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Beating the Japanese to the Chip

"Wally Pieczonka"

In 1972, Waldemar ("Wally") Pieczonka came to a crossroads in his life: The company he had been working for had lost faith in the future of the silicon chip industry as it related to their present development. Wally had not lost faith, went to work on his own, and made a name for himself.

Born in Poland, Wally and his family emigrated to Canada in 1938 where they settled on a farm in Saskatchewan. He received a Ph.D in solid state physics in 1960 and went to the United States to work for IBM for four years. He then returned to Canada to work for Westinghouse Canada but in 1972 the Canadian branch of the Pittsburgh giant withdrew from the silicon chip business. It had already dropped its interest in that part of the industry in the U.S. in 1968.

But Wally felt there was a great future in silicon chips.

"I decided to take the risk and start my own company."

The company was called Linear Technology, later renamed Gennum Corporation. Linear's sales in the first year of operation were about $500,000. Sales by Gennum in 1991 will exceed $20 million.

"We had the conviction that we could succeed. What we did was to pioneer the application of silicon chips in a niche market-the hearing aid industry. In this field we now have about 65 percent of the world market."

Not bad for a little Polish boy from Saskatchewan!

"It took a lot of persistence to sell into the Japanese market. To convince them that they weren't the only ones who could make micro-chips. At first they were cool to the idea but when they realized we had a good product they went for it. I must admit it was quite a coup and it felt great to be able to pull it off."

Pull it off is right! Gennum Corporation employs about 200 people and deals mainly with American companies, including his old bosses, Westinghouse!

His advice to young entrepreneurs? "Have confidence in yourself. Start early on your ideas and don't waste time sitting on the fence waiting for something to happen that might not. Or waiting too long so somebody else runs with the same idea."

Wally admits it is sometimes difficult to get financing, but if you have good product and your own track record is clear, you will succeed.

"Be persistent. Don't take no for an answer. Be organized. Many businesses fail because they don't keep on the main track. Maintain a narrow focus on your product and-like they say in the telephone commercial-you don't win by working harder but by working smarter."

Good advice from Wally Pieczonka, a Canadian Achiever who gambled personally and won with an idea that his American bosses had no faith in.

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