Patrick Jean-François Le Fèvre, head of Ericsson Power Modules’ marketing and communications division, talks with Steve Rogerson in our series of interviews for CIEonline. Moving from France to Sweden, he started his career at Ericsson Power Modules as strategic product manager for partnership products, developing relationships with external partners and laboratories to extend the company’s portfolio and expertise in new areas.
In 1998 he was promoted to strategic product manager and in 2000 he took over the global business development of power modules. Based on his background and market knowledge in the power industry, and especially in on-board DC-DC converters, in June 2001 Ericsson promoted him to marketing and communications director for power modules.
His career has been focussed on power products since 1982 when he began with a start-up called Micro-Gisco, which later merged to become Convergie (France). He has worked in France, USA and China, and has developed sales and marketing activities across the globe.
Le Fèvre is the author of several articles and marketing papers presented at various conferences, and deeply involved in a number of groups and associations related to power supplies, leading standardisation and contributing to promote new technologies such as digital power within the power community. He is also involved in several environmental forums, sharing his expertise and knowledge on clean energy, and promoting a motto that he strongly believes in: “We haven’t inherited the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
Most of his education was in France, where he studied electronics, microelectronics and industrial marketing, and where he received a civil engineer degree in 1982.
Before moving to Sweden, he did a lot of scuba diving as part of his engagement with environmental groups, sharing outcomes through social networks such as Facebook. His son Pierre was born in 2000 and as a result these days he devotes most of his free time to family activities.
1. What are the noticeable differences in culture between working for a start-up and a big company such as Ericsson?
Starting a small company is always a real adventure because you have to do everything yourself. You are switching roles all the time, from R&D to marketing. You get involved in operations that you don’t when working for a big company. You work across the disciplines. But there are benefits in both types of company.
One week in a start-up company, I could be working in the laboratory designing the product, then the next day working with the silicon manufacturers, then the next day be in contact with the investors, then the next day marketing and ending the week flying to Tunisia to set up manufacturing. In a week, I have done more than some people do in a lifetime. That is very exciting.
What you learn is a huge benefit when you join a large corporation. They have rules and a way of working and you have to be focussed on what you do. It can be difficult to move and change. In a smaller company, you have to be very careful with your money. Ericsson is such a big company with so many resources and a huge base of knowledge to support the business.
I would like to go back to a start-up because it is exciting but you have more opportunities to develop yourself in a larger company. The start-up gave me the chance to get to the position I am today at Ericsson. My experience makes it easier to understand the different areas I work in. When you study at university, you get a good base, but the lessons you acquire at a start-up are huge.
I am happy at Ericsson. It is a great company with a good reputation and a nice way of working. And you have a high level of respect. And there is such a long history and an organisation that can support you. You can’t get that level of support at a small company. There is also a good programme for people to learn and develop. We have an internal academy that is scaled from the basics right the way up.
2. What do you think is be the most important change humankind could make to improve the environment?
Reducing the CO2 output is very important because that has a direct impact on the whole society. Everything that can be done to reduce CO2 has to be done.
On population and development, the gap between Western countries and others – the digital divide – is increasing. There is a huge job to be done to bring the developing countries up. If you don’t, the gap will grow between those who have the knowledge and those that don’t have access to the knowledge.
In Ericsson, we started a project in Africa to bring education to a remote village. We connected it to our network and made it possible for the kids to go to school and connect to the internet. That meant we could educate people.
There is a student in Africa who did a masters degree by remote from the USA and is now teaching in his region. Most huge corporations have programmes to help. The task is huge but it can be done.
3. Ericsson recently won the best application and best non-isolated digital power module categories in the Electronics Products China awards. How important are such awards for companies?
We started in 1996 in China educating people on electronics and power. We set up a manufacturing plant in Shanghai to help people to learn. Since then, we have carried on educating people in China, and these awards are part of that.
It is nice to win an award. It brings recognition and it shows our customers what we are doing. But the important thing is it gives us pride in what we are doing for the company. The award in China means even more because it shows the close collaboration between Sweden and China.
Awards can also help encourage people to be innovative. We see this as a huge value. All our employees can see the recognition.
4. Do you miss the sun and scuba diving of Saint Tropez?
Yes. I spent all my vacations and part of my youth in Saint Tropez. At the time, the nature was still preserved. As I grew up, I started to scuba dive in lots of nice places. Here in Sweden, the water is too cold so I’m not too excited about it. I have been to the Maldives ten or twelve times over fifteen years and I have seen how the coral reefs have degraded. The Maldives are also very flat and I have seen that parts of the islands where I used to go scuba diving have disappeared.
I would love to scuba dive again. Maybe at the Great Barrier Reef or in the Atlantic. But that is partly a dream. When you have a family and you are engaged in your work, it is difficult to take three to four months off to go scuba diving. I have a 13-year-old son and my task is to make him grow well. Maybe when he is 18 I will take a couple of months off to go scuba diving.
I was also a wind glider pilot, and that is something I miss as well. Flying like a bird without any engine noise is unique, and I miss that. There are not so many opportunities in Sweden.
5. Ericsson, along with CUI and Murata, have formed the Architects of Modern Power consortium. What is the idea behind that?
Ericsson started researching digital power in 2004 and I was part of this project. We developed a lot of products and won a lot of awards. But we met companies such as CUI and Murata that had the same demands from their customers that products were compliant with each other. In analogue, that is relatively easy. You may have to tweak things, but there is no high level of complexity to switch to products from different suppliers.
When digital came, you added other dimensions – software, communications protocols and so on. Each IC supplier has their own module-to-module bus. So, if you develop a product using, say, an IC from Texas Instruments you can’t match it with a module with an IC from Intersil, for example, because they are not compatible.
The big OEM companies want to buy products from secure sources that work. All the programming should not be specific to a certain supplier. So the three companies agreed on a type of product using the same software and the same protocols; CUI and Murata were willing to do that.
It was a company-to-company agreement. But now we want more collaboration that could extend to more companies as we grow, that way customers know they can use the same software with whichever company they choose. At Electronica, we will announce products that are compliant from the three companies and a roadmap for future products.