Chandran Nair Q&A: NI’s Asia Business

Article By : Jonas Klar, EE Times Asia

We snag NI's VP of Sales and Marketing for APAC during NI Week 2018 and talk trends, China's semiconductor push and leadership strategies

Austin, Texas — At NI Week 2018, we took the opportunity to talk to Chandran Nair, VP of Sales and Marketing for Asia-Pacific — clearly the right man to answer a few of our questions related to the Asian market.

What drives your business in Asia at the moment, what are the trends?
In Asia today, the primary drivers are semiconductor, aerospace, defense and automotive, tremendously. Then, in many Asian countries, we have a strong presence in academic. Apart from that, we have a lot of production testers in general electronics, manufacturing and those kinds of areas.

One of the emerging trends within the automotive space for example is testing of autonomous and assisted driving kind of technologies, because that’s in the news and many manufacturers are going ahead and adding these features to their automobiles. The other part, a very fast-growing trend, is the implementation of IoT and hence you need IoT devices and semiconductors that cater to that space, so we do a lot of semiconductor testing in that area. What that means, really, is the RF ICs, MEMS devices, those kinds of tests are propelling our growth, and those are really fitting with the megatrends one sees in technology and in the economy.

Is China’s semiconductor industry push something you’re factoring into your Asian plans?
In fact, the China 2025 plan, a major part of that is the semiconductor push, is one of the major reasons why we’ve invested so much in the semiconductor space, to make sure we can cater to the ever-expanding needs in China. It’s a very important both macro-economic trend and a technology trend, because very often what we see is in China a lot of the application spaces that technology companies go into are new, and hence the kind of devices that are required for those new application spaces really fit well into our platform strategy that enables our customers to be able to take our platform and really meet the converging needs of technology.

Chandran Nair

Chandran Nair

What are some of the challenges facing NI in penetrating China’s semiconductor industry? Are there any concerns with trade embargo policies, potentially affecting company business?
Let’s start with the latter part of the question. A lot of people talk about embargoes and trade war. We see China and the United States as natural partners in business. So, yes, there will be some political trends that may go up and down, but overall over a span of the next five, ten, fifteen years, we see expanding business opportunities in China.

Now back to the challenges in the Chinese market with regards to semiconductor — really, what we have seen, in working with a lot of the high-tech companies in China is that it is very driven by differentiated technology. So as long as we can provide truly differentiated both technology and economic value to the Chinese customers in semiconductor then we really don’t see challenges. As you know, our drive both on the China markets and the worldwide markets, is to create this differentiated technology that lowers the cost of test and enables our end-users and our customers to be able to test ever-converging trends in technology.

You’ve held different positions in North America as well as Asia – how do the two compare with regards to developing new tech?
In the late ’90s when I started my career at National Instruments and was primarily around the product strategy of PXI, a lot of the technologies in industry came out from the west. That meant that a lot of our efforts really needed to cater to western companies in order to satisfy their needs and then that would propagate through the rest of the world. What I see now is a great balance in innovation around the world, not just the west and China really, it’s around the world. Because of balanced innovation and this talent map has spread far more in the last 20-22 years than in the past, it enables us to take our platform approach across different technology sectors in different parts of the world.

One of the things that I’ve seen especially in the application spaces where there is tremendous innovation on how people interact with technology in order to derive value and increase productivity. It is more so in the emerging markets, including China, because their productivity has been an issue in Asia for a while and the use of technology to increase productivity can be seen all the way from agricultural trends, how agricultural produce is sold in the market, eliminating the middle man, all the way to the very high-tech electronics that we see, how it is designed and how those applications are taken to market.

There is a clear difference though, in the go to market strategy of customers, certainly NI as a company has to cater to that. Very often in the emerging market economies, we see a need for high-value, low-cost, quickly changing products, while in the more developed countries, the adoption of for example 3G, 4G, and soon to be 5G, is actually slower than in the emerging markets because many of the emerging markets can leapfrog and skip a technology to go forward.

Are there differences in leadership strategies between the west and Asia?
There are some similarities and there are some differences. We always start with having people at the forefront, that is common across the board. When you go to highly heterogenous societies, like South East Asia, for example, or when you look at the APAC market as a whole, it’s a very heterogenous society.
The ability to communicate between cultures and understanding cultural nuances is extremely important. In the Americas, for example, it’s a more homogenous approach to society, and therefore some of the most standardized practices can be implemented. Europe I have worked a little bit in, again, probably a bit more heterogenous than homogenous, so there are those approaches to people that are slightly different.

Then the way we mobilize our teams towards a common goal, there are common elements across the world, and the common elements are really driving passion and sense of purpose. How that is done is nuanced based on the different cultures, cultural differences between the different countries and the people we hire.

— Jonas Klar is an editor for EE Times Asia

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