Mike Allison about
the potential of a chip

Journalist: Olivia Kinghorst | Photographer: Markus Bertschi | Magazine: Bigger, better, stronger – December 2023

Mike Allison is no stranger to growth. The Scottish business leader has made it to the top in the course of his career as CEO of the manufacturing company VAT Group. His highlight: leading the company to record profits in 2022 and breaking the CHF 1 billion turnover barrier for the first time. Allison tells ceo magazine how he stays ahead of the curve in a fast-paced industry.

“Dream big, plan well and anything’s possible”

The offices of VAT Group are unassuming, tucked away in the municipality of Sennwald on the border between Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It’s here that we meet Mike Allison for our interview. The Scottish CEO has made VAT one of the world’s most important suppliers to the semiconductor industry. The industry is responsible for making the silicon chips – small pieces of material containing electronic circuits – that can be found in everyday devices like laptops and smartphones.

Since Allison joined VAT in 2018, the Swiss-listed company has experienced incredible growth. VAT is the clear market leader in vacuum valves. In 2022, it achieved its best ever results and expanded its workforce to almost 3,000. “We’ve achieved great things at VAT: we’ve delivered strong growth, high profitability and great customer satisfaction,” Allison says proudly. “That’s not a simple achievement.”

“For a small Swiss company to be a global technology leader is a gigantic achievement.”

From Scotland to Switzerland

Allison’s fascination with semiconductors began during his electrical engineering studies at Glasgow University in Scotland. It was here that he made a basic semiconductor chip – a small piece of material found in electronic devices – for the first time. As a student, Allison quickly saw the potential of chips, especially after purchasing his first PC. “I could already see that semiconductors were going to be the powerhouse of the next industrial revolution and I wanted to be part of that,” he says. “Semiconductors would allow us to create chips to improve our modern life from wireless communication and wearable devices to electric vehicles.”

Allison found himself at the right place at the right time during the data and Internet revolution. He moved around the world with his family – Germany, the United States, Korea and the United Kingdom – working his way up in the semiconductor industry. Allison spent two decades with the American manufacturer KLA-Tencor. He joined Edwards in 2008, and after Edwards was acquired by Atlas Copco in 2014, he became President of the Edwards/Atlas Copco Semiconductor Division. In 2018 the opportunity arose for him to lead VAT on the path to sustainable and profitable growth. “I was in a perfect position to move to Switzerland and I wanted to be a CEO. I’d spent the last decade building up my portfolio of skills and the international experience needed for this role.”

It’s clear during our conversation that Allison feels at home in this role. Today, VAT is a global manufacturer of high-vacuum valves and a major player in the global digital revolution. VAT’s valves are used in the semiconductor industry by producers such as ASML, Applied Materials, LAM and Tokyo Electron, with a specialisation in chip manufacturing equipment. “We’ve changed the face of every industry on Earth,” says Allison. “No new technologies are possible without the use of silicon chips. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of this industry?”

“You must never lose sight of the long-term goal.”

Recipe for professional and personal success

In 2022, VAT surpassed CHF 1 billion in sales for the first time. The company also increased their market share in semiconductors from 55 to 75% within five years. “For a small Swiss company to be a global technology leader is a gigantic achievement,” says Allison.  says Allison. His ‘secret ingredient’ for success is simple: a strong strategic plan, heavy investments in innovation and research and the alignment of products with customer needs. To stay up to date with his clients’ needs, Allison can often be spotted at international trade shows and technology forums. “I understand not just what the customer wants now, but what the customer’s going to need in three to five years’ time.”

Thanks to this farsightedness, VAT is well on its way to reaching its next milestone by 2027: a turnover of CHF 2 billion. “Dream big and plan well – then anything is possible. You must never lose sight of the long-term goal, even when the semiconductor industry is in a downturn,” says Allison. The industry is currently facing a slowdown due to overcapacity in the chip industry. Despite this, Allison is optimistic about the long-term forecast. By 2030, the semiconductor industry is set to become a trillion-dollar industry driven by smart devices, 5G wireless networks and artificial intelligence (AI). This is good news for VAT and Allison – because all these technologies require chips that use VAT’s vacuum valve solutions.

Even in a hyper-growth environment, Allison appears at ease in his role. “The job of a CEO isn’t necessarily any harder than any other job I’ve done. Executive and senior management jobs are just as demanding, because we constantly drive ourselves to be better, seek out new solutions for our customers and manage the huge production ramps in our industry.” When he’s not at the office, Allison makes time for his personal passions, whether it’s playing golf at the weekend when he’s offline, or spending time with his wife and two children. “A good family life sustains me. I enjoy the simple things in life just as much as the exclusive perks that come with the CEO job.”

For now, VAT’s growth journey continues. But for Allison, it’s time to say his farewells. After six years at the helm, he’s decided to leave the company at the end of 2023. The timing feels right – Allison has turned 60 and wants to focus the next chapter on his family. “It’s always good to go out on a high,” says Allison. “I’ve achieved a lot here and I’m ready to hand over the helm to someone else to take VAT to the next level.”

“It takes a lot of energy to lead, and I have to make sure that I do take time out with the family, or with my pastime, golf.”

VAT is a leading manufacturer of high-end vacuum valves. Their valves are used in advanced manufacturing processes of essential products like mobile phones, solar panels and flat-screen monitors. The globally active company has its headquarters in Switzerland and its production facilities in Switzerland, Malaysia and Romania. VAT was founded in 1965 and employs almost 3,000 people. Listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange since 2016.


Mike Allison (60) is an entrepreneurial business leader with more than 35 years of experience in high-growth technology companies. Allison joined VAT as CEO in 2018 and successfully led the company to record profitability surpassing CHF 1 billion in revenues in 2022. He holds a BSc Honours in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Glasgow University and has gained international experience in Europe, the USA and Asia. Allison is stepping down as CEO at the end of 2023 to start a new chapter with his family.