Semtech CEO Mohan Maheswaran: “Diversity is a critical tool that can be used to create massive differentiation”

An Interview with Penny Bauder

Penny Bauder
Nov 27 · 9 min read

Diversity is a critical tool that can be used to create massive differentiation. In a business, where people, knowledge and experience are the key assets, leveraging diverse perspectives, enables companies to build different thinking, create different ideas and learn from its teams unique ideas to create breakthrough technologies by offering a world view.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mohan Maheswaran. Mr. Maheswaran joined Semtech in April 2006 as President and Chief Executive Officer. He was Executive Vice President and General Manager of Intersil Corporation (“Intersil”), a company that designs and manufactures analog semiconductors, from June 2002 until March 2006, responsible for managing and overseeing the design, development, applications, and marketing functions for Intersil’s Analog Signal Processing business unit. From June 2001 to May 2002, he was Vice President of Marketing, Business Development and Corporate Strategy for Elantec Semiconductor, Inc., a company that designed and manufactured analog integrated circuits before its acquisition by Intersil in May 2002. He was Vice President of Business Development and Corporate Strategy of Elantec Semiconductor from January 2001 to June 2001. Mr. Maheswaran has also been employed by Allayer Communications, a communications integrated circuit startup company acquired by Broadcom Corporation; IBM Microelectronics; Texas Instruments Incorporated; Hewlett-Packard Company; and Nortel Communications. Mr. Maheswaran holds a BSEE from Surrey University and a MBA from Henley Executive Management College, both of which are located in the United Kingdom.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I have been the president and chief executive officer of Semtech Corporation for the last 14 years. Semtech delivers innovative technology platforms across a variety of industries but is primarily focused on the Internet of Things (IOT), Datacenter and Mobile Industries. Over the last five years Semtech has emerged as a technology leader in these three industries providing state-of-the-art technology platforms that enable our customers to disrupt and restructure existing markets in expansive applications such as asset monitoring, transportation logistics, 5G infrastructure, energy management and conservation, satellite connectivity, e-sports, smart water and smart resource conservation, smart safety and more. Semtech’s growth and portfolio diversification has come from both organic growth through our significant R&D investments and through acquisitions of innovative global technology companies.

As a 35-year veteran in the technology industry and having lived and worked on three different continents, I also bring my diverse background and significant experiences to Semtech. I believe that my own diversity of thinking has enabled Semtech to build a diverse culture and develop its own unique innovation footprint. This requires leadership diversity, global teamwork and a set of core values across the company that ensures a Common purpose and vision. While we are not perfect, I am very proud of the Semtech culture, our Values, how we operate as a company and how we consistently deliver sustainable value for our shareholders, customers, partners and employees. I am also a very strong believer in investing in technologies that enable a smarter, safer and more sustainable planet that motivates every one of our employees to achieve lofty goals for the holistic betterment of society and our environment and for the good of future generations.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I tell this story to many young executives because it communicates the importance of understanding what your customers really want. I started my career, after graduating with a degree in electronic engineering, as a design engineer and then spent time in applications engineering and marketing. After about 10 years, I ventured into Sales during my tenure at Texas Instruments, and I was very confident that I could sell high-technology components to customers by myself. I would spend hours, days, weeks even months educating and teaching customers about the details of the technology but no customer would ever give me a purchase order.

After about a year of deep frustration, I started to visit customers with one of the company’s best sales engineers and I just watched him to see what I could learn. What I observed was very little talking and a lot of listening and very little technical education and a lot more discussion about the problems/challenges and preferences from the customer and indeed a lot more discussion about what the customer could purchase today. As the sales engineer would pull out a purchase order and pen to try to close an order at the meeting I realized that good sales involves a lot of listening and a lot less talking and a focus on selling something that the customer can purchase today. Well, I learned several lessons but the most important lesson was to listen, listen and listen.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

