Practically everyone making a new piece of electronic equipment has Linear Technology on speed dial. Linear builds specialized analog chips, which convert real-world signals such as power, temperature, and light into a form that digital chips can process. With such customers as makers of cars, cell phones, and huge telecom switches, Linear has been growing steadily for 25 years. And its margins, about 40%, are twice those of many rivals. That’s largely because of Linear’s moves to pioneer new markets when prices begin to commoditize. CEO Lothar Maier continues to follow that blueprint. Linear is focusing on such emerging markets as power-over-Ethernet chips that would let Net-based phones get juice right through the phone cable. While the company was caught in a fourth-quarter chip slowdown and has been mentioned in the options backdating scandal, neither problem should knock steady Linear off course for long.
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