Talking Government Relations with IPC

In my latest podcast, I speak with John Mitchell, president and CEO of IPC, and Chris Mitchell, IPC vice president of global government relations. They discuss the trade organization’s key government programs and initiatives, its annual member lobbying event coming up in May, and the importance of lobbying by member companies. Listen in at

New CEO Mitchell Breathing Life in IPC

The early feedback is that new IPC CEO John Mitchell has brought a much-needed breath of fresh air to an organization that had lost its drive and character after 11 years under the previous regime.

Among the early changes include a recognition that IPC has become out of touch with many segments of its membership. Designers were so disenchanted, a group of the Designers Council leaders were preparing to bolt the organization altogether. Fabricators’ antipathy toward IPC is well-documented and may even run deeper, as many smaller and private shops have long since labeled IPC as disinterested in their concerns. Even some assembly equipment suppliers have shared concerns over the standards process and perceived biases toward certain groups.

Much of that is turning around under Mitchell. He has moved quickly to make the rounds of various constituents, and in a departure from his predecessor, has not relied on staff to vet member opinions. He has begun to shed some of the entrenched “lifers” who had alienated too much of the membership to continue in their roles. And he has made clear, according to sources, that the staff focus going forward needs to be on the members, which is a long overdue switch from a decade of “Is It Good for the IPC?”*

Further, he is repositioning the organization to better reflect the way the industry is structured. One new division is simply called Member Success, which he describes as a group of functions (membership, member support, events and industry councils and market research) “focused on helping our members be more successful and taking an active role in helping them more fully benefit from their IPC membership.” Most of these areas had grown stagnant to the point of calcification. One of the problems many had identified with IPC is that it existed as much (or more) to ensure its own success but had lost its vision on how to improve members’ profitability. Recognizing that the onus needs to be on IPC to help its members (and not the other way around) is a long overdue and welcome shot in the arm.

Dave Torp, whom many feel is a talented but marginalized asset, is now clearly in charge of the technology and training programs, a role where his background in engineering at Rockwell Collins and sales and marketing at Kester will truly help him excel.

There is a renewed interest in Public Policy, which will in the future coordinate with Brussels and Beijing (and perhaps other key spots). IPC plans hire a new vice president for this space, a sign that it needs fresh input and energy if it plans on making a difference with the legislative branch.

Mitchell seems highly motivated to invest in IPC’s international operations, a space where the trade group’s board had been critical of the previous president for moving at a glacial pace. To that end, IPC is casting about for a president of its China organization, a smart move and a tacit nod that in Asia, titles mean something, and the approach of using a middle manager with no real authority was not working. It says here that if vice president Dave Bergman stays on, he should move to Shanghai, where his experience at IPC (30 years) could better be put to use.

One very smart move was to create a Special Projects function, which allows IPC to look at new or short-term initiatives without distracting staff from the core functions.” We see this as wise because new projects often either sap all the attention and resources from important but functioning efforts, thus potentially leaving those programs to wither, or vice versa, attending to existing programs can act as a excuse for letting new efforts simply dangle. Mitchell has brought on a former colleague named Ed Trackman to run this area.

IPC holds a critical place in the electronics supply chain, but that spot had slowly been eroding over the years. It’s early, and the proof will be in the results, but based on several conversations with IPC members who are much happier today than I’ve seen them in years, Mitchell appears the right person for the job.

*With apologies to Office Space.

Early Thoughts on the Mitchell Administration

The hiring of John Mitchell as IPC’s new president comes as a breath of fresh air to those of us who had long tired of the antics of the previous regime.

Mitchell, the fourth person to run the 55-year-old organization, is the first with electronics industry experience, having spent a combined 16 years at Bose and Alpine Electronics.

As Bill Bader and Jim McElroy at iNEMI have proved, when it comes to running a not-for-profit volunteer organization in this industry, experience counts. The supply chain and regional differences are far too complex and the technology too intense for a greenhorn, especially one who isn’t willing to do their homework.

We envision — and hope — for a return to the days when member input is sought and valued. More than that, however, we are eager to see the occupant of that important position have a vision and tenacity that goes beyond avenging imagined personal wrongs.

Mitchell has his work cut out for himself. The industry is fractured, physically and emotionally. He will have to learn to lead without alienating, something his predecessor never accomplished. He will have to mend fences with the North American board fabricators, on whose shoulders IPC was built but were later ignored or cast out as the organization moved into the more lucrative assembly market. He will need to understand that the suppliers are generally looking to protect declining margins, and yet much of the technological know-how has migrated to that side of the industry, so he will need to convince them it is in their best interest to continue to support IPC’s technical programs, not just the exhibitions. He will need to navigate the treacherous China-US relations, in which the occasionally nasty spells of provincialism and finger-pointing from both sides mask an underlying dual-relationship that neither party can live without. He will have to right an internal culture that has grown distant from its membership. And he will have to do so while determining whether the four (!) vice presidents who applied for the job — two of whom have now been rejected multiple times — are up to the task of working with the man whom the IPC board considered a superior leader.

Based on Mitchell’s resume and conversations with IPC board members, he is the right person for the job. He is first and foremost an engineer. He has a deep business background that belies his age (he graduated college in 1991). He has worked at a high level for a major supplier of consumer electronics, giving him insight into branding and the supply chain intricacies that his predecessors either never had to deal with or were unable to master. We look forward to the next chapter in the continuing story of IPC.