While Semtech’s rich cultural diversity and values clearly stand out in the industry — with different cultures, backgrounds and experiences from 32 offices in 15 different countries — Semtech is a true innovation machine with outstanding technology differentiation in the areas of high performance Analog Chips and high-performance Algorithms. It is our strong conviction that these two areas will continue to be extremely important technology requirements over the next 50 years as emerging markets such as 5G Infrastructure, IOT, Autonomous Driving, AI, E-Sports and other markets grow. As an example Semtech’s LoRa Technology can be applied to any system, any company and any industry — with numerous technical capabilities such as low power, long range, low cost and more. These features, combined with emerging cloud and AI, enable the concept of low power sensor networks to become a reality. Monitoring the environment through sensors in real-time has never really been cost-effective until now. Semtech is spearheading the green movement by promoting a greener, safer and more sustainable environment and creating solutions to combat natural disasters using LoRa.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

At Semtech we are always working on a number of very exciting new initiatives. Today we are involved in many smart city, smart enterprise and smart home Initiatives and have a number of very promising strategic partnerships in the works that we believe, will ultimately focus on leveraging great technology for the social, economic and environmental good of the planet. Issues like public safety, natural resource preservation and optimization and operational efficiency to reduce waste and increase profits are top of mind for our team. While we have many new innovations and ideas, turning these ideas into real products and business opportunities with our partners and customers takes a lot of work and energy and often requires tremendous patience and persistence. Semtech has a very strong board of directors, that is both innovative, extremely shareholder conscious yet also extremely patient. I credit the diversity and experience of the Board for being able to architect the path for Semtech’s success.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

My advice would be to trust your employees. I see many CEOs, especially founders, who try to do everything themselves and are not capable of letting go. This control does not allow a business to scale and does not allow employees to grow which will eventually become a constraint for a business.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?

Managing teams can be complex, especially if team members are from different cultures or different regions and speak different languages. The key to successful teamwork is trusting each other and helping each other to understand the problem at hand and what resources are available to help each member of the team. Having experienced leaders on the team always helps and having one overall leader who has the experience and diversity of thinking is essential to ensure that the team has the direction it needs and can see clearly when things are not going well and what changes are needed.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)

· Diversity is a critical tool that can be used to create massive differentiation. In a business, where people, knowledge and experience are the key assets, leveraging diverse perspectives, enables companies to build different thinking, create different ideas and learn from its teams unique ideas to create breakthrough technologies by offering a world view.

· Having individuals from different parts of the world broadens the company’s scope as a whole. It give us insight we wouldn’t get otherwise, for example technology needs in Europe can be vastly different to needs in the Americas or Asia.

· The diversity of thought brings new perspectives to projects helping teams stay engaged and motivated. These teams provide the experience it takes to move quickly to capitalize on new ideas and innovations.

· A diverse team allows companies to connect with and understand customers and partners from all around the world in a unique way facilitating rapid decision making. Many of our customers also have Global locations that influence their overall decision making.

· Engaging with diverse pools of individuals from different geographies ensures that companies get the best talent. This talent is often from an untapped labor market and allows access to the best people in the industry.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Through Semtech and LoRa I’ve focused on connecting people and communities. As a global citizen, I take pride in the policies and core values we’ve put in place to ensure our products are designed to benefit the global community from increased connectivity in rural communities to green initiatives to reduce waste through manufacturing by focusing on products that are manufactured using green technologies and designed for resource reduction. At Semtech, I’ve worked to build partnerships emphasizing on connectivity, sustainability, safety and animal conservation efforts to help create a better cleaner world for future generations.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“A single conversation across the table with a wise man or woman is better than 10 years of studying books.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I am forever grateful to many people that helped me during my journey. The ones that I am most grateful to are the ones that chose to take a risk on me over others. Despite being different and inexperienced I found some leaders were able to see through the exterior and recognize the value within. I am particularly grateful to a well-known executive in the Semiconductor industry, named Rich Beyer. Rich mentored me and showed me how to be a complete executive and leader and showed me how to be a solid CEO. Not only is Rich one of the greatest leaders I have ever come across but he also a wonderful human being and these days finding someone with both qualities is extremely rare.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)

I am a big fan of Lebron James. He is much younger than I am but he seems to have so much wisdom for a young man who has accomplished so much that I would love to understand where his wisdom comes from. I love to see established younger people who are humble and wise, as it makes me feel positive for the future of my grandchildren.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Penny Bauder

Written by

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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