Thoughts on the EMS Industry

by Brian Throneberry, Venture Manufacturing Services

When I reflect on the last 25 years of the EMS Industry, what comes to mind are the internal and external events that have shaped this business and my career. I think of the one individual that had a profound influence on my career. His name is Bruce Ramsey. Bruce taught me and a lot of people in the EMS business to treat others in this business as you would want to be treated. In other words, fairness was at the top of his list -- not only with employees but with the customer as well. He taught me to market and sell this business to customers. Bruce had a saying "You bid jobs to win; you build jobs to make money." This saying was more about how you market your company to customers than it was about pricing.

The fun thing about this business is seeing the first technologies that have shaped our lives. I can remember seeing the first PC-1 board before it was announced to the public. When Teledyne won the PC Jr. Program in 1983, it set the standard for the quest for the sub $1000.00 PC. However, that threshold was only met in the last six years where the PC would go on to be a household appliance. It was a novelty to see surface mount products in 1984 such as a wrist watch alarm for diabetic children. Not until 1990 did surface mount hit the mainstream as the defacto technology for PCBA assembly.

I remember building a search engine PCBA in the 1980s that was a predecessor to today's internet search engines. I saw in the 1980s many first in the Electronic Industry such as the first touch screen panel, first universal power supply, the first TV gaming modules, the first video on demand system, and the reduction from the 8 inch and 5 inch disk drives to the first 3 ½ inch disk drive. Business was ripe for start-ups such as Dell, Cisco, and Compaq. The decade of the '90s was more about globalization of the EMS industry and the OEMs selling their manufacturing capacity to the EMS providers. The EMS industry was a decade ahead of the now controversial "outsourcing trend" that other companies in different markets are using today.

Reflecting back on some of the firsts, I remember when IPC held their first meeting for the EMS Industry. I was representing Avex at the time. The other attendees were from Group Technologies, Solectron and SCI. Just four companies that kept a suspicious eye on each other. From that meeting IPC has gone on to have a profound effect on the industry in training, standardization, access to investment capital, lobbying for beneficial government laws for the industry and marketing the EMS industry for legitimacy. It will be hard to see what other challenges IPC will face in the future but I have all the confidence that they will be up to it.

The one thing that I miss today in the EMS industry is the bravado that certain individuals gave to the industry which created a certain espirit de corps. I miss the persona of Olin King, Roger Main, Bill Morean, Michael Marks, Winston Chen, Bonnie Fena, and Roger Mayer. These individuals shaped this industry into what it has become today. The passion they put into their companies made every company in this industry better because you wanted to beat them at their own game. I am sure employees that were close to these individuals could tell hours of intriguing stories on how they won certain jobs and how they managed their companies. I have my own stories about going up against these individual in head to head marketing. It was always the sweetest pleasure to win business from one of these companies when they personally were involved in the sale.

When I was asked about writing my thoughts on the EMS industry, I went back through all of my old business cards. I have a large collection of them and would put them up against anyone. Going back through those cards was like going through your senior yearbook. You remember a lot of people and some you don't and wonder where some of them are today.