The Faces of Deloitte TMT is a series of articles exploring the personal histories of our people, sharing the key experiences that defined their values, and exploring why they do what they do. In this story, Jan discusses how working in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom helped him understand the importance of creating value.
Starting out in Silicon Valley, you find yourself among the best of the best. Incredibly smart, hard-working people. You’re not only working with them, but you’re competing against them too. An environment like that forces you to think about value creation.
Jan Nicholas has impeccable timing.
The chemical engineering graduate arrived in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, taking a job with a major semiconductor chipmaker in time to catch the dot-com boom. Twenty-something years later, he has joined Deloitte’s TMT practice in Southeast Asia, as the lead on semiconductor consulting. This, at a time when the industry is facing major challenges.
Semiconductor chips are essential to almost everything, from computers, mobile phones, and watches to cars, dishwashers, and toys. They’re a bit like air; most people don’t notice them until they’re unavailable. For the past two years, COVID-related supply chain issues have caused chips to be in short supply, delaying the production and affecting inventories of products whose availability had always been taken for granted.
It’s a challenging time for semiconductors, but one with a lot of opportunity,” says Jan. Jan’s big-picture outlook is made possible by the fact that in the early stages of his career, he looked at the small picture. A very, very, very small picture. “As a chemical engineer, I was working out how to make the actual chip, how to work with circuits that are 1/400th the width of a human hair, how to manipulate material at the atomic level, how to make sure that the millions of switches on a chip the size of a thumbnail work properly.”
He entered the industry not long after graduating from Penn State University, beginning his career at a start-up in San Diego before moving north. It wasn’t too long after that he started to think about a future in consulting.
“Starting out in Silicon Valley, you find yourself among the best of the best. Incredibly smart, hard-working people,” says Jan. “You’re not only working with them, but you’re competing against them too. An environment like that forces you to think about value creation. You’re always thinking about how you can contribute because that’s the way you’re going to get ahead in a place like that.”
Along the way, he met and worked with several people who had previous experience in the management consulting world. “I started to notice that those people who had consulting in their background tended to be the smartest, most competent and capable in the room. They had real leadership skills, knew how to communicate, and would come up with different and better solutions to problems.”
From Silicon Valley, Jan moved over to southeast Asia before returning to the United States for an MBA. This was followed by 16 years in consulting, the last six of which were based in Hong Kong. Today, he and his wife, Tanja, a journalist who has also worked in the region, reside in Penang, Malaysia, a major hub for the semiconductor industry. They know the region well. Jan has worked across most of the countries in the region while Tanja spent four years in Cambodia earlier in her career. “We love to travel and are looking forward to doing more of it now that things are opening up again,” says Jan. “We love to see new places and experience new cultures.”
The technology sector is in an exciting position right now, with semiconductors now seeing convergence in support of a range of emerging technologies. “The industry is at an inflection point,” say Jan. “Historically, it’s been driven by the products that the chips go into. But now chips are powering the Internet of Things, which enables big data, which enables analytics, and so on. Cloud computing. 5G mobile communications. Driverless cars. Blockchain.” The list of potential applications is growing everyday—and, as such, businesses need to understand where chips can support their technology needs. “The [semiconductor] industry is poised to more than double over the next eight years, which means there’s strong demand for professional services to help clients achieve their goals.”