About Mike

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He is also vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversees all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 20 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

What’s the Difference?

Here’s the headline:

F-35 Jets: Chinese-Owned Company Making Parts for Top-Secret UK-US Fighters”

Sounds dramatic.

As it turns out, Exception PCB, a UK-based fabricator, is building circuit boards for the next-gen airfighter. And Exception is owned by Shezhen Fastprint, the Chinese fabricator.

All angst aside, however, how is this different than TTM being the largest board supplier to the US Department of Defense?

Laminate Consolidations Continue to Stack Up

AGC continued its consolidation of the laminates market this week, reeling in Taconic for an undisclosed amount. The Japanese company also acquired Nelco last winter, giving it two of the remaining US-based PCB materials manufacturers.

That leaves Isola and Rogers as the last two major players of a once formidable domestic laminate industry to call the US home. And neither company produces the majority of its product in onshore. (Sound familiar?)

With Rogers’ capacity consumed by the 5G rollout, some OEMs and fabricators have been turning more to Taconic as a source for high-rel end-products that required a Made in USA stamp.

The largest vendors — KingBoard, Shengyi, Nanya, ITEQ, and so on — are all based in Southeast Asia. The volume and variety of materials that can be sourced in the US continues to erode, and its hard to see that reversing course. To wit, in its announcement, AGC allowed that “Over time, materials made in Taconic’s Petersburgh, NY, location will be moved to another facility.”

Isola makes FR-4 in Ridgeway, SC, and AGC Nelco makes the same in Tempe, AZ. They join Rogers, Taconic and Arlon as manufacturers of electronics materials in the US.

Will trade tensions peaking, and 5G creating supply issues around the globe, is that enough?

Leadership Failure! What Will It Cost You?

by Keith Martino

Mediocre Mike was a card shark.

He LIVED for the weekends. Saturdays and Sundays were the only mornings I ever knew Mike to leap out of bed. It was in his blood. Mike couldn’t wait to hit the casinos. Every weekend and holiday sunrise, he was among the first to start tossing out his homespun version of “fish bait.” Mediocre Mike loved to brag.

Slowly but surely, each Sabbath unsuspecting, wannabe gamblers migrated into the club where Mike hung out. It seldom failed. A few of the less fortunate souls would land at Mike’s table. No worries. Mike and his cronies were poised for the pleasure. With friendly smiles and sinister hearts, they shook down every novice card player who came their way. What could be more entertaining?

In his mind, Mikey worked hard Monday through Friday sharpening his craft. He stayed up late into the evening hours swigging bourbon, practicing his moves, and watching YouTube videos. When it came to hustling newbies, Mike was good. He was always prepared. He took pride in his winnings. It gave meaning to his life and made his son proud.

Of course, someone had to pay the price. In Mike’s case it was his corporate employer. As they say, one man’s loss is another man’s gain.

Mike got lucky and his bankrupt band of gypsies was bought out by a high-quality Fortune 100 company. Mike couldn’t believe his good fortune when his new ship came in. The sharp household logo added to his prestigious cover at the casino. Mike was on a roll.

So what does any of this have to do with leadership failure? Plenty!

In the first year with his new employer, Mike maintained a low profile. He hid out and let a hundred or so direct and indirect reports do whatever they liked. After all, who was Mike to blow the whistle on anyone else? He figured as long as his fingerprints weren’t on any egregious errors, his gig could go on forever.

And for a while, it did.

Mike sharpened his corporate gaming skills as he flipped the switch on his region to autopilot.

Like any looming bar bill, someone ultimately has to pay the price. Yep. Mike’s employer took it on the chin. Just one floor below him, one of Mike’s managers, Rambling Roger, started running a different racket. Roger began practicing a few new moves on his administrative assistant. Who knew? Everyone. Except Mike, of course.

Mike’s elevator never stopped on the second floor. It was essential to his third-floor strategy.

Yet, Roger’s seedy habits came to light anyway. His once loyal admin turned the tables on him and sued the corporation for sexual harassment, mental duress, and psychological cruelty. Mike wasn’t worried. This manager wasn’t one of Mike’s political buddies. Mike simply ushered in HR and pretended to be appalled by the findings. Meanwhile, he brushed up on his shuffling skills. And Mike shook off the losses as a necessary cost of doing business. At the company’s expense, of course!

