivetti and Xerox. CMOS was not part of my marketing responsibility.
Castelletto was becoming about the move into smartpower and one of my influencers was Bruno Murari who was the technical leader on the development of BCD [manufacturing process for ICs that include bipolar, CMOS and DMOS power transistors] and also went on to help introduce MEMS at the company. Murari was awarded the Elmer Sperry Award in 2017 in recognition of his engineering achievements.
I remember our first smartpower product was U001, four power MOS with digital input in one chip. By this time, I was already spending time with customers but Murari was inspiring with his innovation and ability to meet customers’ requirements.
And then Pasquale Pistorio joined the company as CEO in 1980 and there was a much faster move towards international business. I became a division manager with responsibility for automotive, industrial and telecom and then we merged with Thomson Semiconducteurs of France in 1987 and I had responsibility for telecommunications across SGS-Thomson with the R&D sites in Agrate, Castelletto, Grenoble and Rousset.
But I want to emphasize how important BCD was for us. It enabled us get into automotive
with a voltage regulator that could survive 80V voltage swings, into electronic typewriters and Daisywheel printers and into hard disk drives with motor drivers. The HDD has been very important. I remember working with Seagate Technologies and our first design wins with them at the time of the IBM PC ‘junior’ home computer in 1984.
We’re still in HDDs but with much more complex ICs. Back then, as it is again today, it was about innovation and being differentiated.
In 1988 I became responsible for strategic marketing – this was my first corporate job – and then in 1991 Pasquale asked me to go to the United States to drive sales and marketing and I went with my wife and two children. We spent three years there. 1991 was difficult, it was immediately after the first Gulf War, but 1992 and 1993 were good years and by 1994 we had moved from $300 million in annual US sales to almost $1 billion.
Yes, we enjoyed the benefit of a recovery phase but it was also at this time we developed partnerships with important key customers – including Hewlett Packard – on inkjet technology.
eeNews: Were you ever tempted to leave ST and try your luck overseas, in the US, or anywhere else?
Carlo Bozotti: I never really tried to leave. I did have a number of opportunities. Texas Instruments approached me in middle of the 1980s. There was one very interesting offer in 1998 or 1999. It was for an optical communications company. It was Italian and optical fiber for telecommunications was a booming area. I then had three CEO positions offered to me in the 2000s. But I always felt I had many more opportunities in ST and I loved the work in our company.
eeNews: You were in-charge of memory at one time. Do you ever think SGS-Thomson…or ST should have stayed in memory?
Carlo Bozotti: I was in charge of memory for about six years. We did try to get bigger. We were already doing EPROM, EEPROM, NOR-flash. At the end of the 1990s we looked to expand into NAND. We tried hard to bring in memories but the NOR-flash business was not sustainable alone. The objective was to become bigger in all forms of memory except for computer memory, so that was NAND and low-power DRAM at the end of the 1990s.
In the end, we entered the Numonyx joint-venture with Intel as a deconsolidation strategy, and then we sold to Micron. I believe this was the right move. In parallel, we managed the conversion of our two big memory fabs that are now making BCD.
eeNews: Was the problem the capital intensity required to stay in memory?
Carlo Bozotti: It was partly the capital intensity but we did not have the real technical advantage in low-power DRAM and NAND.
Carlo Bozotti: Europe must continue to lead.
eeNews: Are there any decisions that you made, or that the company made, that make you stop and think how things could have been different?
Carlo Bozotti: When I started as CEO we wanted to be an important player in two domains. One is in digital platforms and the second is supporting components such as BCD, analog, MEMS, sensors and power.
In microcontroller platforms – our STM32 family – we have done well and the ecosystem is very broad. We wanted to do the same in application processors for mobile and consumer. If there is one thing I regret it is not taking action on [to exit] set-top box (STB) sooner. I should have acted quicker. This I would change.
eeNews: And what about ST-Ericsson?
Carlo Bozotti: Given the information I had at the time, I would redo what I did on wireless.
We had Nokia and Sony-Ericsson spending $2.7 billion per year with us. We had the partnership with Ericsson and its intellectual property. The sudden collapse of the mobile phone industry in Europe was unprecedented, and it is really a pity for Europe.
eeNews: The formation of the ST-Ericsson joint venture including wireless capabilities of NXP Semiconductors; were you being told to do this by your customers?
