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T J Rodgers

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How would you describe the management style of T.J. Rodgers? T.J. Rodgers management style is described as aggressive, rigorous and down right in your face. As CEO, Chief Executive of Cypress Semiconductor and author of the book, “No Excuses Management”, Rodgers has developed an almost fear inducing management style. On the wall of his San Jose, California office hangs a plaque that reads, “BE REALISTIC, DEMAND THE IMPOSSIBLE” which exemplifies exactly what Rodgers expects from his employees, Perfection! At Cypress he disregards anyone who engages in what he considers sloppy thinking and no one is shielded from his wrath.

He’s known for what some employees refer to as his “drooling psycho face,” which features bulging veins and narrowed eyes, followed by some fist pounding and a barrage of verbal lashing that leaves no doubt of his displeasure. Surprisingly honest about what he calls his punishment management style, Rodgers describes working at Cypress as “crawling through a muddy battlefield.” It is said that in the past, some employees complained about the long hours.

Rodgers got some old army cots and pillows and placed them outside the bathrooms to remind them how easy they had it just working 12 to 14 hour days as compared to when he and other company founders used these cots in the early 1980s when some literally slept in the office. One thing remains certain however, no one has ever accused Rodgers of having a double standard. He holds himself just as accountable as he holds his employees. At one point the CEO fell behind is his own duties and got his pay check cut off. He subsequently had to sell some of his Cypress stock to pay his bills.


How suitable is Rodgers’ attention to detail for a top level manager? “If everyone in our company made ordinary business decisions in a commonsense way, we would be unstoppable,” says Rodgers. “It turns out that very few people at our company or anywhere else make ordinary business decisions in a commonsense way. Most companies don’t fail or lack of talent or strategic vision, they fail or lack execution.”

This is why Cypress management systems track corporate, departmental and individual performance so regularly and pays so much attention to detail that no manager, including himself can feasibly claim to be in the dark regarding any critical issues. The system that Rodgers and his top level management developed, gives them the capacity to monitor what’s happening at all levels of the organization so to anticipate problems or conflicts and intervene when appropriate as well as to identify the best practices without creating any bureaucratic red tape that impedes decisions and depletes morale.

Cypress practices a no surprises way of life and emulates words such as discipline, accountability and relentless attention to detail at every level of the organization. Top level managers at Cypress disagree vigorously on many things in their management meetings but they disagree over substance and the best possible ways to make the most effective decisions, which are the essence of management.


How would you like to work directly for T.J. Rodgers? Why? Working for T.J. Rogers could be seemed as inconducive for some people if they are not self motivated. Working for an employer who accepts nothing less than perfection, pushes his employees to do significantly more than just what is expected of them and would drive them to accept nothing less than perfection from themselves. Another incentive that would motivate me to want to work directly for such an employer is the fact that, at Cypress, profit sharing tied to corporate performance is distributed equally among the employees and Rodgers gets no more than any of the company’s employees.

This to me would be a win win situation because it would show me that my employer shares the wealth instead of hoarding it all among the top management and other directors. Rodgers regards is boot camp management regiment as a character building tool. As a member of the United States Marine Corps such a management style is an everyday way of life for us marines. Holding oneself accountable for ones actions or lack thereof, is a direct reflection on our leaders and or own initiative. Being average or only doing what is expected is highly frowned upon in the Marine Corps. The marine who separates him or herself as a motivator and goes above and beyond the call of duty is regarded as a good marine and is subsequently given more responsibilities which provides greater job enrichment.

At Cypress, performance based compensation is a great tool for more efficient output. In the Marine Corps however, a marine may not initially be compensated monetarily for greater output as they do at Cypress, but would see such compensation in terms of better pros and cons and or fitness reports, which in turn sets up the marine for promotional opportunities as well as an increase in pay with each promotion. So in closing, I wouldn’t mind working for T.J. Rodgers even with his boot camp management style because I already work in such an environment. I wouldn’t mind working directly for Rodgers also because, he shares profit with corporate performance equally between himself and all his employees.


What possible negative consequences do you see resulting from the recruitment and selection systems at Cypress? Cypress Semiconductor has an aggressive approach when hiring and believes that hiring is an essential foundation of any successful company. Cypress will make an interview “tough as hell” even when a candidate is seen as being a good fit. The psychology behind this is to make the job seem more desirable since it is extremely difficult to get in. The intense hiring process consists of 3 rounds. The first assesses productivity, technical ability/skills and values. The second assesses ability to work under pressure in which several people ask the job candidates technical questions that they are unlikely to be able to answer just to see how they handle pressure.

This is referred to as the ‘pack of wolves’ session. The third one consists of thorough reference checking. Rodgers believes that “If you hire the best, you become the best. During an economically lean time, it is crucial to be very systematic and objective in your assessment of candidates you hire, reassign or promote” In his letter to Sister Doris Gormley, (Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia) dated May 23, 1996;

T.J.Rodgers responds to claims made by the Sister that Cypress should seek to “enrich the Board by seeking qualified women and members of racial minorities as nominees”. The claim made on Cypress Semiconductor was that its Board of Directors needed to include women and minorities in order for the company to appear “moral”. Rodgers sought to outline that his company hires members of the Board by 3 basic requirements: Experience as a CEO of an important technology company

Direct expertise in the semiconductor business based on education & management Experience

Direct experience in the management of a company that buys from he semiconductor industry. He pointed out that his requirements would yield “a male who is 50-years plus, has a Masters Degree in engineering science and has moved up the managerial ladder to the top spot in one or more corporations” This is where Disparate Impact comes in. Disparate Impact has been defined by www.businessdictionary.com as the adverse effect of a standard or practice that is neutral and non-discriminatory in its intention but nonetheless affects individuals having a disability or belonging to a particular group based on age, gender, ethnicity, race or sex. In summary, his selection process is fully based on the nature of the job and does not discriminate against women or minorities.