Over time, Mike’s regional salespeople were found to be cheating on their commission plans. His operational leaders turned blind eyes to cost overruns. His staff took plenty of time running personal errands and convening for smoke breaks. The billion-dollar brand faltered.

You wouldn’t need to be a member of Mensa to calculate the cost to his company of Mediocre Mike’s leadership failure. It was high into the six-figure range. Likely higher.

What can you do if you have an employee or leader who has poisoned the well?

  1. Do nothing and hope s/he doesn’t mess up too badly? Don’t chuckle. It happens daily.
  2. Fire the person and replace him/her with someone from outside the company? That’s often an illusion destined to fail.
  3. Replace the person internally? Perhaps, but it will be most effective if you do the following:
  4. Reset the culture of the company, division, or team by replacing the leader internally and bringing in an outside leadership consultant to re-instill the values of the company.

Mediocre Mike was a card shark.

He LIVED for the weekends. Saturdays and Sundays were the only mornings I ever knew Mike to leap out of bed like a man on a mission. It was in his blood. Mike couldn’t wait to hit the casinos.

Don’t gamble on your losses with a leadership failure like Mediocre Mike. The bar tab will leave you with a hangover that may cost you your company’s reputation.

________________________________________________________________________

Keith Martino has a passion for helping engineering executives achieve stellar results. Martino authored the book Expect Leadership in Engineering. In addition, the team at Keith Martino has designed and launched Leadership Institutes at multiple engineering firms across the US. Martino is quoted in Young Upstarts, Entrepreneur Magazine, NewsMax Finance, Hotwires, Circuits Assembly, and Printed Circuit Design & Fab. For more information visit: www.KeithMartino.com

Who’s Leaving Whom?

According to the New York Times today, the Chinese government is compiling a list of companies and individuals to penalize in response to the US block on Huawei.

The piece ends with these thoughts:

Forcing out American companies from China’s electronics supply chain could have a major impact on Chinese manufacturers. It would also likely hasten strategies by American technology firms to diversify their supply chains away from China.

Yet if Beijing were willing to take that hit, many companies would struggle to immediately replicate production elsewhere. China’s density of component makers and assembly factories is unmatched around the world.

“It’s a really high-risk way to go about it,” said Andrew Polk, a founder of Trivium, a consulting firm in Beijing. “They are effectively forcing companies to choose, and companies will probably choose the U.S.”

Much has been made over whether Western companies will bail on China if it were to put the screws to them on trade. But if China were to retaliate against the US by shutting down access to certain markets or supply chains, is it unrealistic to think any Chinese companies might relocate as well?

Somewhere, Craig Gates is Probably Chuckling

Cemtrex today announced a pending six-for-one (!) reverse stock split of its outstanding common stock. The move comes at the OEM/EMS tries to regain Nasdaq compliance.

Rewind a little and you’ll see over the first two quarters Cemtrex’s revenues have dropped more than 22% and losses are piling up.

Rewind a little more, to April, and Cemtrex’s shareholders were approving a proposal to the number of authorized share shares by 20 million, to a total of 50 million.

Rewind a little more, to 2017, and Cemtrex was making a bid to acquire KeyTronic, despite the latter’s significantly larger size and experience in EMS. There were a total of three “offers” in all, none of which actually involved anything more than a press release.

As KeyTronic batted away the proposals, Cemtrex grew even more bold, asserting in a followup statement that its intended prey could do with better management. “A combination of the two companies will unlock significant shareholder value for both companies, by enabling cost savings, higher earnings per share and a more attractive price to earnings ratio than either company is currently maintaining.”

Eventually KeyTronic grew a bit aggravated with the unwanted attention, calling the suitor “unqualified” as a buyer. “Our initial research shows [Cemtrex] reports approximately $45 million of EMS revenue. In our opinion, this does not qualify [Cemtrex] to make any statements as to how it might operate an EMS business like KeyTronic which is over 10 times [its] current size in terms of revenue.”

The overtures ceased shortly thereafter. By the following January, Cemtrex was consolidating its EMS plants and selling off operations.

Still, even with that episode well in the rearview mirror, I have to think that wherever he is today, KeyTronic CEO Craig Gates must be smiling.

‘Huawei’ E.O. Portends Total Supply Chain Chaos

The headlines have been filled with reports on the pending US ban on domestic companies from conducting business with Huawei.

