The Power of Positive Thinking Print E-mail
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Written by Peter Bigelow   
Friday, 30 March 2012 10:36

The PCB market is bigger than ever. So why are we so glum?

With spring come many opportunities to attend industry gatherings and catch up with industry colleagues, as well as find out what’s happening within the macro PCB supply chain. Over the past couple of months I have not been disappointed, catching up with many old friends. Equally, I have had more than a few opportunities to reflect on our industry, the people and the state of the supply chain.

By way of brief background, I have been in the “printed circuit board” industry for two decades. Each decade has had a distinct – and different – feel. The 1990s were the giddy go-go times. Everyone from designer to material and equipment supplier to fabricator right through to assembler – everyone – had an attitude, maybe even a swagger, that the future was limitless. I well remember some companies investing heavily in capacity and capability, assuming the Field of Dreams faith that if you build it, customers will come.

Then came the harsh reality as one millennium passed to the next. In an unprecedented moment in time, beginning when the ball fell over Times Square ushering in Y2K and continuing past the demise of the World Trade Towers in New York City, a rude awakening occurred that quickly converted that swagger to a sober, hunker-down mode.

In the West at least, over the past decade, the good news has seemed all too precious. Instead, the grinding of lower projections combined with fewer surviving companies has cast a melancholy gloom over many industry gatherings.

Yet today, globally far more printed circuit boards are designed, fabricated and assembled than any point in industry history. Equally, more laminate, chemistry and supplies are purchased industry-wide, and there are more end-customers and applications. Yes, the epicenter has shifted from West to East and, yes, many of the old reliable names are no longer among us, or are a small part of a larger organization. But the market is larger and the opportunities greater.

Throughout the past decade, much has been said about the migration from the West. Much of the commentary has been bitter, uttered by those who feel wrongfully left out – or unfairly forced out – of industry growth. Many will cite metrics that support these points: metrics like first-pass yield, customer satisfaction, etc., all showing that the old guard is better, or at least no worse, than any global supplier when the total value proposition is considered. I am not going to argue with that, as clearly, many, many North American and European companies are proving they have a solid, world-class value proposition that resonates with customers.

The “eureka” revelation is the difference in mindset. What is missing today was around one short decade back: positive attitude! The seemingly constant barrage of bad news in the form of lower growth projections, never-ending liquidations, the escalating difficulty in getting tech support from suppliers – if they are even still in business – losing long-term customers to lower-cost Asian suppliers: The enthusiasm has been sucked from much of the supply chain.

And that is where it becomes interesting. During the past decade, while many have foundered, many others have flourished. In North America and Europe many fabricators, assemblers and OEMs with zero focus on Asia have done just fine. And one of the major reasons they have performed so well is because of the positive attitude their leadership has displayed, encouraged and developed.

Enthusiasm, positive attitude, a “can-do” approach, all hallmarks of our industry’s entrepreneurial past seem to be lacking more often than not. When traveling in Asia, many of the upstart Chinese companies, despite what on the surface may appear to be problems, display vibrant positive attitudes that say, “We’re going places!” Those companies are taking a chapter from our book, and that chapter is titled “Enthusiasm!”

In America, some of the most exciting, fast-growing fabricators also exude that enthusiastic attitude. Just in simple catch-up conversations, it is amazing how so many who look and sound beaten may say, “What are we going to do about that?” while the companies that are growing are saying, “We are doing something about that!”

That is how our industry felt a decade back when everyone had a bit of swagger and optimistically talked about the future. Those thoughts were contagious. That attitude propelled many companies to greatness. And today, just like back then, a positive attitude and enthusiastic optimism is what separates success from mediocrity. No, blind faith and a cocky attitude will not ensure success, and yes, capability, hard work and focus are needed, but showing up every day and just going through the motions won’t take you far. Show some enthusiasm, and passion for what you are doing will become contagious and make a very positive difference.

Look around at the companies setting sales records and profitably growing in geographic areas reported to be shrinking. The common denominator is their positive attitude. Sans the enthusiasm and positive attitude of times past, it will be that much harder to march forward and profitably outperform a global industry that is growing with customers looking for relationships with companies that are positively looking forward vs. sentimentally looking back.

Peter Bigelow is president and CEO of IMI (; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . His column appears monthly.

Last Updated on Friday, 30 March 2012 16:39


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