NEXX Systems’ 10th Anniversary celebration dawned sunny, warm and dry, a rare occurrence these days in the Northeast. In fact, the company was taking quite a risk to plan an outdoor celebration, regardless of the tent. But that pretty much describes the company’s overall approach to business, and why they’ve achieved such success in such a short time. They take risks and so far, those risks have paid off.
10 years ago, visionary founder Dick Post saw the writing in the stars for the future of advanced packaging technologies. Up until then, packaging processes were a necessary evil. He saw their potential as the value add they’ve become today, and was one of the first in the industry to start up an equipment manufacturing company dedicated to plating and deposition tools specifically for the advanced packaging market.
Since the day it first opened in August of 2001, the company has grown from — as Rezwan Lateef, VP of Business Development and founding member, recalls — “20 employees sitting around a table eating pizza, wondering what to do next and what to call the company” to a global organization with 142 full time employees, 36 based outside the US, and 140 systems installed at 40 companies.
I first became acquainted with the NEXX Systems team when, as an editor for Advanced Packaging magazine in 2006, I visited the company at its previous location, just around the corner from where it is today. I was still very new to the semiconductor industry and the advanced packaging market, and recall being inspired and impressed by Dick Post’s vision back then. I thought his idea of developing wafer level packaging tools specifically for the technology needs and pocketbooks of back-end assembly and packaging houses rather than the deep-pocketed foundries made a lot of sense.
My second visit was in 2009 when the company moved to its new location, and I had just started my blog, Francoise in 3D. A few months earlier, Dick Post had just handed over the CEO reins to Tom Walsh, formerly of Novellus, who was eager to take the company into its next phase and Dick remained on as chairman of the board. Now, two and a half years later, Dick is ready for his next big adventure, and has stepped down as chairman, but will stay involved with the company as a member of the board of directors. So this anniversary party had a double purpose: celebrating the company’s cumulative successes and honoring its founder. I felt honored to be included on the guest list for the event that also included employees, former employees, friends, suppliers, research partners, customers and local dignitaries.
Lateef opened up the ceremonies, reminiscing about his years with the company, joking that he’s no longer the tallest or the youngest employee. He introduced Massachusetts State Representative, Mark Lombardo, who extended congratulations from the House of Representatives, and presented a plaque signed by the Speaker of the House. He also acknowledged suppliers who were represented, calling out Dakota Systems, to which the company’s Apollo PVD system is outsourced 100%. Since 2001, Dakota has helped to put 50 Apollo systems in the field. Other technology innovations that share NEXX’s birthday include Wikipedia, the Segway, USB thumb drives, and the iPod. Ironically, NEXX tools enable the latter two of these.
Next up was Tom Walsh, who extolled the companies more recent accomplishments; namely the opening of the office in Shanghai, in keeping with the company’s strategy of building up local infrastructure globally, hiring direct sales personnel, and service and process engineers. This is particularly important in Asia and NEXX has already opened offices in Taiwan and Singapore. The most recent accomplishment in this strategy is the office in China; a particular challenge and a major accomplishment navigating all the government regulations. He also noted the addition of 60 new employees this year, and alluded to some exciting new product introductions in 2012.
Addressing Dick Post, Walsh said “We’re exacting on the vision that you had when you started NEXX Systems” and noted the company’s foundation in “good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity”, smart people, and hard work. “This is a good example of what is required in the US to lift us out of this recession, so Congress, please take note.” He said. He then presented Post with a star named after him, for “your visionary entrepreneurship, passion and guidance.”
The testimonials continued. Don Smith, a colleague who has worked with Post for 22 consecutive years noted that Post’s energy level and intelligence has made him a major force in people’s lives. “Determination can make up for adverse events.” He noted.
Arthur Kiegler, CTO and inventor of the company’s flagship, Stratus electroplating system, commented “if we were realistic at the start we would have probably never started.” One of the lessons he said he learned working with Post was what he called “realistic optimism” with no energy wasted on failure and rather moving off going forward. “In a start-up or growing company, there are bound to be setbacks,” He noted. “It’s about maintaining a delicate balance between the optimism of new ideas and the rigor of actually proving them out and building a product.” The goal at NEXX, he says, is setting a technical standard for performance, and valuing both theory and data. “Dick always said to me, ‘you always think 90% of the project is done once you’ve finished formulating the idea, but in reality, 90% of it is still ahead of you.’” He said.
Then Dick took the microphone, and humbly handed the credit to the people in his organization. “The only reason I’m successful is because I hire smart people,” he said. “You have to find the people who can do more than you can do. Every hire must raise the average. We beat large companies because we’re smarter, faster, we can make decisions, listen to customers and do what they want. We always get started with technology, and then technology becomes a commodity and the real success is based on how well we understand the customer.”
He continued. “I have to congratulate Tom. It’s hard to find someone who can take over and pretty seamlessly run this thing on up to the next level. I guarantee you I can’t do what he’s doing. He gets to have the thrill of a Wall Street adventure.”
He also talked about moving on. “Every one of these activity one does in life is fun, but you don’t want to have to do it all your life. I’m happy to give Tom the opportunity to take the company public, get the cash we need and keep winning.”
That’s exactly what Tom Walsh intends to do. As for Post, he’s looking forward to devoting time being an amateur astronomer, and will start by finding the star named after him, # 127277, located in the constellation Pegasus, celestial address 22 hours, 5 minutes, 12.90 seconds and a declination of +.09 degrees, 11 minutes, 3.7 seconds as measured in Epoch 2000. Happy stargazing! ~ FvT