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I joined the interconnection industry in 1991, and I found myself part of a world that was filled with larger-than-life characters, professionals who had been part of the connector marketplace for decades.
My first in-depth product training was given to me by a formidable gentleman called Jack Gentry, the founder of US connector manufacturer Positronic Industries. Jack had been a pilot in the US Marines and served in the Korean War. He was a no-nonsense engineer with a clear vision of how he wanted his company, and his industry, to grow.
He was not alone. I could fill this page with the names of people who had grown up with the industry at a time when building relationships with customers was the only way to do business. Because success relied on this personal approach, it meant that there was a well-trodden career path that many followed, including myself. I started in an internal sales administration job. Once my knowledge and confidence grew, my next step was a field sales position, which then evolved into more technical responsibilities, known to many as a field applications engineer.
What this kind of progression gave me was the chance to talk to customers, look at their applications, and understand the sort of problems that they faced on a day-to-day basis. I have been lucky enough to meet plenty of interesting engineers and see what they have been designing. I have climbed over nuclear reactors, I have looked at the insides of fighter aircraft and racing cars, and I have helped disassemble surface-to-air missiles, all with the purpose of helping the customer to solve their technical problems.
This all served to make me better at my job. No two customers would face exactly the same situation, but I was able to help many customers with the words “I remember when an engineer had a similar problem. Here’s how we solved it…” That knowledge made me a better salesman, and without it I doubt that I would be able to write as Connector Geek today.
Nearly 30 years have passed, and the connector industry has moved on. Some things have not changed – we are still in the business of making products that join electrical and electronic circuits together. What has changed is how we do business with customers. There is a whole range of factors that have caused this – fewer design engineers, the progress of technology, the rise of the internet and the ability of engineers to become their own experts.
However, the reasons do not really matter. What does matter is that the face-to-face way of business that was vital 30 years ago no longer exists. There are fewer opportunities for FAEs to meet customers, which in turn means that they do not get to see the applications first-hand.
If the key to a good salesman, product manager or designer is to understand how to solve a customer’s problems, how will the next generation of leaders learn their craft if they don’t get to visit the customers themselves?
The connector market continues to grow, with some predictions seeing the industry expanding by more than 30% in the next few years. The drivers of this rise are not hard to spot – electric vehicles, renewable energy, 5G communications and the growth of artificial intelligence. These applications will be making demands on the design of connectors – higher power, greater speed, smaller size – and to develop the next generation of connectors will require in-depth understanding. How can we deliver these developments without experts and leaders?
How can we identify the future leaders of the interconnection industry?
How are you identifying future leaders in your industry?