The Next Chapter for E Ink: Talking with CEO Russ Wilcox About Yesterday’s Acquisition News

6/2/09Follow @wroush

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fascinating. So I’m not going anywhere. I think there are a lot of interesting challenges ahead. The management team is the same team. We will be a wholly owned subsidiary, still called E Ink. This is just the next chapter in the story.

X: I was just going to ask whether the E Ink sign on the building is going to stay.

RW: The E Ink brand is well recognized around the world. It’s one of the assets here. I imagine that it would be pretty valuable for them.

X: While Sri was briefing media people about the announcement this morning, I understand you were briefing your employees. How have they been reacting to the news?

RW: I feel that it was a good reaction. There was positive buzz, at least at first blush. Why is that? I think it’s because there will be more resources coming in. This is kind of like our version of going public, so it’s fun. By the way, the fact that the stock options that [employees] have been watching for 10 years, and wondering if they would ever have any value, will have some value. So that’s good. And there are some career opportunities. PVI has 6,000 people, and is part of a bigger conglomerate, YFY, which has 30,000 people and operations around the world. Change is inherently scary, but this is a company that’s changing anyway. These are the types of people who see change as opportunity. It’s a chance to get their products out to market at higher volume, with better customer service.

X: I imagine you’ve also been briefing your big customers, such as Amazon and Sony, about the acquisition. If I were one of them, I’d feel some relief that the future of a major supplier was being cemented. How have they been reacting?

RW: I’ll let them speak for themselves. PVI is a publicly traded company, so we had to be very cautious about how many people were aware of the transaction. Also, they had to announce within 24 hours of their own board’s decision to agree to do it. So we’re still filling them in, and basically, I can’t comment as to their reactions.

X: I guess being part of a public company comes with these kinds of restrictions—you’ll have to be more careful now about what you can say to the press.

RW: I can’t resist letting a hint of political commentary into my response, which is that actually [financial and reporting regulations in Taiwan] are much less burdensome. The entire rest of the world is much less burdensome, when it comes to being a public company, than SarbOx is here. So it turns out that it’s more efficient and less frustrating to be a manager in those foreign companies than to work for an American company. That’s my take on it, anyway. Ask me again a year from now. But that’s one of the reasons the IPO market here is falling behind the rest of the world.

X: Do you anticipate any changes in your product lineup as a result of the acquisition? Is PVI interested in continuing to make the small e-paper displays that you guys are creating for phones and wrist-wearable displays, for example?

RW: They’re very well aligned with us. They make displays that are small and medium-sized to begin with, so e-books are right in their sweet spot, as well as ours. They will be supporting both bigger displays and smaller displays. And we’re going to be working together on flexible displays and full-color displays. So there is no change to the product roadmap, except that I anticipate that we’ll be able to do it all more quickly.

X: When we last talked, you predicted that 2010 would be the year we’d see a flexible display from E Ink, and 2011 would be the year we’d see color. Is that still holding?

RW: At this moment we’re projecting that both of them will be ready by the end of 2010. Maybe not both in the same display, but separate flexible displays and color displays, both by the end of 2010.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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