In submitting the order, President Trump cited cyber-warfare, espionage and threats to US national security as rationale for the ban.

Less noted: The impact on bare board and assemblies procured from China. After all, the executive order “prohibits transactions that involve information and communications technology or services designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied, by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary” as determined by the Commerce Secretary.

So while Huawei is a $100 billion company, larger than IBM, Sony, Hitachi, Panasonic and all but a few other tech firms, the declaration could have tentacles that reach far beyond the Chinese OEM. Even if all the defense industry primes, for instance, buy all their boards onshore (doubtful), many others do not, including the financial markets, and key industries such as nuclear, power, and so on.

Almost every North America-based board today shop brokers boards from Asia, mostly China. Their suppliers are, in turn, generally located in China as well. That includes the vast majority of the laminate industry. Sure enough, we are hearing reports of major laminate makers suspending shipments of key materials, including ones for the US defense primes, because of the executive order.

What’s the alternative? North American board fabricators lack the capability and capacity to take on high-volume production. The EMS industry has the capability, but not the capacity. And that doesn’t begin to address the region-to-region cost differences.

Then there’s Washington. The legislators are simply ignorant when it comes to understanding supply chain issues. The executive order targets companies that could put the US economy at risk. Any logical read of that would see that the telecom industry is only one part of the equation. Wall Street is equally at risk.

Just because Cisco or Juniper or HP or IBM or Dell or Arista don’t have Chinese names doesn’t mean they aren’t as reliant on the China supply chain as Huawei. Same goes for their EMS networks. Intel has six chip fabrication plants and three assembly/test sites. Two are in China. Qualcomm is a minority owner of SMIC, which has nine plants open or planned in China. It also has a JV assembly/test house with Amkor in Shanghai.

Take a look at HP’s supply chain. The OEM is sourcing product from China facilities of Foxconn, Jabil, Flex, Celestica, Inventec, New Kinpo, Wistron, Pegatron, Qisda, and TPV, among others. The workers on the HP lines number in the tens of thousands. That can’t be replaced easily, if at all.

Not just the large shops stand to be squeezed. Besides relying on China for raw materials, many smaller North American fabricators also outsource certain services and otherwise procure other relatively finished goods from there, such as engineering or laser drilling or mass lam boards.

Insofar as consumers are concerned, it’s probably a good thing this isn’t happening during the Christmas ramp. But that date is drawing near. Even without the tariffs, given the looming capacity constraints, prices are bound to spike.

And even if the questions surrounding Huawei are sorted out — a big “if” — the fun won’t stop there. At this writing, the US government is considering action against other Chinese OEMs, including ZTE and Hikvision.

Tempo Accelerates

Which EMS has received the most private equity funding over the past few years?

Chances are, it’s Tempo Automation. The San Francisco-based contract assembler just added another $45 million (that’s right) in new capital. That’s on top of the $20 million it garnered a year ago, which it used to build a new factory. Overall, we estimate Tempo has raised around $75 million over its six-year life.

Investors are falling in love with Tempo’s emphasis on software-based manufacturing. It has caught the attention of blue chip OEMs like Lockheed Martin, which is also a customer and investor. The latest round of funding, called a Series C, was led by existing investor, Point72 Ventures and includes an array of new and existing outside investors investors. Series C is typically the final funding round prior to an IPO or acquisition.

In an era where PCB assemblers aren’t rushing to go public, this is an interesting development. Privately held Tempo does not disclose its revenue, but it’s likely to be less than $100 million. That level of investment suggests a high level of confidence by outsiders that Tempo is on the right track.

Read our profile of Tempo here.

https://https://circuitsassembly.com/ca/editorial/menu-features/28301-ems-profiles-1711.htmlcircuitsassembly.com/ca/editorial/menu-features/28301-ems-profiles-1711.html

Should Terry Gou for It?

Terry Gou, Foxconn founder and chairman, is contemplating a run for the presidency of Taiwan. Should he go for it?

Given his wealth – an estimated $7.8 billion – and stature in Taiwan, some comparisons to US President Donald Trump will be inevitable. There are distinct differences in upbringing and temperament, however. Gou is a self-made man, having launched Hon Hai as a components supplier in the early 1970s. He built the company brick by brick, expanding into new markets as opportunities arose, and taking advantage of mainland China’s proximity and low cost-model. When the West started looking for cheaper manufacturing alternatives, he was ready.