An approach such as this, while rigorous, can hardly be viewed as being negative because the company is simply taking these measures to ensure that they invest in the best, most suitable persons for the various job capacities. The company however falls short in one area; one aspect of the selection process involves the completion of a “career path questionnaire”. The objective of the questionnaire is to decipher personality traits so as to determine if a candidate fits into the culture of Cypress.

This process borders on discrimination, in that, a candidate may be denied a job offer because his personality on paper, and not in actuality, will supersede his academic qualifications and technical skills. A job survey carried out on www.jobsandcareer.com, to determine employee reviews of the company garnered similar responses from a few employees when asked about the work culture at Cypress. They inferred that working at Cypress can be a good experience so long as you find yourself with the right boss or in the right group. One employee elaborated by saying that the best and safest way to get by was to not be too different from your peers and superiors. Such practices force individuals into cultivating false personalities so as to fit and not lose their job.

This behavior can lead to tension, workplace stress, under motivated staff and subsequently lower productivity levels. Additionally, people will forge what is written on paper in areas of personality just to get a job. It is unfair to judge personality on paper as this often times is not a true representation of an individual’s real self. A questionnaire does not cover real life situations. An article posted in the Harvard Business Review (“No Excuses Management,” July-August ’90) outlined some key ideas from Rodgers relating to interviewing and hiring: 1. If you want job prospects to know that you are serious, get your high-ranking executives involved in the interview process. At Cypress, all candidates for exempt positions interview with two vice presidents.

2. Make interviews tough and technically demanding – even for people you know you want. 3. Interviews should lead to detailed assessments of strengths and weaknesses, not vague impressions. We believe that if you do not find any weaknesses in a candidate, you probably have not probed sufficiently. 4. Check for cultural fit. Most companies claim to do this, but few are very systematic. At Cypress, work attitudes and career goals are probed through a questionnaire that requires brief but direct answers to open-ended questions. In closing, based on evidence derived through research, the recruitment and selection process at Cypress Semiconductor is mostly positive and is more directly geared towards finding the most suitable candidates for the job and less about discrimination.


What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of “Killer Software”. Rodgers created “Killer Software” in the late 1980s from a chalkboard to its current form on a network of computers. How it works is that, employees list all their current tasks and goals, along with codes that identify the dates that projects began, the original due date and even a revised due date just in case it slips behind schedule. The updated lists are loaded into a central database weekly and sent up to top management and vice presidents. On Wednesdays, Rodgers gets a print out of listings that include status of projects and the names of managers whose subordinates have a high number of delinquent goals.

Take for example; the purchasing department orders some products from an outside supplier and the order failed to meet the deadline and no explanation has been given as to why the product is late. This is where the “Killer Software” would intervene and shut down all the computers systems in the purchasing department. For the system to come back online, department personnel would have to contact the supplier to get a new delivery date and insist that it be delivered on time. They would then report the outcome to their department chief financial officer as to what progress has been made to fix this particular problem and then the computer system would be turned back on.

To outsiders, this may seem as disadvantageous but Rodgers believes that the benefits gain from increased productivity, far outweigh the cost of an occasional shutdown. He advocates that “Killer Software” is a critical tool for a business so complicated as this, that any miner error can be catastrophic if not dealt with on the spot. The question as to whether this actually works as an advantage is also measure by software. It was reported that within the first year after the implementation of “Killer Software”, Cypress’s records for on time shipments to customer, rose from 65% to 90%.

So in summary, I think that Rodgers’s intention was to draws everyone’s attention as to question what happened and what they can do so it never happens again. It keeps everyone on their toes and prevents them from slacking off on their duties. So for Cypress, the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages because as more products are shipped and received on schedule, the more profits are generated and more valued customers retained.


What recommendations do you have for T.J.Rodgers as a manager and a leader? T.J.Rodgers uses the term Laissez-Faire Capitalism a lot in his book and articles. Put simply, it is an economic system. Capitalism involves the ownership of individual property and using this property or capital to create goods and services to gain income and profit. The French term, laissez-faire literally means “To let people do as they wish”. Thus, Laissez-Faire Capitalism does not like government interference in their business matters. If however the government does get involved in business matters, they would prefer that it be kept to a minimum.

There is no doubt that Rodgers is an autocratic leader who feels the need to have individual control over all the decision making at Cypress. He and other directors dictate all the work methods and processes used at Cypress. He takes little or no input from lower level employees and seems to rarely trust them with decisions or important tasks. His somewhat abusive and autocratic leadership style is often viewed as bossy, controlling and dictatorial, which in turn leads to resentment among management and employees

My recommendation to Rodgers as a manager and leader would be to figure out a way to become more a “laissez-faire leader” and not so much an autocrat. He should allow his employees to do their jobs as they wish. It is quite obvious from Cypress’s recruitment process that each employee has the skill sets that are required to do the job they were hired to do.

The organization has a variety of tools, namely, “Killer Software” which acts as a watchdog for delinquent or substandard performance, which should allow him to loosen the reins and let the systems he himself developed to do what they were created to do. Not many professionals like to have their employers hovering over them and if they do, I wouldn’t consider such employees as professionals. So in closing, if Rodgers redirected some of his so-called “laissez-faire capitalist” mentality in his management style and allowed his employees to be more creative, trust them to make decisions and adhere to some of their inputs, I think he would be a much better leader.

We expect more CEOs to focus on this in the future.

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