SEMI’s Loss is IPC’s Gain

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.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( 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

5 thoughts on “SEMI’s Loss is IPC’s Gain

  1. Wow – I am surprised there is not a major celebration when Denny resigned. maybe there was?? Nice write-up,\; it is a shame SEMI did not do their homework before they hired him.

    All the best


  2. Well said Mike. I concur absolutely.

    I was the Chairman of the Executive Board of the Designers Council some years ago, with a volunteer Executive Board that was focused, active and interested in growing the Designers Council, to represent designers at the industry table and to improve education and training through workshops, seminars and regional Chapters. Through a lot of hard wortk from a lot of dedicated people we set up a Basic and Advanced Certification program that in my mind has been highly successful, worldwide.

    McGuirk’s assistance with our efforts was minimal. I felt he had little vision for the industry, and certainly didn’t understand the vital part board designers played in getting fabrication and assembly to meet quality, delivery and schedule goals.

    At one stage, we started a campaign to grow the Designers Council. There were many board designers that had never even heard of the Designers Council and we felt that a bigger membership would give us the clout that we needed to promote designer interests, and to attract a greater number of designers to our certification and educational programs. To do this we needed exposure to the broader designer community, and during a meeting of the Designers Council Executive in Alberquerque which McGuirk attended, resolved to start a marketing campaign with a leading magazine publisher to spread our message. After a great deal of voluble haggling, I shook hands with McGuirk after he promised to budget $20k for a marketing campaign to be coordinated by ourselves and his staff.

    Result: nothing. Where I come from, a handshake is as good as a contract. McGuirk obviously never meant to apply the budget – queries were met with stony silence. Staff were evasive, if not obstructive. At that meeting, in his words: “Nothing happens at the IPC without my specific say-so”. Obviously.

    I know the IPC has many dedicated and committed people working hard for the good of the industry. It is capable of great things in the future as it has been in the past. That didn’t happen on McGuirk’s watch, I venture to say.

    Andy Kowalewski

  3. It is interesting in how large the disconnect between the IPC’s officers, board of directors and staff is from working volunteer members, committee chairs, and a number of Raymond E. Pritchard Hall of Fame Members as well as some former members of the board of directors.
    I hope that the new CEO president will work towards restoring the trust, respect, and camaraderie once enjoyed by all that participated in the IPC’s events.
    The board of directors should focus on restoring the credibility of the IPC.
    I hope that there will be an outpouring of positive suggestions that will once again make the IPC an organization for its members.
    I have several and will share a few of them here.
    Invite all Hall of Fame Members to all major IPC meetings and events as honored guests and moderators. Those that attend would still pay their own travel and lodging expenses. This would increase the interest and attendance.
    Ensure that the wishes espoused in committee meetings are carried forward by IPC staffers attending the meetings rather than buried or cut off if they are in opposition to what the staffer wishes.
    Ensure that committee memberships and participation are not blocked just for political or personal preferences of staff members.
    Opinions, needs and desires of the general membership should be evaluated on a constant basis and incorporated into the organizations goals, strategies, and activities.
    New assessments and visions are needed.
    I would be personally willing to help and advise the new president, the executive committee, and the board if they are truly interested in restoring the spirit of the IPC that once existed.

  4. @Gene: Well said. The IPC’s relationship with many of its own Hall of Famers has truly soured over the past decade. It’s functionally odd to on the one hand say these are the persons whose contributions to IPC are unsurpassed and on the other hand add that IPC now wants nothing to do with them. It’s tantamount to giving the gold watch to the retiree.

    I have heard from several people — and not the usual suspects — who indicate that they have been so turned off by the McGuirk/David Bergman/Tony Hilvers regime that they’ve taken their efforts elsewhere. This group of technologists is not what I would call a political bunch; they haven’t vacated to make a point. But the brain drain is telling.

    What would happen if SMTA or iNEMI decided to break into the standards arena? Or if JEITA (the Japanese Electronics Association) decided to leverage its members the way it did for lead-free solder and force their standards on to their suppy base? Is IPC prepared for that? Has it even considered the possibility?

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