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Fire in the Belly: Building a World-leading High-tech Company from Scratch in Tumultuous Times

Jerry D. Neal and Jerry Bledsoe

Down Home Press
$26.95 hardcover
6 x 9
224 pages
43 color photos
Published in 2005

When Bill Pratt and Powell Seymour got laid off from their technology jobs in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1991, they had no idea that they were about to become leaders of a revolution in electronic communications.

They did know that they wanted to start their own company, although they had no means to fund it. They asked their friend Jerry Neal to leave his job at the same company and join them to raise money and market their products.

Those products numbered only seven at the time, and they could fit in a small matchbox with plenty of room to spare. But they were unlike any other products. Bill Pratt had designed the first radio frequency integrated circuits, the semiconductor chips that would make the cell phone phenomenon possible.

Within a year of starting the company, Pratt had designed another chip, the first power amplifier using an exotic technology that many considered unreliable and impossible to commercialize. Although the chip failed at first, it became a company builder.

Now more than half of the cell phones made in the world contain power amplifiers made by RF Micro Devices of Greensboro, the world’s leading supplier. The company has plants and offices around the world, and has broadened its reach into every aspect of wireless electronic communications.

Jerry Neal’s revealing, entertaining, often funny account of how this came about is much more than a story of one company’s beginnings. It’s a wild ride through the technology boom of the 1990s, at the peak of which, just nine years after its founding, RF Micro Devices had a market value of $16 billion, twice that of its technology partner, the huge, long-established defense contractor TRW.

Fire in the Belly should be a handbook for entrepreneurs and a textbook for college business majors.



“By rights, RF Micro Devices Inc. should never have emerged as an independent business, let alone succeeded so well. . . . RF Micro’s success could be the stuff of a business school case study. It not only explains how a nimble and determined start-up can run circles around a handful of big-name competitors, including the likes of Motorola . . . Phillips Electronics . . . Hewlett-Packard . . . but it also illustrates how Analog Devices . . . and TRW . . . missed a golden opportunity to strike it rich because they were too timid.” —Electronic Business magazine
“Is this another story of a ‘new economy’ small company using high technology to leave an ‘old economy’ warrior in the dust? No, far from it. It’s a story of change and adaptation beyond the current clichés that tells how industries and technologies arise and how smart people find a way.” —James Flanigan, Los Angeles Times