Applied Materials CEO’s best advice: The buck stops here

September 16, 2009, 1:48 PM UTC

Interview by Scott Cendrowski

Mike Splinter, CEO of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied Materials, recalls the best advice he ever got.

Mike Splinter, CEO of Applied Materials

Before I joined Applied Materials (AMAT), I worked at Intel (INTC) for two decades. I recall a session with Andy Grove. It was 1984, and Grove was talking about Intel culture to a group of new employees who were coming in at a senior level. I was running Fab 1, a Santa Clara factory that made chips.

In his talk Grove advised us to always assume it’s your responsibility. By that he meant to take on a job, even if it wasn’t yours. That’s a general thought, but it creates specific action and works across almost any situation, from picking up garbage on the floor to a new product idea.

If you automatically assume it’s your responsibility and do something about it, that makes the company better. Those who can recognize that are the ones who end up being more successful.

Mike’s greatest tips

Engage your audience. When talking to a group, give the audience a challenge or an objective. It makes the presentation much more memorable.

Stay connected. I read every one of my e-mails. There are a lot of mechanisms to isolate you as CEO. You have to ensure you’re finding out what’s really going on with employees.

Get others involved early. People are a lot more motivated to execute the things they have to do if they’re part of the planning and strategy. Execution is often grinding and hard, so make employees part of the process.

Recognize good work. If I think someone has really done a good job, I’ll send a personal note to say it’s appreciated. It doesn’t matter to me what layer in the company they are.

Know why you’re meeting. You need everyone to understand what they’re trying to accomplish in a meeting. Is the meeting a communication meeting, or a decision-making meeting? Those things ought to be clear upfront.

Streamline your schedule. Prioritize every day. I focus on three things: financial goals, new-product goals, and people goals.

Balance your risk. You want to encourage people to be willing to take risks. Since I consider myself a risk taker, I like to have a CFO who’s much more conservative than I am. We have a good balance.