Thomas H. Werner has served as the CEO and as a member of the board of directors of SunPower since 2003. SunPower Corporation (Nasdaq: SPWR) designs, manufactures and markets high-performance solar electric technology worldwide. SunPower’s high-efficiency solar cells and modules generate up to 50 percent more power per unit area than conventional solar technologies and have a uniquely attractive, all-black appearance. Tom has a varied background including VP and GM positions with 3Com. Currently he also serves as a board member of Exar Corp, Three-Five Systems, and Silicon Light Machines. I recently interviewed Tom about SunPower.
SM: Two years ago I listened to a speech by T.J. Rogers about the founding of SunPower, and there were some very interesting stories. If you could start us off by talking about your background, and how you got involved with SunPower that would be great, and from there we can talk a little bit about SunPower’s history. TW: My background is really, at least recently, with technical companies. I was at a company called 3Com, as well as US Robotics, both of them in networking and data communications. I was previously in Chicago, US Robotics was headquartered in Chicago, and 3Com acquired US Robotics.
Early in my career I had been the president of a division and had run a P&L, and my desire to run a P&L again brought me to Silicon Valley in 1998; 3Com brought me out here. After three years of that I caught the startup / entrepreneur bug and I looked at a whole bunch of companies.
This was in 2000, and optical networking was very hot at the time, and one of the companies was an intrepreneurship opportunity inside Cypress Semiconductor with T.J. Rogers. The team they had was quite good and well financed, and the technology was also quite good. It turned out that the fiber optic network was grossly oversupplied – the total available market could have fit on my desktop. I learned a long term lesson: regardless of how good your team is, you better have a market.
I talked with T.J. and told him that the next step I would take would be to cost reduce myself. I looked at a lot of companies, but T.J. told me I really needed to look at SunPower. At the time it was a very rational decision again, it was well funded and had a great team.