Israel made Marvell more ‘marvelous,’ says co-founder

Sabra tech is one of the basic ingredients in the ‘dough’ that the fabless chip giant brings to the tech world, says Weili Dai

Weili Dai (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Weili Dai (Photo credit: Courtesy)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of Israel in the high-tech world than Weili Dai, co-founder of Marvell Technologies. With good reason: Israel has helped make the company she runs with her husband Sehat Sutardja and brother in-law, Pantas Sutardja, into one of the most important tech companies in the world. “No matter what device you open up, you are bound to find Marvell chips,” she told the Times of Israel in an interview — and the technology for many of those chips was developed in Israel.

Trying out her new Hebrew skills, Weili calls Israelis “achi” (the Hebrew term for “my brother”), and waxes on about how talented, creative, professional, and intelligent Israelis are. To Weili, it’s a point of pride that her company has nearly 1,200 employees in Israel, out of a world total of 7,500. For her, it’s a point of great pride that she “personally initiated the purchase of three Israeli companies for Marvell, because the engineers here are brilliant.”

Weili is in Israel to help Shimon Peres — “a visionary who is dear to my heart” — celebrate his 90th birthday this week. Although he lived most of his life in the 20th century, said Weili, Peres was up on the latest tech news. “When we met with President Peres last year, he discussed new developments in processor technology with us. He handled the subject as well as any ‘geek.’”

Marvell is a top player in five crucial areas — networking, storage, servers and cloud, mobile, and consumer devices — developing chips and semiconductors, controllers, “systems on a chip” (SoC) and other hardware and technology for hardware manufacturers around the world. It’s no accident that a good chunk of that technology is “made in Israel.” Some 20% of the company’s worldwide employees are located in Israel, at the R&D centers the company has set up as a result of Israeli buyouts: Ethernet equipment maker Galileo in 2000, networking software company RadLan Technologies (now called Marvell Software Solutions Israel) in 2003, and Intel’s Xscale SoC business (based in Israel) in 2006. Out of the nine companies Marvell (which was established in 1995), has bought worldwide, three are in Israel.

Marvell’s Israeli presence brings to mind the local activities of another company, Broadcom, a fabless chip maker that is a main competitor of Marvell’s, and also has a significant Israeli presence. Broadcom has also bought out many Israeli companies, and has nearly 1,000 employees here.

That both companies would have such a major presence in Israel is not surprising, Weili said. “I can’t speak for them, but I know we have found great talent here in Israel. We believe in that talent and are very happy with what the staff here has produced, helping to push forward the company’s vision.”

That vision, Weili said, was to create a world where anyone, anywhere, could connect to anyone else or to any other device, easing communications between people, between things, and between people and things. A good example of that, she said, was a made-in-Israel development announced earlier this year at the Barcelona Mobile World Congress by Marvell — fourth generation (LTE) cellular technology for cars. With the upgraded communications capability, drivers will be able to enjoy in-dash online radio from around the world, while passengers will be able to watch online movies while on the road, without having to download them in advance. In addition, fleet owners will be able to keep an eye on drivers, as information — about speed, driving habits, road conditions, and more — is uploaded from almost anywhere.

“We are very strong players in LTE, and, in fact, were the first ones to support China Mobile’s standard,” Weili said. “As a result, we were the first ones to support voice-over LTE in China, a significant accomplishment,” considering that most countries haven’t even begun building their fourth generation mobile communications infrastructure.

That kind of technology, Weili said, is a building block of the future — the kind of thing Marvell does very well. “Tech today is a lot like pizza,” she said, using what she called one of her favorite similes. “You have the dough, the sauce and cheese, and the toppings. We are like the dough, providing the ability to build an infrastructure, to our customers, the hardware manufacturers, and operating system makers like Apple and Microsoft — they are the sauce. And the app makers, who use the infrastructure and OS to build their products, are like the toppings.” The point, she said, was that the tech world was very interconnected, and companies like Marvell were going beyond being “just” hardware manufacturers. “Competition is important, but so is cooperation, and together we can bring the gift of cheap, affordable technology to everyone everywhere.”

Weili was born in Shanghai, while her husband’s family is from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation (and one that adamantly refuses to establish relations with Israel). Both she and her husband’s family emigrated to the US when they were children, but the fact that the Sutardjas are from Indonesia and have family there has not affected their decision to operate in Israel. Just the opposite: Although Marvell had nothing specific on the agenda in terms of buying another Israeli company right now, the company was actively looking — and wouldn’t hesitate to invest even more in Israel.

“In the tech world, no company can restrict itself to only one area and succeed,” Weili said. “That’s why we are expanding into different areas, like software and security. Similarly, tech development today also crosses the lines. It’s not about gender or race, but about how you can contribute to making the world a better place.

“Tech has made the world into an open field, and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from,” Weili added. “The digital lifestyle we are building will make life better for everyone everywhere, no matter who they are or where they come from. Israel is a society where many different kinds of people live and work together, and Israelis understand what that the digital future is all about.”

read more: