Dalia Vernikovsky on Industry Trends, Career Growth, Keys to Success

Hillary Barnhart

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WITI WIN Semi Series: "Leading Women"

From her days as a student of genetics and psychology, to her unanticipated service in the Israeli Army, to working on airplane design and parts distribution, Dalia Vernikovsky created, established and leads a company borne from a global joint venture, Applied Seals North America. She is a unique and inspiring leader, a powerful force in the semiconductor industry and Dalia engages adversity while turning challenges into successes.

Over lunch, Dalia offered insight and advice as a woman leader in what she referred to as a "stodgy industry," though an industry with amazingly progressive technology. "We've figured out how to fit 20 billion transistors in the space the size of the tip of a fingernail, simply incredible!" She then opines, "If semiconductor companies marketed the value of their technology more effectively, they could secure higher prices, greater profits and greater business stability."

Hillary Barnhart (HB): Dalia, what does leadership mean to you in the semiconductor industry?

Dalia Vernikovsky (DV): Leadership means stepping up to 'challenge the accepted' and pushing through to affect change in an industry that is extremely conservative. As a leader, I have to make certain my team realizes the importance of this message, and that we are aligned and delivering to our commitments together. Rewards are achieved through a strong sense of purpose and dedication.

HB: If you can share one piece of advice that you know now about navigating your career in the semiconductor industry, what would it be?

DV: My advice is to definitely focus on the bigger picture and learn to 'swim with the sharks.' You must be able to discern what is important, who are the influencers, and how to maintain your sensibility without falling into the traps that politics, organizational dysfunction and personalities will bring. It is easier said than done, and of course, the best 'teacher' is your own experience. I always say that good judgement comes from experience, and experience too often comes from bad judgement. But, if you learn early and from others, you may avoid some of the more painful lessons and keep your head high and motivated.

HB: What challenges have you faced in your daily duties? Are they specific to the semiconductor industry? If so, why?

DV: Keeping myself and my team motivated, through tough days and frustrations, is quite challenging. It is always a challenge to learn how to motivate every person, as people are motivated in different ways, and how to work in an industry where practices are hard to change. I don't share my frustrations unless sharing them would have a purpose, so I keep my leadership 'self' in check. Sharing can be good, but must be used wisely. These challenges aren't unique to the semiconductor industry, but our industry is particularly volatile, which can create motivational issues.

HB: How have you grown your professional network both in the semiconductor industry and outside the industry?

DV: Networking and 'who you know' are key aspects of life. Indeed, you must keep your network alive, and reach out. Stay in touch with those you associate well with, and even with those who are not your 'fans' today. It is very important to stay in touch with everyone. You have to 'nudge a bit' to build these relationships.

HB: From your perspective, what are the most important trends that will take place in semiconductors in the next 10 years?

DV: Hopefully, 'collaboration' will become a fundamental tenet of end-to-end "supplier to OEM to Chipmaker" efforts. We will also see more products requiring 7 nm geometrics and below. Company consolidations will continue. These trends will weed out those who cannot adopt and adapt to business changes. If your company is a "small player" you must have a good reputation, strong core competencies and strength in R&D. The old habit of hiding behind IP and 'special processes' will have to give way to true collaboration across the industry.

HB: What role has mentorship played in your career in semiconductors? Did you find an Industry mentor, if so how did it impact your career?

DV: Honestly, mentorship has not played a large role in my career. I learned to 'fly by the seat of my pants' too often. Women in this industry were definitely less accepted 15 years ago. I believe that mentorship would have helped avoid some of the pitfalls I encountered. From my experiences, I now want to be the best mentor possible to women and to men. I urge my team to become the best, and actively support and sponsor educational or skill building opportunities each person needs. Collectively, my team can become more valuable assets to my company, and more satisfied employees.

HB: What advice would you give to someone looking to grow in her career in the semiconductor industry while making time for her family?

DV: (Smiling) This is a tough one as it really depends on having a strong support network around you. If you have a great support network, husband, family, friends, it is so much easier to dedicate time to building your career. It is still a hard choice, if your career is in a role that requires flying around the globe, as this industry requires. My advice is to find time, "plan time," for yourself and your family, especially for yourself. We often forget this, and if we ourselves are not strong and are sleep deprived and do not focus on health, we lose in all aspects of our lives. Super-human beings have not be created yet.

HB: Tell us something about your background that provides more insight into your career choice.

DV: I've many mistakes tripping over little nuances in conversation, as I did not grow up aware of idioms and slang words, having lived in many different countries. Sometimes, I open my mouth and "insert foot." This makes others laugh, so I try not to take myself or others too seriously. I try to have fun, I love challenges, and I can accept mistakes, learn and move on.

HB: What do you love about working in the semiconductor industry?

DV: I have a passion for the semiconductor industry, and those that are as passionate and committed to its well-being. I love the technology, how amazing it is to make these products are actually very under-appreciated and badly marketed. We have developed and brought to reality amazing technological developments. I love the relationships and bonds built with like-minded folks, and I love building, and leading an organization with a strong reputation, to help move a stodgy industry forward and make a positive impact.

HB: What kind of person and skills work well in the semiconductor industry, from your experience?

DV: You need to be a bit crazy (just kidding!). Honestly, one must be focused, dedicated, have a 'not-give-up' attitude and have a thick skin. You must be able to take the lows with the highs and not get too frustrated. You must be willing to work hard, to develop yourself, to learn and keep on learning. This industry in one sense moves quickly, but change is hard, and attitudes in this industry are one of the hardest to change.

You must not give up, stay above it all, and don't lose yourself to the point where you forget what you really want. Be flexible, adaptive and always embrace change, as this is the most important aspect in life; changing tides.

HB: Dalia, if you could change one thing about the semiconductor industry what would it be?

DV: We must be more open to learn from other industries, to benchmark, to embrace change and to be flexible. The industry has been very much closed to new ideas, in many ways. I'd instill more collaboration and openness across industry stakeholders and functions.

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