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Title: In the beginning… there was Widlar!
Author: Joe Malone
Created: August 8, 2007
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Story:
       

    In the beginning... there was Widlar!

    (The hiring of Bob Widlar - circa 1964)

    By Joe Malone, Personnel Manager
    Fairchild Semiconductor Division, Mountain View Complex
    Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation

    (As remembered in 2007)


    I believe the year was 1964. It seems to me it was springtime and either a Thursday or Friday. A "normal" day at Fairchild although no days were "normal." The "unusual" was usual. That was what made working there terrific even for the administrative types whose nominal task it was to maintain some semblance of order. Planning was impossible so you just got accustomed to flowing with whatever current was generated each day by the constant noise of the squeaky wheels in your space.

    On this particular morning, I was visited in my office on Whisman Road very early (and unexpectedly) by Bob Graham who was Fairchild's Product Marketing Manager. Bob, along with Don Valentine the National Sales Manager, reported to the Marketing Director, Tom Bay. They essentially were the Mr. Inside and Outside of Tom's organization. Neither one had much use (need?) for the Personnel Department and therefore it was unusual for Bob to darken my door. Of the two however, Bob was by far the more out-reaching and cooperative particularly when he needed something. Such was the case this day.

    Bob had in tow a scruffy, curly haired little fellow with impish eyes that simultaneously smiled and bored holes in you. He was clearly self-confident bordering on arrogant, but outgoing and friendly at the same time. He was introduced to me as Bob Widlar a young design engineer currently working at Ball Brothers Research in Boulder, Colorado.  (I'm going to shift to surnames to avoid confusion of Bobs) Graham had sourced him either directly or through one of the Field Sales guys or perhaps through an FAE. Essentially, Widlar was a brilliant circuit designer who used Fairchild products at Ball Bros. I was impressed that Graham had the "stones" to recruit him out of a customer's house. In any event it was clear that Graham "owned" him now and felt responsible for his welfare at least for the day. This was a special guy.

    Graham provided me with a courtesy introduction and informed me that he had arranged for Widlar to spend the day with John Hulme, Murray Siegel, Maurice O'Shea and Vic Grinich one of the company's founders who, I believe, was running the Applications Engineering group at that time. He let me know that John Hulme, who was the Manager of Integrated Circuits Applications, was the targeted hiring supervisor and I was to aid and abet John in any way possible to see that Widlar joined Fairchild. They then disappeared and I saw no signs of them until late in the afternoon. I simply was on standby to assist John.

    To add a little color to the story, it appeared that Widlar was on vacation that day and driving a big, heavy, red Pontiac/Oldsmobile (?) convertible with the top permanently down from Colorado to Tijuana/Rosarita Beach/Ensenada Mexico. Mexico was later to become Bob's "paradise." He lived there off and on and I believe died there. He's probably buried there or his ashes spread along some remote Mexican beach. Graham had somehow snagged him and convinced him to plan (Widlar plan?) his trip such that he could spend a day at Fairchild in Mt. View. Widlar had agreed to eight hours maximum. Graham knew he had a narrow window with which to work and, master-manipulator that he was, made every minute count. We needed to "close the deal" by sundown.

    It helps also to understand that John Hulme was a tall, thin, prematurely gray haired Mormon. Shy to a fault, he was soft-spoken and well mannered - a personality profile that was diametrically the opposite of that which we all later came to know as classic "Widlar." This was a proposed marriage of opposites. Only Graham had the genius to see the synergy. In retrospect, I don't believe John was convinced that it was that good a match but like so many managers in those days, he had a need for a Linear Circuit Designer and Widlar was clearly that - in spades! (Now THAT, in hindsight, is a massive understatement.)

    Sometime late in the afternoon, John Hulme and Bob Widlar appeared at my door. We put Widlar in my office while John and I huddled in the hallway outside. John announced that he wanted to hire Bob and (ever the pristine manager) indemnified that he had an appropriately approved personnel requisition somewhere in my department. We discussed the magnitude of the offer briefly. John stated that Bob was currently earning (gulp!) $9000/yr and he was comfortable offering him $10,000/yr. but - NOT A PENNY MORE!  John was not comfortable extending the offer and asked me to close the deal. Widlar was driving to Southern California immediately upon leaving the premises and both Hulme and Graham wanted him "closed" today!

    I then joined Widlar in my office and the dancing began. He knew where we were going and decided to enjoy the ride. I poked around in his early life and discovered that his father ran a radio/TV repair shop in the Cleveland, Ohio area. He learned electronics from the ground up at his father's knee. For some reason that I can't recall, he chose to join the Air Force instead of going to college. Somehow he got stationed in Colorado and was able to attend the University of Colorado in parallel with his military service. I believe he finished college with a BSEE in three years (3.9999 GPA) and met his service obligation at the same time. Ball Bros. was his first and only fulltime professional civilian employment.

