It didn’t take long for me to become wary of Denny McGuirk.
At the time he showed up as Thom Dammrich’s successor, I had worked at IPC for six years and had a fairly good sense of what kind of person it takes to run a successful trade association. McGuirk came in with a resume and life stories that would have put Forrest Gump to shame. Unfortunately, I couldn’t verify some of those tales, which as Director of Communications — and thus responsible for helping to shape his image — made me pretty uncomfortable. When my current boss, Pete Waddell, called to say he was in the market for an editor, I jumped not just at the new opportunity but also to get away from a person whom I felt I could not trust.
Next to marrying my wife, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
McGuirk announced his resignation today, deciding to bolt IPC after 12 years for greener — literally — pastures. He is headed to SEMI, the trade group for the semiconductor materials and equipment industry. He stands to make a considerably higher amount of money, given that SEMI paid its head honcho more than $700,000 a year in 2009, while McGuirk took home “only” $368,000 in compensation that year.
This, I believe, will turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to IPC. SEMI and IPC appear to be competing for certain markets, including the high growth solar and photovoltaic segments. But McGuirk is not, and never will be, an industry maven. He’s a bureaucrat whose disinterest in the inner workings and details will likely undermine the cohesiveness and focus of those who actually know what’s going on. Over the years, task group members and IPC staff have complained to me about the deleterious effects of McGuirk’s approach. When you head an organization made up of volunteers, it’s usually a good idea to make sure those volunteers stay happy and motivated. But inside IPC today, far more than 12 years ago, alienation abounds. And with the press, McGuirk has had a lot of trouble keeping his own stories straight, which has led some of us to essentially ignore anything he says. Given that trade associations generally don’t spend much on self-promotion and thus rely heavily on the business media for help, that’s not a good position to be in. No matter who succeeds him, I think IPC will be better off.
Then there’s the question of what he really accomplished. In October 1999, IPC was a Chicago based trade group with an interest (but no real footprint) in other regions and dependent on trade show revenue for the bulk of its operating profit. Today IPC is a Chicago based trade group with an interest (but no real footprint) in other regions and is even more dependent on trade show revenue for the bulk of its operating profit. While the trade group has opened an office in China, the shots are called from Bannockburn, IL, and it is unclear what impact the local operation has had, other than perhaps a marginal increase in membership. Trade shows and related conferences once made up 25% of IPC’s operating budget; today it’s closer to a third. After putting thousands of dollars in IPC’s coffers for certification, the printed circuit board design industry is no better off than it was 11 years ago. Despite professing to wanting to work with other associations, relations between IPC and SMTA hit an all-time low. On matters of widespread industry import — such as the European Union’s banning of lead — IPC has shown little spine, choosing to capitulate without drawing its sword, even though the cost to its members is estimated to be in the billions.
Looking back, the one smart improvement was that IPC has effectively vacated the governmental lobbying business (although it does occasionally draft off others’ efforts in this area). And its bank account is in better shape, even if those of its members are not.
Speaking of finances, on McGuirk’s watch, IPC’s revenues have fluctuated a bit, but incremental gains have usually been met with subsequent losses. The trade group’s budget was a little over $10 million in 2000, the first full year McGuirk was the head. But despite the addition that year of the Apex trade show, which added at least $3 million a year to the coffers in the early 2000s, IPC’s revenues were just over $12 million in 2009, the last year public tax records are available. That suggests revenue from standards, certification and training programs has slipped during that time, despite IPC’s expansion into several foreign markets.
Still, IPC’s rather nominal growth has been better than that of many of its members, which has rankled some segments, especially North American board fabricators. On McGuirk’s watch, the US bare board industry shrank from about $10 billion in annual revenues and a neck-and-neck tie with Japan for the largest producing market to a little over $3 billion in domestic sales, well behind China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea. EMS has also taken a big hit: companies are less profitable than they were a decade ago, and the one region that has excelled — China — did so without IPC’s help.
It’s not the kind of thing you put on your resume.
Unless, of course, no one is really reading it.