News - Interview with OCZ's Steve Lee

Interview with OCZ's Steve Lee

Today I have with me a colleague and someone I like to consider a friend, Mr. Steve Lee.  Steve currently works for OCZ Technology, holding a dual position of both Senior Vice President of Product Management and as the Business Unit General for the PSU division.  A lot of people that know Steve know him from his five years at Corsair, where he served as their power supply product manager up until earlier this year.  Prior to that, from 2002 to 2005, Steve was the SVP of Strategic Marketing and Business Alliances for OCZ, at a time when OCZ introduced their own power supplies to the market.

So Steve, it seems to me you’re a bit of a thrill seeker.  You leave OCZ at what was pretty much the height of it as a brand in the power supply market.  You kick off power supplies at Corsair and have now left that company at a time where it’s arguably one of the biggest brands in the power supply market.  Would you like to add anything else to that bucket list?  Bungee jumping?  Sky diving?

Interesting way to look at it but I admit that I definitely like to challenge myself and sometimes that requires me to keep moving and learning new things. My passion really is for hardware and I enjoy developing products that specifically address real customer needs. I’m excited about this new chapter and look forward to introducing new OCZ PSU products. In regards to being a thrill seeker bungee jumping and sky diving are indeed both on my bucket list, and what I really want to do is travel around the world and experience everything that other countries have to offer.

Now, I know before I first met you as the go-to guy for PSU’s at OCZ, you worked at other tech companies, like Abit and Minerva Networks, so I have to ask… how did you first get involved in the tech field and how did you finally end up as the PSU go-to guy at OCZ?

I have always been a PC guy, I have been building my own PCs since the Pentium 90 days. In ’95 I started my own e-tail shop selling computer components, and have been in the industry ever since then. In 2005, we started working with Topower on PSUs as my pet project, I felt that power supplies have always been an important component that’s often been ignored.  At the time, I believed we could truly add value on PSUs and I believed the importance of educating the public about PSU quality.  The Powerstream and Modstream were released and they were both big hits for us.  

Following OCZ’s purchase of PC Power & Cooling back in 2007, I believe a lot of enthusiasts have been a little disappointed with the direction OCZ had taken PC Power into. For example, in 2009 there was a dry spell of Silencer and Turbo Cool units. I know you weren’t there for that, but perhaps you can provide some insight as to why these product lines completely disappeared from the market or what were some of the issues OCZ ran into in keeping PC Power going as “business as usual”?

I think when you have such a long and storied history and such a loyal base of customers like PC Power & Cooling any change is a challenge. PC Power and Cooling has always been about performance and quality and as the division sought to introduce new units to market there was always a consistent push to make sure any changes were in keeping with the company’s original ideals. Thus there were a lot of starts and stops but rather than introduce products that didn’t meet PC Power’s stringent requirements there was an unfortunate shortage in supply during these gap periods as the product line was getting refined. The original team is still intact and I can tell you moving forward the best is yet to come. We are keeping all that makes PC Power such a legend in this industry including the commitment to quality, excellent service, and top notch reliability and also infusing the company with new ideas. While I can’t unveil anything just yet but don’t be surprised to see products introduced in the future that not only have exceptional quality but feature sets that you haven’t seen from PC Power to date.

In 2010, OCZ released the PC Power & Cooling Silencer Mk II, which was a decent effort, but many people felt that it was nothing more than an OCZ power supply with fixed cables versus modular cables.  Even the fan was a 135mm top mounted fan, which was something PC Power’s founder, Doug Dodson, rallied against for years.  The return of the Silencer with a 760W and an updated 910W earlier this year seem to be a return to the old PC Power philosophies, but I have to ask you honestly; is there still the “no top mounted fans, no modular cables” mantra being chanted on the PC Power side of things? And if not, what is the differentiating factor going to be between an OCZ power supply and a PC Power & Cooling power supply?

Doug was certainly an instrumental part of PC Powers success and while many of his PSU myths held true at the time, the technology and components have improved dramatically over the years, and while many of the problems he was concerned about are still valid they now can be addressed with new designs and improved components. I believe in the value of modular designs and improved airflow with larger top mounted fans, and there are ways to offer the best blend of these features while taking into account Doug’s original concerns when designing new PSU’s. 