    At some point, I (naively) asked if he had thought to bring along a resume.  In response, he casually tossed a copy of his transcript across my desk. Ever the poker player, I studied it carefully and noticed that it showed ALL "A's" except for one lonely "C" - that being in Colorado History. When I inquired about the obvious aberration, he replied that Colorado History was required to graduate. He said the instructor, on the first day of class, asked the class to take out a blank paper and draw an outline of Colorado. Widlar's response to this request was to write on the paper, (sic) "The map is on the wall behind you, you dumb SOB!" He then smilingly admitted that the Professor never seemed to warm up to him and simply gave him a passing grade. My first clue that this was a different dude?

    We then moved into the negotiations. He verified what John had already told me about his current yearly salary. I responded that John very much wanted him to join his group and was prepared to offer him an increase to $10K/yr. His reaction was a blank stare. The silence was palpable. It was one of those "whose going to blink first" moments. Finally, he spoke. "I won't come for less than $12K," he said. Now it was my turn to stare while my mind was whirling. Is this guy playing me? (Of course he was) Do I dare stonewall him and risk the wrath of Bob Graham if I lose him? What to do?

    I broke the silence by launching into a totally irrelevant and wandering discourse on Fairchild; John Hulme, what a trusted guy he was; how if he was as good as he thought he was he'd be making $12K in no time; blah, blah, blah. I was pouring out platitudes non-stop. Interestingly, I don't recall any talk of equity or stock options of any kind. I guess not at that level at that time. Anyway, he was entirely cash motivated then. The equity thirst came much later.

    Speaking of thirst, it was getting on to 5 o'clock and he interrupted my babbling by asking where the nearest "watering hole" was. I acquainted him with Walker's Wagon Wheel bar/restaurant just down Whisman Road at the intersection of Middlefield Road. He abruptly ended our meeting by asking me how long I intended to be in my office. I said "As long as necessary, why?" He then stood up to leave and committed to me that I would get a phone call with his decision "after six beers." (Somehow I sensed that wouldn't be long. I was right!) We parted ways amicably with much the same affable, smiling eyes I had seen that morning.

    Roughly, an hour later, my phone rang. Widlar was on a pay phone at "The Wheel." (No cell phones then) He graciously accepted our offer as originally stated; asked me to put it in writing and mail it to his home in Colorado; committed to give notice when he returned from vacation; said, "Adios, Amigo!" and left for south of the border. I called John Hulme who was sitting in his office on tenterhooks. I then packed up and went home. Little did I know or even have a clue what this little elf was going to produce or the impact he was going to have on the worldwide semiconductor industry. His name is synonymous with Operational Amplifiers and innumerable other Linear Integrated Circuits.

    Our paths crossed many times over the next 20 years. I "processed" him out when he left the company with his counterpart, Dave Talbert to join what was then a struggling Molectro in 1965. Molectro was purchased shortly after to establish a West Coast operation for National Semiconductor then based in Connecticut. Talbert was the "Process Genius" that could manufacture anything Widlar designed. Together they were unbeatable either at work or play. It is my opinion that they were a major attraction when Charlie Sporck and his core team left FSC in 1967 to resurrect National. Linear products generated a steady (obscene?) gross profit for NSC throughout its history while the other product lines "eked" out marginal results if any at all.

    Widlar was no longer with National when I joined the company in 1972. He was living in Mexico. But we later retained him as a design/layout consultant. It was indeed comforting and a delight to see him wandering around the campus with his smiling eyes and a Styrofoam cup in his hand. No one dared ask what was in the cup. Bob was an amazing individual! There are more "Widlar" stories around than can possibly be true. But this one is mine and I've obviously carried it around for over 40 years. It's interesting how a single day can remain this clear among all of the cobwebs of other memorable events.

    In closing, in case there remains any confusion as to who the hero is in this tale - it's Bob Graham. John Hulme hosted Widlar all day and made the easy decision to offer him a job. I may have "closed' on him but Graham was the key ingredient. He "sourced" Widlar and convinced him to stop by on his way to Mexico. He set up and orchestrated a smooth process that the rest of us simply implemented. He made a major impact on the industry by introducing Bob Widlar into it. This was not his only contribution to the industry but arguably one of his greatest. I wish he were here to enjoy the Fairchild 50th reunion this fall.

    RIP, Robert - Both of you.


Entered By: David Laws
  August 8, 2007
 

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