Carlo Bozotti: There was very strong coordination. There was encouragement to become bigger and compete globally. This I would repeat, but application processors for consumer STB we should have stopped earlier.
eeNews: Was the European Commission pushing for the formation of the joint-venture?
Carlo Bozotti: Not really. It was coming more from the customers.
eeNews: Were you surprised at how long it took ST to recover from the joint-venture?
Carlo Bozotti: Well, ST-Ericsson was founded on February 3, 2009 and the decision to end it was taken at the end of 2012. After that ST had three difficult years but the company’s capital structure was never at risk. We also set about a massive redeployment of 2,500 engineers – into microcontrollers, into sensors, into digital automotive, into digital ASICs. So in 2016, 2017 and 2018 we are back.
eeNews: Was there a problem with key account strategy in the sense that things are good when key accounts are doing well but when there are only a few key accounts and a couple hit the wall so does their supplier?
Carlo Bozotti: You must remember that with Nokia we had 15 good years. Now we have distribution as an important part of our sales. We now ship a billion pieces of STM32 MCUs per year. In 2007 ST was ranked number 12 in MCUs and in 2017 we were number two in MCUs worldwide for general purpose and secure applications. This makes the difference since MCUs are at the heart of a vast number of application for our distribution customers.
Now it is important to keep a balance.
Next: Achievements and trends
eeNews: What is your greatest achievement?
Carlo Bozotti: It’s hard to say one thing. I am proud of contributing to SGS becoming more international and helping introduce smartpower products when I was young. Then there is my time in the US signing up Seagate, Western Digital and Hewlett-Packard. And then more lately what we have done in microcontrollers, sensors.
I believe the company is solid with 21,000 employees in Europe out of a total of 45,000, and it is innovative and growing. My dream was for ST to be a bit bigger in terms of revenue. But in terms of return on capital employed the target was in the range of 12 to 18 percent, and our actual performance is around 23 percent.
eeNews: What do you think are the most significant technological, commercial and political developments that have occurred during your career?
Carlo Bozotti: Well clearly the cost of semiconductor R&D and new fabs has increased dramatically. For example, there’s only three companies in the world that have mastered the FinFET. ST is not manufacturing FinFET but we are designing there. We have a number of important developments in 7nm. But we are also differentiated by the adders to technology; BCD, MEMS, specialized image sensors and now silicon carbide for power. Then, there is FDSOI with PCM [fully depleted silicon on insulator with phase change memory as an embedded option].
It is important for Europe that there are companies like ST that can develop these technologies. They are key in the digitalization and electrification of the automobile and of industry, where Europe must continue to lead.
In terms of politics, globalization has been the trend not only in terms of supply chain but also in terms of technology and innovation. Now there is innovation coming from China, and this is a big change.
But in Europe we need to do something. Across the European Union 18 percent of young people do not have a job. We need to find a way to reduce youth unemployment. Here, technology and innovation play a fundamental role.
eeNews: Some might argue electronics is to blame for unemployment through automation and globalization.
Carlo Bozotti: It is not as simple as that. In Bavaria you have the highest level of robotization in the world but it is also an area with very low unemployment. We need to find differentiation through competences and knowledge. Education is the key.
Next: What next?
eeNews: What next for Carlo Bozotti?
Carlo Bozotti: I plan to work 90 days a year. I will work for an investment fund supporting mid-sized companies and maybe have a couple of board participations. I am already on the board of BE Semiconductor Industries. I have declined some offers. I would do nothing to conflict with ST.
Then I want to take a step up in playing piano, and jazz piano in particular. But that takes lessons and practice. I would like to play in a group. I will spend some time on my farm, which is managed by one of my sons, and do more sport. I already do walking and hiking but there is also bike riding. And for the hills my bike has a Bosch engine with a BCD chip in the motor and, as recommended by doctors, swimming.
eeNews: If you had one piece of advice for somebody starting their technology career, today what would it be?
Carlo Bozotti: If that person was in high school I would encourage them toward STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths]. We need more engineers and technical activity is a place where Europe can lead.
If they are looking for a job, I would say take a job in technology. I don’t think it matters whether it is in hardware or software. These things go together now into an application.
There is certainly a difference between working in creation of technology and where technology is used. While creating technology is exciting, career opportunities there may be more limited. I would encourage a new engineer to focus on the area where technology is used and there are great opportunities in Europe in the most innovative industrial and automotive applications.
eeNews: Thank you and good luck.
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