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Todd Whitaker Creates Promise, Magic of Marketing at Maxim

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Todd Whitaker MBA 95 grew up in farm country near Lodi, in California’s Central Valley. After high school he went west, attending UC Berkeley—where he studied economics and political science—and then spent five years selling computer and network equipment to government and corporate accounts. He wanted to stay in technology, but also wanted to “move upstream,” so he applied to the Graduate School of Management with the goal of finding a career that would be more fulfilling. A summer internship at Intel led to a job offer and new insight.“I think that summer internship was a key step in understanding what I wanted to do and in building my career,” Whitaker says.

Whitaker started as a product marketing engineer in Intel’s Networking Division. “I loved it,” he says. “I analyzed market and channels, defined new products, developed pricing and marketing strategies, and worked with very engaged marketing people. I had great managers and mentors who helped me understand how to develop my career” Whitaker’s six years at Intel also included stints as manager and then director of an internal “startup” focused on Internet servers.

“I worked with a number of external companies that had successful IPOs—Red Hat, Akamia, Network Appliance. In working with these “real” startups, I worried that I was somehow missing out on the gold rush and in a feat of amazingly poor timing, I left Intel in 2000 for the first of what would be three startups. None of these really made it big and so I did not stumble into fabulous wealth. I did, however, learn a lot about startup culture and how to compete with larger competitors.

“Tired of the roller coaster and fearful that it could go on forever, I eventually joined National Semiconductor as a strategic marketing director and was promoted quickly to a general manager. My first GM role was for a notebook PC embedded controller business that was profitable, but not aligned with the company’s stated strategy. I proposed selling, and then helped sell the division and stayed on to manage a different business. National’s Displays Division had $50M in declining revenues and was not profitable. The technology was promising, but the business dynamics were very difficult. We took a chance on a high-risk, new market entrant and developed the display controller and interface chips for Apple’s first iPhone. As you might expect, we went from one of the worst businesses in the company to the fastest-growing division, more than doubling our annual revenue.”

In 2007 Whitaker was promoted to VP of marketing, pulling him into a corporate role managing a global organization. Three years later he was approached by Maxim Integrated Products to start up their marketing function.

“At $2.5B in revenue, Maxim was almost twice National’s size but, more importantly, had no history with marketing. Maxim was a 30-year old engineering-led company and a blank slate when it came to marketing,” Whitaker says. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to build a large marketing organization from the ground up.”

What are you passionate about in your current work?

I have now been leading the marketing function at Maxim for three years. I set up structures and processes and hired people spanning corporate, communications, regional and strategic functions. I hired primarily for people with a passion to do something extraordinary. With this new team and no historic baggage, we set out to build a strong “challenger” culture that is all our own. A lot of what we have tried to do is based on the work of Adam Morgan (author of Eating the Big Fish), but we have adapted it to our industry and our particular competitive position. This is what I am most passionate about: creating the right environment for the right people to accomplish incredible things. 

While we were playing catch up at first, today we’re doing things that are cutting edge in our industry. We’ve relaunched our brand. We’re overhauling our web infrastructure and integrated campaign process linking content to marketing automation and lead management. We’ve won a number of creative awards for both our internal and external work. Most importantly, I believe we are having a direct and positive effect on the growth of the company.

Where is your career headed?

I like what I have been doing and hope to do more in my current role. I get great satisfaction from being able to accomplish things, and to continue to do this I need to expand my scope. My sights are set on a chief marketing officer role in which I have the opportunity (and the charter) to touch every aspect of the company. I have more than 10 years left in my career, so perhaps one day I will have the chance to lead a company in need of a marketing-oriented CEO.

How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?

In addition to my pivotal internship at Intel, I would also say that the breadth of subject matter that I was exposed to has been important. Over the years I have found myself flashing back to a topic that we only spent a few days covering, but somehow the concepts stuck with me. Examples include pricing, game theory, brand strategy, positioning and statistics (more often that you can imagine). Marketing is a discipline that is increasingly influenced, even dominated by, quantitative analysis. Lastly, I think the GSM gave me a thirst for learning marketing and management theory. I have had the opportunity to take executive education at Wharton and Stanford, and I was surprised to find that I have come to love case studies.

What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

I have four kids, and anyone who has children will count them at the top of their list of amazing things. 

Your favorite GSM memory?

In my second year my wife, Anne, and our year-old son, Quinn, lived in a very small student family housing unit. My wife worked, I was in school and our son stayed with a medical student also in student family housing. It was perhaps the hardest time for us in our 25 years together in terms of living conditions and sleep deprivation, but the hardship brought us together. I remember being tired and worried, but also very hopeful about our future. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

My wife and I have been married for 20 years and we live in Pleasanton, California. We have four children, are of whom all doing well. The best way to reach me is via LinkedIn.

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