Fabrinet’s Changing of the Guard

Were you as surprised as I was at Fabrinet’s choice of a new CEO?

During the 17 years of its existence, having been formed in 2000 when ex-Seagate exec Tom Mitchell took on the lease of his former employer’s plan in Chokchai, Thailand, there has been no EMS company so successful over the past two decades. That initial $21 million investment is now worth $1.35 billion in market value, not to mention the consistently most profitable business in the industry.

It would have been conventional, then, had Mitchell chosen longtime No. 2 Harpal Gill to assume the mantle. Dr. Gill has been Fabrinet’s chief operating officer since 2009 and president since 2011.

Instead, Mitchell went outside for Grady Seamus from rival Sanmina, where he headed the  Mechanical Systems division.

Some analysts believe the move foreshadows a coming diversification from fiber optics into non-optical manufacturing. Writes Stifel Nicolaus’s Patrick Newton:

[W]e see Seamus as having extensive leadership experience with both optical manufacturing (background at Lucent; Mechanical Systems Division at Sanmina manufactures the cabinets/chassis/frames/racks/ and storage cabinets integrated with electronic components and sub-systems that optical components are supplied into) and non-optical manufacturing (focus Medical experience at Sanmina). We view this competency in both optical and non-optical manufacturing as likely to be an aid in helping the company move beyond its optical focus to a 50/50 optical/non-optical mix long-term. We emphasize that our recent conversations with Fabrinet’s management highlighted that Fabrinet was targeting its next CEO to have a combination of operational excellence, deep technical expertise, and strength with customers as they will have to be customer facing.

Mitchell set the bar so high, any successor would be challenged to maintain it. Seamus is widely seen as a talented executive. But will he attempt to write Fabrinet’s next chapter with — or without — the team Mitchell put in place?

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (pcea.net). He previously was 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 spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 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