Interview with Jorge Titinger, COO of Verigy

SergioRetamalBy Nancy Ellen Dodd, MPW, MFA

Jorge Luis Titinger is the Chief Operating Officer for Verigy, Ltd., which designs, manufactures, sells, and services advanced test systems and solutions for the worldwide semiconductor industry. As COO, Mr. Titinger is responsible for Verigy's product business groups, including product marketing, business development and R&D; as well as the manufacturing, supply chain, and quality operations. His focus is to ensure the company has the right product development roadmaps and to drive the company's global operations through initiatives that continue to increase Verigy's capability in design excellence, operational execution, integrated cross-functional activities and organizational excellence, resulting in improved technical, operational and financial performance.

Before Verigy, Mr. Titinger served as Senior Vice President of FormFactor, Inc.'s Product Business Groups. Prior to that, he held several executive leadership positions at KLA-Tencor Corporation, the leading supplier of process control and yield management solutions for semiconductor and related microelectronics industries. His roles during his tenure at KLA-Tencor from 2002 to 2007 included EVP of Global Operations and Chief Manufacturing Officer, Chief Administrative Officer, Senior Vice President and General Manager of KLA-Tencor's Global Support Services and Field Operations Group. From 1997 to 2002 he held several executive positions at Applied Materials.

Mr. Titinger holds a B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering and an M.S. in Engineering Management from Stanford University.

What was your very first job and do you see any similarities between that job and being Chief Operations Officer?

I was a martial arts instructor in Peru where I was born and raised. While these jobs are very different, there is one fundamental similarity - in teaching, as in my role as a COO, it is ultimately all about “the people” and how to get people to perform at their best possible level.

What are the main skills and personal attributes that have helped you reach your current position?

I think I have a good blend of formal education and broad experience in related industries, and an ability to influence people and accomplish results. I have a master's degree in electrical engineering, which is the core technical field for our products at Verigy. As a manager, different from when I was an engineer, I learned to lead people and developed from being an individual contributor to managing. From a personal perspective, it is an orientation to results which is very valuable. It is a critical change in a career evolution when one moves from expecting to be rewarded for one's efforts to being rewarded for one's results. The higher you go, the more it is about "What have you accomplished?" I have also invested in developing a strong network both in and out of the industry. Having strong relationships with peers, customers, suppliers etc, can significantly accelerate time to results…I think it is a critical skill and something that takes time and focus to develop.

As COO, how “hands-on” are you in operations?

I guess the right answer is that it depends on what is necessary to accomplish the results we are after. When it isn't necessary to be too “hands-on”, I think I strike a good balance of being able to delegate effectively to my team and staying involved at the right level of detail - I have the good fortune of having a very strong team working for me. I want to rely on the team and on their judgment and their direction.But there are times when I absolutely need to intervene and get into a pretty deep level of detail so that we can make progress and make certain decisions quicker. I think it is important to remember that delegating does not mean abdicating responsibility; in the end I am responsible, so I look for where it is I need to be hands-on in order to help the decision-making process.

What is the main difference in roles between CFO and COO? Have those roles changed after Sarbanes-Oxley?

Clearly a CFO is responsible for the financial aspects of the company—for the treasury, controllership, financial planning and compliance, etc., especially with all the new regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley, etc. More so in the past than now, the operational aspects of some companies were tied either directly or indirectly to the CFO's responsibility. I think as the regulatory world has become more demanding for CFOs you see more pure play CFOs than in the past. In our company in particular, our CFO and I work very closely together in making sure that the execution of our strategies is in line with our financial targets. Since my responsibilities are for both product generation and operations, there are several areas that are solely my responsibility, but in the end, our CFO and I work as a team to ensure we meet our business objectives. In a lot of companies, having that distinction depends on how critical operational executives are for the company's success.

How do you grade Verigy's overall performance in customer satisfaction?

Unlike industries where products are mass produced, in our industry we have a relatively small number of customers and repeat business is absolutely critical. Our sales cycles are long because we sell pretty technical products. We engage with customers, in some cases, years before products are designed. We align roadmaps with them, we sell them products that get installed and are used for many, many years, so we have an ongoing service and support relationship with them. I think we continue to look for improvement in the way we provide support, in the programs that we offer our customers with regards to maintaining their installed base, and in improved ability to react to their changing needs. Customer intimacy is absolutely one of the critical focus areas for us.

I think there always are improvement opportunities in customer satisfaction. These opportunities are in technical alignment, in execution of product elements from a timeliness perspective, and then in ongoing support of the installed base. How do we do it more effectively, more cost effectively, etc. But absolutely one of the top three priorities of the company is to take care of our customers.

During this economic downturn, how do you keep your entire organization motivated?

I think it is even more important now for people to be really connected to the vision and the strategy of the company. It is time for more communication rather than less, time for more transparency and clarity, and for continuing to focus on the strengths of the company. For Verigy, clearly one of the strengths is our people - we need to make sure they know that and they see how they can help us emerge stronger out of these tough times.
I think people understand the severity of the current downturn and will really value strong leadership during these times.

Do you have any ideas that could turn around this economy?

I think this is a very broad, deep and complex situation; in order to fix it, one needs to really understand the root causes, and there are many. The situation is further complicated by how interconnected the potential drivers are - tax policy, monetary policy, foreign policy, etc. There are no simple answers, but, when we emerge out of this, I believe this will be a different world. I don't think that we will stop progress or that we will stop competitiveness in other places. We (the USA) need to be okay with being in a constant state of reshaping our skills, both in retraining, and in focusing on the new things that we can do better than anybody else. What are we going to bring that gives us a very unique competitive position? What are our new core competencies? How do we get the American workforce really capable of performing better than anybody else? We need to drive that, get retrained in those areas, get competitive in those areas, so that we can provide an environment in which people in the U.S. can thrive.

Who do you rely on for advice?

One of the best things that people can do as they're evolving in their careers is to build what I call "networks of help." Somebody who has been a mentor to me for years gave me that pearl of wisdom. I participate in industry groups where people of similar industries and interests - clearly in areas that are non-competitive - can discuss ideas. I really try to figure out how to leverage my different networks to help me, to provide sounding boards, to make sure that some of my choices and decisions have the right probability of success. The higher up you go, the fewer people there are within your own circle that you can count on to give you that kind of advice or criticism, so you have to seek it from different sources.

What have you learned as COO that has surprised you or changed the way you do business?

One of the things that was a surprise is that no matter what the role, in the end, it's about the people. It is really important to understand the ecosystem in which you work, meaning your internal organization, your suppliers, your customers, and your competitors. How well do you understand what they need or what they're doing?

I think that the number one lesson for anybody who is in a competitive business is “everybody out there is trying to get better”. So, if you're not, you're going to fall behind. Can you achieve what you are committing to? Can you leverage your resources in the most efficient and effective manner? Don't become complacent. At some level, be paranoid because somebody is going to fulfill the need of the customer, and chances are, if it is not you, it's going to be your competitor. Be diligent about keeping that in the forefront of how you think every day.
About the Author:
Nancy Dodd serves as editor of the Graziadio Business Report, an online business practitioner's journal, at the Graziadio School of Business and Management. Dodd's journalistic career includes publishing more than 125 articles in local and national publications including interviews with celebrities and business leaders. She also served as editor of Marshall, a USC academic/alumni magazine, and started the Marshall Review, an online academic and business practitioner journal for the Marshall School of Business at USC. She began her career as managing editor of Elan magazine, a lifestyle and arts magazine. Dodd has also coached and served as consultant to other non-fiction writers and to start-up magazines.
January 2009
See the recipients of the 2009 Top 25 Supply Chain Executives Award.