He has generally been media-shy throughout his career. It was only after Foxconn came under scrutiny as workers started jumping off its roofs that NGOs began putting pressure on Apple, Foxconn’s largest customer, and Western media took note. Long articles in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Forbes followed.

It has been reported Gou wants to bring a business- and China-friendly approach to Taiwan. That would in some ways run counter to the current president Tsai Ing-wen, which has given Beijing a colder shoulder. Her administration is coming under criticism for stagnant wages among Taiwan’s middle class, however, opening the door for a challenger.

But is Gou the guy? Whether his domineering approach will be welcome even in Asian cultures today is unclear. In the wake of the Enron collapse, in 2007 the WSJ quoted him as saying, “Even for those of us who lived through Enron, it’s hard not to come away disgusted. I always tell employees: ‘The group’s benefit is more important than your personal benefit.’ ” At the time, a typical mid-level assembly-line worker in Taiwan earned about $230 a month, including overtime pay, while Gou was a multibillionaire.

Neither is the inherent conflict-of-interest with China, where Foxconn has the majority of its manufacturing capacity and business interests and employs hundreds of thousands of residents. Taiwan’s self-styled independence stature could be in question were Gou come to office. How would he priorities decisions that could mean risking his financial standing?

Citing divine inspiration, Gou told media that he seeks “peace, stability, economy and future.” Those are worthy goals. Given his track record as an employer and his financial dependence on China, how he will achieve them deserves scrutiny.

Actions Count More than Words

China is a country that should be viewed through its actions, not its words.

It’s important to keep that in mind when considering the news today from the Associated Press, which is reporting China will cease its practice of forcing multinational companies wishing to do business there to share their IP.

If this turns out to be true — and the China legislature ratifies the law — one of the big
trade hurdles between the US and China will be eclipsed.

As usual, the devil’s in the details, and this case is no different. Per the AP, the new rule simply bars “government authorities” from making demands of foreign firms. So if, for instance, the steep duties China places on imports remain in place, an MNC will almost have to partner with a domestic company.

And that’s the rub. As the AP reports: “[T]he central government routinely says it has little control over commercial agreements between Chinese and foreign firms.”

So for most firms, the Catch-22 will remain.

China has a history of saying one thing and doing another. Sometimes it does so brazenly — such a ignoring WTO trade practices or currency interference. Other times it is on the sly, such as when it says it doesn’t believe in meddling in other nations’ affairs all while it’s meddling in other nations’ affairs.

Take China at its actions, not its words.

‘Flex Ability’

There aren’t many women in charge of major EMS companies today. Indeed, a quick look at the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Top 50 shows there are none.

Women are among the leadership teams at some top companies. Creation Technologies, for instance, has a female CFO and chief culture and people officer (read: HR). But no woman has occupied the top spot at a major EMS since Gayla Delly suddenly and unceremoniously left Benchmark in fall 2016.

Which makes it all the more exciting to see Flex naming Revathi Advaithi chief executive of the EMS company. Advaithi, 51, has impeccable credentials. She is an engineer with an MBA, and was wooed to Flex from Eaton Corp., where she headed the
largest division of the $20-billion company.


Flex has all sorts of incentive to go after a rising star like Advaithi. Its big bet on the consumer market with Nike cratered, and the company’s stock went with it. The stock price dropped about 46% in the past year, much worse than the industry average (8% loss). Flex has wound down its Nike manufacturing operations in Guadalajara, taking at least a $30 million hit.

Industrial, on the other hand, is a growth market. Based on the most recent quarter, it represents a $6.6 billion a year business for Flex, and is growing in double-digits. Moreover, as an end-market it remains stubbornly captive, with estimates of just 20% EMS penetration. Advaithi could help unlock that potential. Her standing as a director with defense giant BAE, another mostly untapped market by Flex, couldn’t hurt either.

It’s refreshing and overdue to see a woman on top in our industry. According to Fortune, only about 5% of the Fortune 500 companies have female chief executives. Notably, those firms include GM, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Oracle and General Dynamics — all major customers of the electronics industry. If we are serious about opening the door to the next generation of engineers, we need role models with all kinds of backgrounds. When a woman looks for her future in the crystal ball, it’s only right to see a woman looking back.