Opportunity abounds as the downturn persists

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Articles - December 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Companies are looking for deals

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It’s no surprise that after years of recession followed by sluggish recovery, companies are hesitant not only to hire but also to spend. That’s where the opportunity lies for vendors who can offer goods or services at a lower price or help businesses spend less by automating or outsourcing mundane tasks.

That’s why Test Systems Strategies Inc. (TSSI) is prospering in Beaverton. Every new computer chip that is designed must be tested, and TSSI has 30 years of experience testing chips using a standard methodology. Companies eager to get new products to market can save money by outsourcing that step in the process to TSSI.

“We save our customers money and help them get to market faster,” says CEO Hau Lam. He attributes his unusual success during the recession to hard work and innovation, saying that revenues grew by 20% in 2008 and 30% in 2009. TSSI also continued investing as the economy fell, buying a building on Millikan Way in 2007 and establishing headquarters there in 2008.

Lam is very tight-lipped about company specifics. TSSI went independent and private in 2005 after spinning off from publicly held Summit Design and does not share revenue figures or employee numbers. “We prefer to be a quiet success,” he says. “We are a small company with a huge reach. We don’t have our names on the product, but rest assured our fingerprints are on it.”

TSSI serves an extensive menu of global clients including Sony, Toshiba, Boeing, Toyota, IBM, Cisco and Siemens. That doesn’t include the steady supply of small startups inventing new technologies, as computer chips play ever-larger roles in the designs of cars, video games, smart phones, and practically everything else. “There will always be new companies building new technology with new chips for new uses,” Lam predicts. “Some will succeed and some will fail. But succeed or fail they will have to test.”

It probably doesn’t hurt that one of TSSI’s biggest clients, Intel, has had a stellar year and recently announced plans to invest billions of dollars into new plants. Nor does it hurt that Hau Lam is fluent in Mandarin, with connections in Beijing and in fast-growing Vietnam, where he was born and raised. The shift of business power to Asia is another area of opportunity. “It doesn’t matter where the company is, we can serve it,” he says. “We just want to make sure all the profits go through Beaverton.”



 

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Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014

There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


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