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Gabi Sharon Shares the Untold Stories that Shaped Nova’s Journey

From being the first service personnel to install one of the very first tools to creating Nova's extensive Operations teams. Nova's COO, Gabi Sharon, shares his 27 years journey at Nova.

Can you please share your journey at Nova from the moment you joined the company to your current role as COO?

I joined Nova in September 1995, which is now 27 to 28 years ago. It has been an incredible journey. When I first joined, Nova was a start-up company that was still figuring out the right product to offer. Today, the company has grown significantly and now employs 1,200 people, with over 4,000 active systems installed in the field. I am proud to have seen the company's evolution and growth in technology, people, culture, vision, finances, investor relations, and customer and partner relationships. It is exciting to witness the significant progress and development the company has undergone, especially in recent years.

Rumor has it that you were personally involved in the installation of the first Nova Tool. Can you share some details about that experience?

I was the first person to join Nova and take care of the service field. The company was in the final stages of developing its first product, and I was recruited to build the entire service organization. Just three weeks after joining Nova, I went to support the installation of the first or second system, even though I had limited knowledge of it, and I approached it with awe.

There were two dramatic moments during the installation process. Firstly, the system was very unstable, and I had to spend a week working with the development team over the phone, days and nights, to improve parameters and calibrate the system to get it working. Imagine that the system detected the measurement site with great difficulty, I assume that only 70% of the measurement sites were identified. Today the result is very good, approaching almost 100%.

The second one occurred on the night before I was scheduled to fly back home, the system suddenly stopped working. After hours of troubleshooting, I finally discovered that it was just a blown electric fuse.  The next morning, I stood outside the RadioShack store in the early morning, hoping and praying that they would have the specific fuse I needed to fix the system and once I found it, I rushed back to the customer to install it.

I still remember the sense of relief I felt when the system finally worked after the unstable prototype system caused so much stress. I also recall waiting outside the store, praying that they had the specific fuse I needed to fix the system.

What a great story - What else do you remember about that experience?

A few weeks after the installation I traveled to the same customer with the Measurement Unit (MU) in my hand. For those who are familiar with our system, the MU is the central part of it and it contains all the optics and the XY stage, making it incredibly sensitive. I knew that sending it as a suitcase in the belly of the plane could potentially lead to damage or loss, so I took it with me on the plane. The flight attendant was confused as to why I was bringing a box on board, but I insisted that I wouldn't let it out of my sight. Thanks to my determination, I was eventually allowed to fly with the MU. When I arrived at the customer's location, I installed it and the system worked perfectly.

How has the industry evolved since you joined Nova?

The semiconductor industry and Nova have experienced continuous change with "never a dull moment". The technology has progressed significantly over the years, from 20 and 25 years ago to the present day. We have all felt the impact of digitization in our personal lives. Today, we use more chips than we did five or ten years ago, and these chips are smarter, faster, and consume less energy. For those who love technology and the power it holds, it is an exciting journey to be a part of. Even for those familiar with the manufacturing process (Fab), it is fascinating to witness the technological advancements in silicon placement and chemistry that results in chips capable of performing numerous calculations in mere tenths of a second.

We talked about the industry and technology, now let's delve into Nova's culture. tell me a little about Nova's culture, and how it developed from the time you joined until now?

There are two aspects to the concept of culture: on the one hand, Nova has maintained its sense of community and closeness among its employees - I'm talking about the camaraderie, the bond between colleagues, the openness to voice everything you think and this is something that has not changed significantly over the years - and that's a positive thing. I think that all of us, when we arrive at the workplace, feel very comfortable and at ease with the people around us - these are people who I think share similar cultural values and beliefs with us. And this is what I think strongly aligns the people with the company's goals. Additionally, throughout its history, the company has demonstrated a strong commitment to innovation. It has consistently recognized the importance of fostering a culture of creativity and has allocated appropriate resources to support this goal. As a result, the company has established itself as a leader in its industry and has set the standard for cutting-edge solutions and services. This unwavering focus on innovation has been a key factor in the company's continued success and growth.

On the other hand, I think that a change that is very welcome has happened, it is the more business-oriented perspective that the company has developed. Compared to 20 years ago, Nova was more technology-oriented, and product-focused, with less emphasis on customer needs and business aspects. And today I think that this balance between business and technology is in a very, very good place. We see the growth of the company, especially in recent years, as being very significant due to this combination.    

What advice do you have for someone just starting his or her career?

My advice for someone starting their career would be to constantly look for ways to bring extra value and differentiate themselves in each role they take on. Focus on developing, advancing, and enhancing your skills and extend your areas of responsibility. Seek opportunities to grow and make your position more interesting and impactful for both you and the company.

Can you share a project that you consider a particularly noteworthy accomplishment in your career, whether from recent times or from earlier in your time at the company?

In the recent period, one of the major accomplishments of the operation was delivering all the systems requested by our customers, even in the face of the COVID-19 crisis and even though many of us were working remotely and faced incredible challenges with the supply chain. This proved me that our efforts in building professional processes and interfaces across our operational departments have proven to be successful. Our partnership and supplier management methodology, developed over the years, has effectively ensured smooth operations and a high level of efficiency within our organization. I believe this is a remarkable achievement for all the operational departments within the company.

One early important achievement, which I’m proud of, is establishing the customer service lineup. This was a long-term team effort that involved hiring personnel to serve all our customers, setting up offices in various regions we operate in, and developing a strategic vision for our customer service. Our goal is to always be close to our customers and hire individuals who see the value in providing excellent service and enjoy doing so. I remember that from day one, customers consistently gave positive feedback about our service personnel, thanks to our culture of always being ready to support. Each service engineer has the full support of the company behind them, which enables us to effectively solve any problems that arise. I believe this close relationship with our customers is extremely powerful.

What can you share about the process of setting up the clean rooms, which was one of the biggest challenges of the last period?

The establishment of the new clean rooms in Israel and the USA was a complex task as we had to consider the future development of our products and plan accordingly for the manufacturing facilities. During the room planning process, stringent protocols for cleanliness, temperature stabilization, humidity control, floor vibration mitigation, and acoustic noise reduction were carefully considered. The room layout and logistics areas were meticulously planned with the goal of maximizing efficiency, optimizing utilization of space, and most important providing a safe and ergonomic work environment for our employees. During the planning phase, we had to determine the material and production flow requirements and set high standards to make the room functional and suitable for employees to work in, while incorporating a significant level of automation. A lot of thought and planning went into the construction of the clean room before actual construction began. Now, seeing the clean room near completion, I am proud to see that it meets high standards of the semiconductor industry. While there were challenges in the construction process, these challenges only add to the excitement of the project and make it more fulfilling. At Nova, challenges like these energize us and it's great to see them finally being overcome.

Nova Team
Nova Team

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