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Electronic Design

Patrizio Vinciarelli: Power Design Wizard

Vinciarelli (2002)

Most people aren't really unique, but that description certainly fits Patrizio Vinciarelli in one huge respect—he never worked for any company before he founded Vicor Corp. in 1981, where he has been president ever since. He started Vicor after serving about four years as a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton and as an instructor at Princeton University. Before that, he was a Fellow at CERN, the Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva.

The inventor of zero-current switching and zero-voltage switching, which enables power converters to be designed much smaller and more efficient than conventional units, he helped create, if not actually created, the power-component industry by offering his technologies as families of high-density "bricks." These could be used as building blocks to create virtually any power system.

Another unique thing about Vinciarelli is that his company has never had a layoff. "This is a commitment to continuity and a relationship with the people of Vicor," he says. "They are, after all, the real value of the company."

But it hasn't been easy. The firm was a major player in the telecommunications market, which has been more than a little soft lately, affecting the company's overall business. "Fortunately," notes Vinciarelli, "our business model spreads over several industry segments." From the beginning, he says, "We conceived of the power component, the big converter, as a job-purpose device that works in a variety of applications and markets. So, our makeup in market share has changed dramatically in the past few years."

According to Vinciarelli, it certainly isn't business as usual. "It's business less than usual," he says. "Despite a difficult environment, we have been able to attract new technical talent and have continued to invest in basic research and product development. We think we have some very exciting developments in the works."

With nearly 100 patents, most of them assigned to Vicor, Vinciarelli says that he stays busy, with both product development and management of the company. He believes that the Internet has made a profound impact on engineering, mainly from sharing information and sourcing knowledge, but teleconferencing has its limits. "It's great, but there's nothing like sitting together at a white board with a cup of coffee," he explains.

As for never having a full-time job in the industry before starting Vicor, Vinciarelli plays this down. "Running a company is not that difficult," he says. "It just takes some common sense and an understanding of people. If you don't have these (qualities), getting an MBA from Harvard isn't going to give them to you."

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