When it comes to brand differentiation I always like to use car analogy; PC P&C and OCZ are similar to the luxury and standard brand.  They are both one company, but they serve different market segment of customers. PC P&C will be focusing on premium products that deliver the features and the reliabilities that power users and enterprise customers need, while OCZ will be focusing on price-performance solution for gamers and performance users.

I remember one of the things that PC Power & Cooling did with the Turbo-Cool’s, that nobody else did, was to offer custom cables with different connectors and varying lengths and a test report with every PSU.  Of course, I haven’t seen that level of service with any other PSU manufacturer and, quite frankly, haven’t seen that from PC Power since the Turbo Cools dried up a couple years ago.  Are there any plans to bring those kinds of services back to the market?

Actually, Turbo-cool are still available today on PC P&C’s website and still offer custom cable service, along with highlighting this service on OCZenterprise.com, catering towards OEMs and business partners. This is a service that PC Power has always continued to provide and many die-hard enthusiasts continue to leverage this service in their specialized builds. The same team also customizes PSU’s for our commercial business.

OCZenterprise.com? Yeah… I just checked that our and it does say that you will customize wiring harnesses and even help design a proprietary PSU from the ground up.  Pretty cool.  And I have to admit that like most people, I didn’t think to look for an action to buy on the website, but I do see the Turbo-Cool there.  It also looks like the 1200W popped up on Newegg and there’s now a 15% off promo on PC Power product that’s good until the end of the month. Making waves already, eh? 

I’ve often fought against the argument, usually unsuccessfully when dealing with sales people, that the power supply market is a commodity market.  A power supply is a power supply and they all serve a single, solitary purpose and that the only way to succeed in the market is to compete on price.  Now, you and I both know that not all PSU’s are created equal.  Many don’t put out their advertised power claims and some can actually damage your computer hardware.  On that same note, the playing field of decent quality power supplies has broadened considerably over the past five years.  So my question to you is, are there plans to better educate customers so they know that you get what you pay for and are there plans to bring some differentiating features to OCZ and PC Power & Cooling power supplies to set them apart from the competition?

I always believe in educating the public about the importance of PSUs and the different quality of PSUs. I have worked with different media, like yourself, to deliver that message and I appreciate everything that you do to increase the education about what consumers should really be concerned about when selecting the right product for their application. I believe these days the performance users and gamers’ education level has gotten better compared to a couple of years ago, but it is still hard to educate the mainstream DIY users about all the critical things to look for in PSU’s. We will use whatever vehicle is available to us, blogs, application notes, whitepapers, social media sites, or other types of outlets to educate the public but I don’t think there is anything more valuable than an independent 3rd. party review that really stresses the PSU’s across different platforms. The feedback from these reviews and our direct customers is extremely valuable and not only helps us improve our products but helps us define our future product offering. 

And has Ryan given you permission to flog salespeople that come to you asking for dirt cheap product so they can sell a greater number of units at a higher profit margin, regardless of whether or not each unit is a ticking time-bomb? Please say yes….

Actually, the sales people are smart here, regardless of which product they always push for the lowest sell in price so users can get the best value for performance even on our highest end lines. It is up to me and the PSU division to ensure that no matter how aggressively priced, we introduce products that meet our strict requirements and provide real value to consumers. I agree, price is important but it should never be the most important dynamic, to me quality and reliability go hand in hand with performance as the most important factors. I have always believed that if you build a great product that performs and is rock solid, and while it may not be the cheapest, it will still be a winner because it addresses what consumers are really looking for.   

But to answer your question, yes, I do have a whip and I’m not afraid to use it. =)

Awesome.  Keep them in line.  ;)

Well, thanks for your time, Steve.  Hopefully we’ll see some exciting stuff come out of OCZ and PC Power and Cooling and I look forward to reviewing some more product.

Thanks again for the opportunity to speak my mind on a topic I am passionate about and I appreciate all the feedback from your readers. This will be an exciting year for us… the best is yet to come.

@ jonnyguru.com

Printer Friendly(Author: jonny - On Tue, May-24-2011)

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