Culture & People

Paul Palonsky Talks His 25-Year Tenure with SK hynix

By November 8, 2019 November 18th, 2019 No Comments

Paul speaking with his colleague, Charline

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At SK hynix, we know good talent when we see it. And that holds true for our Vice President of Sales in the Americas, Paul Palonsky, who celebrated his 25-year anniversary with the company this year.

Beginning first as an engineer and working himself up to one of the most senior sales positions, Paul has witnessed – and advanced – incredible, rapid changes both at SK hynix and across the memory industry at large over his tenure. When he joined the team in 1994, the company was still known as Hyundai Electronics and was just entering the DRAM market. Today, SK hynix is one of the leading forces in memory semiconductors, including DRAM, around the world.

We took some time to chat with Paul about the last 25 years and his impressive career, his path to success, and his advice for young people looking to join the industry.

How long have you been at the company? Tell us a bit about your career and professional journey – starting initially as an engineer and eventually landing in sales. Was there a reason for your pivot?

After receiving a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering degree from Georgia Tech, I officially entered the workforce as an avionics design engineer. While I enjoyed the challenges of system design engineering, I also had a keen interest in the business side of the electronics industry. I soon came to realize that, with my technical background and business acumen, working in technical sales would be a good career fit for me. Initially, I transitioned from design engineering to a role in field applications, and then eventually made the move into sales.

I joined SK hynix 25 years ago back when it was called Hyundai Electronics, just as the company was starting to build the DRAM business in the USA. I have always tried to bring a high level of service to my customers and to help them to find solutions to their issues. My previous experience in design has helped me understand and anticipate my customer’s needs – something I preach to my sales team even today as we look to differentiate SK hynix from our competitors.

Having that technical background has allowed me to better understand my customers’ needs and to advise them on the proper solutions for their applications. This strength has helped me to become a resource for my customers, rather than just someone trying to sell them a product. While I don’t think every person selling a technical product needs to have an engineering background, I do think it is necessary to understand the customer’s business and to find a way to bring value beyond just quoting price and delivery.

Tell us about the recruitment process at SK hynix those 25 years ago

Paul Palonsky, Vice President of Sales in the Americas

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One of the challenges in making the transition from an engineering role to a sales position was that the people doing the hiring back then were looking solely for candidates who had a proven track record in sales. At the time, memory was viewed as a commodity product and companies were just looking for people to move product.

My first sales job was with Toshiba, who, at the time, was the largest manufacturer of DRAM. Toshiba was also looking to grow its Application Specific IC (ASIC) business, which by its nature is a very technical product to sell. I used my previous experience as an ASIC design engineer to convince the interview team that I was the right person for the sales job, despite having no sales experience – and I guess I sold myself during the interview process.

Over time, I took over the lead sales role for the IBM PC team. It was during this time that I was approached by Hyundai Electronics and decided to join the company. The role was again in technical sales, but this time for all divisions of IBM. A few years later, I applied for the IBM W/W Account manager position – and through diligent work activity, I was able to prove my competence in account management and convince the SVP of Sales to accept me for the role.

I think that, over the years, recruitment philosophy has changed as companies look to innovate. In the past, companies simply looked for a proven track record in whatever the position entailed. But today, companies are looking for energetic people who can bring value to the position and promote positive change within the organization. When I recruit sales people myself, I try not to have a preconceived notion of a minimum skill set. Rather, I look for people who have the ability to solve problems and can find ways to succeed by overcoming obstacles and objections.

We can always teach candidates about memory and they can take classes in negotiation skills, but we cannot instill passion and the desire to achieve. These are the innate traits that can open career paths and it is up to the individual to show the recruitment team the drive and motivation which will make them successful in the position they seek.

What is it about SK hynix that made you stick around for all of these years? What types of changes have you witnessed in the memory industry over the years?

This year I celebrated 25 years with SK hynix. To some, it seems like a long time, but for me, it seems like the blink of an eye. As I mentioned – when I joined the company, we were just beginning to enter the semiconductor business in the USA. The atmosphere then was like working at a startup, even though we were part of a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate. SK hynix America was a vibrant place to work where individuals could take ownership of the business they were responsible for. I have always felt like I had the opportunity to take a leadership role in the business areas assigned to me. I am able to provide my opinion and suggestions to the management and they hear me out. Once we agree on the goal we want to achieve, I have the flexibility in determining the strategy to execute those goals. In a way I feel like I am running my own business within a larger organization. Even today, SK hynix retains that startup company feel.

Technology moves so quickly that we are always striving to meet new challenges. Over the years, the DRAM industry has consolidated from over 20 companies to, effectively, three. Through this transition, there were always opportunities to take on larger roles. With each new assignment, I worked with my team to transform the ways in which we approach our customers and to look for ways to enhance the strategic nature of our business relationship.

When successful, our company’s interests ultimately become intertwined with those of our customer – and true business partnerships are born. This has become even more important over time as memory has moved from a mass-produced commodity to a key component of our customers’ products. The reason I have stayed at SK hynix all these years is that I am always – still to this day – able to find new challenges. On top of it all, I have the pleasure of working with such a great group of people who are equally dedicated to creating successful outcomes for the company and our customers.

Looking back at your career – which moments stand out to you as defining moments in your professional growth? What accomplishments are you the proudest of?

The defining moment of my career was when I was first promoted to Vice President of Sales. This is when it hit me that I had really transitioned from being an engineer to a successful business executive. I am also very proud of the sales team we have built at SK hynix America, where we have a great group of professionals who are driven to succeed and to innovate our business. We have redefined the sales role from that of a sales person solely responsible for generating revenue, to a more comprehensive account management role.

The account manager is holistically responsible for their assigned accounts. This requires cross- functional teamwork with all the various groups within SK hynix, such as our application engineering team, sales operation group, as well as legal and finance. Through this comprehensive account management methodology, we have gained the trust of our customers to where many of the leading electronics companies in the world now buy the majority of their memory requirements from SK hynix. Developing these deep relationships, both personal and professional, has been the most fulfilling part of my career at SK hynix.

Is there a secret to your success or a piece of advice you’d like to give to young people looking to enter the memory industry?

If I had to give one piece of advice to a young person looking to develop their career it would be to always look for ways to contribute to the organization. Find ways to make a difference and then do so proactively. Showing desire, passion and initiative will open new doors. Another thing I would advise is to always be inquisitive and keep learning. Never become complacent as the pace of change in the memory industry, and the world in general, is extremely fast.

You’re known throughout the company for your lectures on communications. Can you tell us a bit about your personal approach to workplace communication?

It is kind of funny to me that public speaking is viewed as one of my strengths. It is actually something I have had to work hard on throughout the years – in high school, I was a shy kid and was always nervous to get up in front of a group of people. But through the years I have had the opportunity to speak to groups of people and it has become more comfortable for me.

Paul speaking to his colleague, Joe

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One of the things that helps to develop a comfort level in speaking to groups of people is preparation. Knowing the material to be conveyed and thinking through possible questions ahead of time helps me stand up in front of audiences with confidence. When you are confident and credible, people want to hear what you have to say. I have taken courses in communication techniques, but ultimately, there is no substitute for doing the hard work to prepare ahead of the speaking engagement.

What should someone looking to join the SK hynix team know about the company and its culture?

SK hynix is a very diverse and fast-paced culture. It is a culture where people are strong-willed and passionate about their jobs. At times we will have disagreements, but ultimately, we are driven by the same desire to succeed and will always band together in order to find positive outcomes. If you bring passion and a relentless desire to achieve, you will do well at SK hynix and find a home you can be proud of for many years.