A success in Silicon Valley, but still in Lexington

February 20, 2012

After five years in California working for Cypress Semiconductor, Alan Hawse decided in 1996 that he wanted to move back home to Lexington.

The computer chip maker didn’t want to lose Hawse, so it created a research and development facility in Lexington for him to run. Still, Hawse figured that his climb up the corporate ladder was over.

If you want to be a player in Silicon Valley, you have to be in Silicon Valley, right? Not necessarily.

In 2003, Hawse was made vice president of information technology. Last February, he was put in charge of the company’s software-design applications. This month, he was promoted to executive vice president of software development.

Hawse, 43, is now one of a dozen top executives of Cypress, a $3.5 billion company that is one of the world’s leading makers of programmable chips. He oversees about 250 software engineers working in this country, India, China, Turkey and Ukraine.

Hawse plans to create a software-design unit in Lexington, too, “as soon as I find the right person to run it.” That would add about 10 jobs to Cypress’s office at the corner of Main and Mill streets, where about 40 engineers design chips.

“Cypress likes Lexington,” said Hawse, who has degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Kentucky and Georgia Tech. “We attract good people who do good work, and the cost to the company is reasonable.”

For the moment, though, Hawse has bigger tasks on his plate. He said software problems last year delayed the introduction of Cypress’s TrueTouch Gen 4 chip, which brought a new level of precision to touchscreens used in smartphones and many other devices made by such companies as Samsung, Apple and Sony.

That delay caused Cypress’s stock price to take a hit, costing shareholders millions of dollars. “Now, it’s my responsibility to fix,” Hawse said. “It was a crazy year. This year is going to be crazy, too. It’s amazing intellectual stimulation. Everything is new, and the stakes are very high. But I’m an engineer; I’m good at putting stuff together and making it work.”

Software development is essential to Cypress because its chips are programmable. In addition to touchscreens, those chips are used to control such things as touch buttons on appliances and computer peripherals that work through USB connections.

Programmable chips are a big, global business — and getting bigger all the time. People are always creating new uses for chips, as Hawse did when he sought a solution to a problem in his back yard.

Hawse, his wife, Jill, and their two children live in Scott County. Elkhorn Creek runs behind their property, and they never know when the water might be rising so much that it could flood their barn. So, Hawse connected a Cypress chip to a water-pressure sensor to measure the water level and display it online. Now, he can log onto a Web site from anywhere and check the creek’s level.

That has come in handy because Hawse spends a lot of time traveling around the world.

“I spent 100 nights in a hotel last year, which isn’t fun, but it’s part of the job,” he said.

Hawse figures Lexington is a better place to do his new job than at company headquarters in San Jose, Calif. For one thing, this time zone is more convenient for reaching Cypress employees in many other parts of the world at convenient times.

Still, Hawse marvels at his good fortune, and at the changes in business and technology that allow him to be a successful engineer and top executive at one of the world’s top technology companies, yet still get to work in his hometown.

It’s also nice, he adds, to still come to work most days wearing jeans, running shoes and a sweatshirt. And be able to keep a bicycle outside his office so he can squeeze in a 20-mile ride at lunch on a pretty day.

“It’s jaw-droppingly amazing when you think about it,” Hawse said. “I drive down Newtown Pike every day through the amazingly beautiful place where we live, and when I walk though these doors, I’m in Silicon Valley. The ability we have to hire good people here and play with the big boys is amazing.”