We sat down with GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ new Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Communications, John Volkmann, to learn more about the man behind the marketer, including his early career, the changing role of technology marketers, and his take on emerging semiconductor trends.
My career in Silicon Valley began in 1990, around the time the World Wide Web was born. I’d just left a brand management job in Modesto, California at Gallo Wine – my first job out of business school – and wanted to get back to my engineering roots by making the move to Silicon Valley.
I joined Cunningham Communication – at the time, Silicon Valley’s largest tech PR agency – and eventually launched the Brand Momentum Group, a subsidiary designed to provide branding and positioning services to fast-growing tech leaders in the Valley. I did a lot of work for Motorola Semiconductor, which introduced me to the semiconductor industry and a lot of people who made their way to places like AMD and GF a bit farther down the road.
Nearly a decade later, I was invited to join AMD, where I led the corporate marketing and communication team. AMD provided a wide-range of experiences including the acquisition of ATI Technologies, the sale of what became GLOBALFOUNDRIES to Mubadala, and the global anti-trust litigation against Intel. I joined for what I thought would be 2-3 years and wound up staying almost ten. Eventually, in early 2012, I left AMD to co-found SeriesC (now Cunningham Collective), a Silicon Valley marketing consultancy, and was eventually hired as CMO by a client, QD Vision, a small nanomaterials company based near Boston.
Late last summer, QD Vision was acquired by Samsung so I started looking for something new to do. The GF marcomm role caught my attention, so I reached out to an old friend from AMD, John Docherty, to see if he thought there might be a fit. One thing led to the next and, about a month later, I was signing up to join the team here.
I see GF as a company with a lot of potential for industry leadership. The foundry business is fairly stable with a single, relatively complacent leader taking more than their “fair share.” It’s a huge, growing industry, ripe for disruption, and I see GF as the only company seizing the opportunity to shake things up. Customers don’t like too much concentration of power in their suppliers, and with the company executing well, I think it could gain meaningful share in the next few years.
This position is very much like the one I left about five years ago at AMD after over nine years there. I have a small, but effective and highly motivated team – one from which the company expects a lot. I feel we are uniquely responsible for helping the company evolve our “narrative” from a collection of strong individual parts, into a cohesive industry leadership story. And I am joining at a time when the role of the marcomm function can have an amplifying effect in reshaping external expectations of the company.
The responsibility is the same: build and grow a leadership profile through relevant differentiation. But the environment has completely changed, largely in the past five years. For example, pervasive technology makes everyone’s lives more transparent. For leaders, there’s no refuge from the spotlight – you are in public all the time. This same technology has shattered mass media business models. The notion of getting your message out is much more complicated than before. A consistent, easy-to-remember master narrative is crucial. Knowing how search engines behave is as well. Finally, today’s generation of ‘digital natives’ prefer visual media types (think Snapchat, Facebook video, YouTube) over verbal ones. We need to continuously shift our work product from written words to images and video clips. I’m just scratching the surface here…
The technology industry is such a roller coaster. Every time I think things are slowing down, some massive, foundation-shifting trends arise (e.g., Internet, smartphones, social media, cloud computing) that keeps demand for semiconductor content growing at a remarkable pace. Today’s examples are IoT, augmented and virtual reality, and self-driving cars. Those who capture disproportionate share of silicon spend in these emerging segments will be industry leaders for at least the next decade. This is GF’s opportunity – not to take share from today’s available market – but to win more than our historical share in these exciting growth areas. I think we have as good a shot as anyone else, and better than most.
John Volkmann was named GF’s Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Communications in March 2017. In this role, he will lead, develop and execute the company’s strategic communications and brand management around the world. Beyond the office walls, John enjoys wine, golf, and time with his wife, Denise, and their three children.