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Sehat Sutardja: From radio boy to CEO

  • Mariel Grazella

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Thu, June 16 2011 | 08:00 am
Sehat Sutardja: From radio boy to CEO

Courtesy of Suryanata From MaverickIndonesian-born Sehat Sutardja has come a long way since his childhood days of fixing broken radios from his home in Jakarta.

He now runs a prominent technology company in Silicon Valley – the hub of the world’s tech companies.

“Everybody else was doing other things like sports, but I was just thinking about electronics – thinking about radios, thinking about semi-conductors,” he said, describing his early obsession with electronics.

Decades later, his obsession became the raison d’être of Marvell Technology Group Limited, a company specializing in designing semi-conductors, which he built with his Shang hai-born wife, Weili Dai, and his brother, Pantas Sutardja, in 1995. The three make up Marvell’s CEO, vice president and director, respectively.

The company, which posted a quarterly revenue of US$802 million in April, has developed into a recognized chip maker in the Valley. Marvell-made chips can be found powering a wide range of electronic, communications and digital devices, which have become commonplace gadgets such as the ubiquitous BlackBerry smart phones, Nikon cameras and Sony PSPs.

Sehat agreed that there were not too many Indonesians in the Silicon Valley semi-conductor field.

“It’s not as rare as you would think, but it is true that there are not too many Asians or Indonesians in Silicon Valley, especially in the semi-conductor field,” he told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

He was in Jakarta to attend the two-day-long 2011 World Economic Forum on East Asia – which was also attended by over 620 businesspeople, government officials and NGOs from around the world.

Sehat added that he first dove into the world of electronics as a youth in Jakarta before moving to the US to further his studies in electronics.

Sehat studied electrical engineering at Iowa State University and went to the University of California-Berkeley to earn his PhD in electrical engineering and computer science. Berkeley was where Weili and Pantas studied as well.

“A lot of these electronics were developed in the US in the 1950s, so they just have a head start,” he said. “I happened to start a little bit later, in the 1970s.”

However, Sehat believes that other Indonesians, especially the younger generation, can follow his footsteps in making a mark in the world of technology, including in semi-conductors, without traveling all the way to the US.

“The new generation does not have to go to the US to study electronics. Now we can use the technical journals available on the internet,” he said, adding that university education in the country has developed as well.

“We can now learn locally and build the industry locally,” he said. “I think we have a chance to be a player in these industries as well.”

However, there are personal and country-wide challenges that Indonesians need to see through in order to be big players in the technology industry. On a personal level, a strong drive to pursue what one believes in and is passionate about was critical to his success, he said.

“This is what I did when I was young: I believed that I wanted to learn electronics, regardless what people told me at that time,” said the man who according to Forbes magazine was worth $1 billion in 2007.

“I only cared about something that I felt would satisfy me, even though I did not know what it would mean 10 to 20 years later after I had followed that path,” he said.

As for the country, he said that everyone should chip in to overcome the challenges a young democracy faces.

“We need to do our part. We need to use our unique skills, knowledge and capabilities to contribute to our society,” he said, adding that he harbored an interest in expanding to Indonesia but was looking for people with the leadership qualities to make it happen.

Marvell has corporate offices in 16 countries besides the US such as in China, Japan, India, Germany and Switzerland.

He credits the possibility of going global from local origins to technology’s ability in creating “a flat world”.

Technological creations, no matter where they are made, could unify people by creating a homogenous way of using technology.

“I will say that the beauty of technology is that it has no boundaries. Technology nowadays is developed for use by everybody in the world. Things that are useful in the US are also useful in Japan, China and of course Indonesia,” he said.

Eventually, he added, language barriers in the use of technology, such as content presented in a certain language, would eventually fade.

“In the long run, everybody will use these devices in the same way,” he said. “We won’t be able to differentiate if content comes from Europe or from the US or Asia if not for the language barrier.”

Devices too, will help people become more wired, as exhibited by smart phones and tablet computers. According to him, the computing industry “is moving from fixed-based computing to mobile computing”, and the next generation devices will increasingly be driven by mobile smart phone concepts.

“I will say that the things that you see today will just become more powerful, with higher performance, longer battery life, better resolution, storage capabilities and basically become more useful for day-to-day use,” he said.

Yet the super-conductor aficionado says he is “not really a gadget person”.

“I obviously have smart phones and tablets, but I just don’t see that as the most important thing for me to have,” he told the Post.

He finds joy in inventing rather than using, he said.

“My enjoyment comes from being able to develop these products,” he said. “I just hope that other people will enjoy using this technology. That will satisfy me a lot more than using the technology myself.”

To watch excerpts of the interview, please visit our website, www. thejakartapost.com/multimedianews


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