Interview with Paul Heng, Founder of Unigen
Paul, we understand that Unigen recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Congratulations on reaching this milestone. What are you most proud of during your 30-year history with Unigen?
Having just celebrated our 30th anniversary, I am proud to say that Unigen has remained true to our roots, first and foremost as a technology company with expertise in memory and storage. However, our staying power for three decades has not been without its challenges and adversity and, by being flexible, we have been able to adapt our business to the changing markets and environment. That may be what I am most proud of when I reflect on Unigen’s history.
For readers who may not be familiar with Unigen, can you give us a brief company description?
I founded Unigen in 1991. Today we are an established global leader in the design and manufacture of original and custom SSD, DRAM, NVDIMM modules and Enterprise IO solutions. We’re headquartered in Newark, CA, and operate state–of–the–art manufacturing facilities in the Silicon Valley Bay Area of California and near Hanoi Vietnam, along with fiveadditional engineering and support facilities located around the globe. We market our products to both enterprise and client OEMs worldwide focused on embedded, industrial, networking, server, telecommunications, imaging, automotive and medical device industries. To utilize our capacity to its fullest potential, and to also be more diversified, we have entered into the electronic manufacturing services (EMS) business, which has been very complementary to our OEM product business. We also offer best–in–class electronics manufacturing services (EMS), including new product introduction (NPI) and volume production, supply chain management, assembly & test, TaaS (test-as-a-service) and post-sales support. Today, Unigen has more than 300,000 sq ft, offering full turnkey services to our internal and external partners.
Why did you found Unigen in 1991? What was the industry lacking that you believed Unigen could provide?
I saw an opportunity to bridge the gap between the dominant memory manufacturers that were overseas with the increasing demand for memory components domestically. The early 1990s were like the gold rush for the memory market. I was able to build strong, trusted partnerships with both the memory vendors and the customers, and things took off from there.
What are your company’s core values?
We focus on many values, but our core include the following three:
• Flexible ease: ease-of-doing business, making life simple for our customers
• Longevity: long-term partnerships
Has the focus of the company changed over the past three decades? If so, how and why?
Not the focus because our anchor is still in memory and storage technology expertise. However, we have adapted our business model over time to meet the demands of the industry. We now offer electronic manufacturing services, from NPI to full production. We have entered into new product areas like SSDs, NVDIMMs and IO products. We are continually looking at the best way to leverage our expertise into new areas.
When and why did you decide to add an EMS aspect to the company?
It was around 2011. We were doing a lot of business with a large hyperscale company in the Bay area. They approached us and asked if we would be open to a CM model and, of course, we wanted to support them any way that we could. At the same time, we had been expanding our manufacturing footprint aggressively to stay in front of our customers’ needs. We had also become too concentrated on one or twocompanies driving our factory utilization, so we needed to diversify our business in order to ride through any downside in demand. Today, the EMS business is an equal partner with the OEM product side for Unigen.
It sounds as if the company has grown significantly over the years, with facilities placed in strategic areas of the world. Vietnam is the largest of the facilities, correct? Does each facility, including the United States, run like the Vietnam facility just on a smaller scale or does each facility have its own specialty?
Correct, Vietnam is our largest facility. Our goal is to have a “copy exact” manufacturing footprint regardless of the location. So, if one site has an issue, we still have supply chain continuity for our customers. Having said that, our Newark site tends to have more NPI activity solely based on its location. There are many startups in Silicon Valley, and we’ve made it a focus of ours to help incubate these companies by offering our EMS services. Of course, we would like this to expand into larger business as the companies become successful, but we are also aware that the success rate of technology startups is low. We are willing to take that risk with them.
What types of markets and customers do you target?
Our primary markets and customers service the cloud. Data centers, enterprise server and storage, networking, etc. all feeds into this. Recently, we have had success in expanding our EMS business into electric vehicles (EV) and medical devices. Although these have not been our primary industries, the same level of quality and reliability that our enterprise customers have come to expect from us still apply. And the processes and infrastructure we put in place makes this a seamless transition for us.
What specific problems are customers trying to solve when they turn to Unigen?
It depends on the customer, and that’s the beauty of Unigen. We are very flexible to our customers’ needs. If they require full turnkey support, we have that capability. If they just want to run an NPI build, we can support that as well. Customers come to Unigen to make their lives easier.
How do customers choose suppliers like your business? What factors are most important to the buying decision?
Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t say cost was a factor but, as stated earlier, our ultimate goal is to make life easy for our customers. We strive for longevity and to be a trusted partner in the long-term as opposed to simply a transactional relationship to turn a quick profit. We offer flexibility in order to meet the changing needs of our customers and the industry.
Why do people choose to do business with your company rather than your competitors?
Our reputation in the industry is as someone that can be trusted. We have worked hard to build this reputation and we do not take it lightly. Therefore, we never cut corners, we never renege on our promises, and we always we meet our commitments.
In your opinion, what is the one thing that Unigen does the best?
We have a give and take attitude that always results in the most flexible model for our customers.
What would you most like readers to understand about Unigen?
There are four main aspects I would like readers to know about Unigen:
• We are a 30–year silicon valley company that prides ourselves on making lives easier for our customers
• We have the flexibility to adapt, both for our company andour customers
• We can manufacture at scale with high quality and reliability
• We are experts in memory and storage