Mike Hall serves as CEO and board member for Borrego Solar Systems, Inc. Mike has been with Borrego Solar since 2002. Prior to joining the company, he worked as a product development engineer for Applied Materials in Santa Clara. He holds a MS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University and a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University California, Santa Barbara.
SM: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and where do you come from?
MH: I grew up in San Diego. I had a pretty normal childhood and was an athlete in high school. I went to college at University of California, Santa Barbara. I originally wanted to be a journalist and initially I was a journalism major. My father convinced me that I needed to take the hard sciences classes because you can always go out of hard sciences into something else but you cannot come from something else into hard sciences.
I took all the physical sciences classes, chemistry and physics. I was a mediocre student in high school because I was not motivated. I did very well in college. I ended up on an engineering floor in the dorms and met some folks in chemical engineering. I then transferred into the chemical engineering department. I had some great professors, one in particular who was my mentor and who got me into semiconductor processing. I got some really exciting internships with Bell Labs in New Jersey and another internship in plasma deposition of semiconductor materials. He pushed me to go on the PhD tract.
After college I came to Stanford to do a PhD in chemical engineering with a focus on semiconductors. I really enjoyed Stanford and had a good time, but determined after a year that academia was not for me. The research we were doing was not applied; it was theoretical mammoth computer simulations. I ended up getting a masters and went to work for Applied Materials, still in the semiconductor space.
When I started at Applied it was a really exciting time. It was the fortieth largest company in the world. The stock was at $75 and growing really fast. Between the time I got the offer and the time I started working, there the stock went down 70% and they started layoffs. I got there in time for the biggest downturn in semiconductor history. It was tough. I would work in clean rooms with six machines and just myself for eight hours on end. There was no supervision or mentorship.
SM: What year was that?
MH: That would have been between 2000 and 2002. I survived a few rounds of layoffs and then got laid off at the end of 2002. I knew it was going to happen, so I read a book that was about how to get a job in the green economy. The books today are about clean technology from the perspective of business people who want to take advantage of this fast-growing economic trend and want to get on the boat as the tides are rising. Back then they were written from the perspective of environmentalists who wanted to leave the jobs in which they were not helping the environment and get into something green.
SM: Are you an environmentalist?
MH: Yes. I probably am not as active as some but I have been a Sierra Club member for a while. I spend my share of time outdoors. My wife and I do a backpack trip every year. I am not entirely vegetarian but my wife is an avid vegetarian. We have always been environmentalists.