FPGA-making Lattice Semiconductor names AMD man as CEO

Programmable device company needs to program some profits

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Lattice Semiconductor has hired a shiny new CEO, Jim Anderson, to plot a way forward for the silicon, reference designs and boards maker.

Anderson hails from AMD where he was senior veep and GM of the chip flinger's Computing and Graphics Business Group. He joined AMD in May 2015, following stints at Intel, Avago and LSI, and directly replaces Glen Hawk, who was interim boss and will remain as special advisor to the CEO until the end of October.

The new broom "brings a strong combination of business and technical leadership with a deep understanding of our target end markets and customers," Lattice chairman Jeff Richardson said of his new recruit.

Hawk was Lattice COO until he took over from outgoing CEO Darin Billerbeck, who split in March.

Billerbeck's big idea was to sell under-performing Lattice to the Chinese. When the Trump administration scuppered that deal, and activist investor Lion Point – which had upped its stake to 6.3 per cent by February 2018 – branded Billerbeck's regime as not being good enough, he decided to retire.

Lattice, which builds FPGA hardware, wireless radio and video chips, and has been ranked as the global number three in FPGA revenues behind Xilinx and Altera, has a market cap of $957m. It turned over $386m in 2017, down 10 per cent year-on-year and reported a net loss of $70.5m versus a net loss of $54.1 in the prior calendar and company fiscal year.

According to Lion Point, Lattice's operating margin is 15-17 per cent while its peers operate at 20-25 per cent. It has argued there is scope for efficiency improvements and a return to profitability.

Following its increased stock holding earlier in 2018, Lion Point was given three seats on the board (taking the total to 11 members), from where it can influence proceedings – the investor had claimed Lattice was undervalued by the stock market and that it required senior exec changes.

According to a Barron's report, six of Lattice's eight directors have previously been board members of semiconductor companies sold after activist investor Starboard Value got involved with them.

Restructuring has already started: Hawk canned the non-profitable millimeter wave business in July to save $13m a year.

Anderson said his focus will be on driving sustained growth and profitability. But will that happen soon enough for Lion Point to make a good enough return on its shares, or will it push for a company sale? ®


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