Published October 16, 2020, by Authority Magazine, Tyler Gallagher speaks with Jim Witham, CEO of GaN Systems, as part of their series on business leaders who are shaking things up. Read the interview in full here.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I come from a family of engineers — my grandparent’s generation designed and built printing presses and aerospace equipment and my parent’s generation were in bridge, canal, and road construction, so I imagine there’s a genetic component to my path. And I’ve always loved team sports — soccer is my biggest passion — so being part of a successful team has always been important. And I was usually Captain of the soccer team, and CEO is also ‘captain of the team’.
I took a pretty typical path from Stanford University engineering degree, to individual contributor design engineer, to engineering leader and then had the decision to remain on a technical path or go onto a management path. I chose to go to Harvard Business School and take the management route. After graduating HBS, a big decision was Investment Banking, Management Consulting, or Industry General Management. I took the GM route as I’ve always like to be building things and to be making tangible items. And I wanted to be in an industry that manufactures in mass — 4 billion things a year, not the 4 rockets per year of my engineering period. That led me to the Silicon Valley and Electronics. First circuit protection with passive components, then circuit protection with semiconductors — with power transistors made of silicon, silicon carbide and GaN. And now, at GaN Systems making 10s of millions every year and on our way to making billions of power transistors every year.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
My company develops and manufactures gallium nitride or GaN power semiconductors — the best performing power transistors ever. They’re better because they switch faster which eliminates power loss and increases efficiency. And they switch at higher frequency, which makes power equipment smaller, lighter, and less costly.
GaN transistors are important because these power semiconductors are used in every, that’s right, every power system — in your cars, your cell phone chargers, and in your solar equipment, data centers, factory floors, and everything else you ‘turn on.’ And the old parts, silicon transistors, have reached their limit. GaN is the material that is transforming all power electronics — solving the persistent and universal problem of energy wasted and materials wasted in power conversion.
And it’s not just power, GaN are essential in sensors. For LiDAR, which are the “eyes” in autonomous vehicles providing a 360-degree view, GaN devices are fast enough to drive the LiDAR lasers to create accurate, cost-effective systems. Also, GaN is making possible smaller and more efficient audio sound systems with notably higher quality audio performance. Once you’ve heard Mozart or Led Zeppelin or Kanye on GaN, you’ll never go back to silicon!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Wow, that’s a hard question. I’ve made lots of mistakes, and the ones I remember the most vividly weren’t funny outcomes.
Read the full interview here at Authority Magazine.