TTM President Thomas Edman on the Global PCB Market, Technology, and More

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Matties: I think your approach is so smart because what you're saying is, if I'm getting it right, the OEM places higher value on your opinion because you control the manufacturing and you built this process where you know all the components are compatible, whether it's the laminate, the mask or whatever it happens to be.

Edman: That's right, and again, it's all about value. At the end of the day, our OEM customers may not pay us more for that board, but we are part of their thinking process, and this strengthens the relationship. This is why TTM and Viasystems felt it was important to bring our two companies together. Together we provide very strong assurance to our customers that we are a “safe bet” due to the size and the scale of TTM as a supplier.  

Matties: So, with 30,000 employees, how do you manage the culture to be aligned?

Edman: It’s absolutely critical, and a lot of communication is a big part of it.

Matties: I would think that would be the most challenging part of a leader's job.

Edman: I was very fortunate. I inherited a culture at TTM that is very much about how we as a company provide value to the customer. It's also about the fact that, at the end of the day, we build printed circuit boards, and that's our mission. So there's not a lot of fluff in the organization. We're very focused on honest, regular communication with our employees, making sure that they are communicated with, that they understand the direction of the company, and that they understand and trust management to run the company in a manner which is consistent with our core mission. We are really focused on execution on behalf of our customers.

And so, our communications are regular. We communicate with our employees on a quarterly basis. In our plants we're communicating with them on a daily basis, but with our management team we have a regular quarterly communication process that we work through globally. I personally visit each of our plants twice a year so I'll get to half of them each quarter, and our executive team visits the other half every quarter. This process ensures that we're always in front of our employees and our key management in the plants understand our direction, and are positioned to communicate effectively with our operators.

Matties: What's a typical visit to a factory like for you?

Edman: Typically we'll have about a two or two and a half hour communication meeting. Sometimes, depending on how many questions we have, we'll just keep going all morning or all afternoon, depending on the situation. But at least a two-hour communication meeting and a lot of interaction with our management teams in the plants, and then from there what I like to do is walk the floor and observe any changes since my last visit and see how things are going.

Matties: I think that's really good and probably very enlightening and meaningful.

Edman: It's very meaningful for me.

Matties: Yeah, because you're really walking through the veins of your organization.

Edman: There's no substitute for that, for hearing how things are actually going. Particularly the larger we've gotten, the more important it is to be able to feel the pulse of the organization. It's another reason why we also feel very strongly about making sure that we're in front of our major customers on a regular basis and that we're also dealing with our vendors on a regular basis. That we are truly partnering with both sides.

Matties: What's the most challenging or difficult part of your job?

Edman:  My responsibility is to develop a strategy for the company and then help the company move in that direction, and that is enabled by a strong team. You put a strong team of people around the CEO and it makes that job a lot easier. I think we have the best team in the industry bar none, and that team makes things happen inside of the organization. They're all tremendous. If you look at our executive team and you look through our management ranks, we really are a combination of two great organizations in terms of Viasystems and TTM and what we've brought together.

Matties: A powerhouse.

Edman: They make it work and I think the executive team and how they work together is a model for how the rest of the organization needs to work together.

Matties: How do you keep growing? More acquisitions? What's your strategy there?

Edman: We have organic opportunities for growth, for revenue growth. We spend a lot of time on automotive and on improving our position there. Aerospace and defense right now is in a good position. After several years of challenges, we're now seeing orders come through and are continuing to see growth opportunities there. We continue to invest in technology. So down the road, as we look at acquisitions, they probably won't be opportunities to double the size of the company. They will be much more about how we can add value to the customer proposition.

Matties: Let's talk politics just a little, and the Trump effect. You mentioned military and equipment. What do you think the Trump effect will have on your business?

Edman: I think it's really too early to say. You know, we're all learning. I think to the extent that investors asked that question prior to the  election, we answered that with either candidate, we were encouraged about the potential aerospace and defense environment that would come post-election. I believe that the positive environment we see today will carry on into the next year as Trump comes into the presidency. On the other hand, I am monitoring any potential trade impacts. Global trade has always been a personal priority to me and I'm watching the potential effect of trade tensions on our customers. 

I believe  the relationship between the U.S. and China, as with all of our critical trading partners, is much too important to mess with. That's a relationship that needs to be built, not torn down.

Matties: So you're in California and you see a lot of what's going on with immigration policies. There's so much uncertainty right now, are your customers asking questions or at least concerned and coming to you to seek guidance?  

Edman: Most of our customers are in a wait and see mode. I think that's the general view. Much of what is said on the campaign trail and what happens after the election are  very different. The rhetoric has been incredible here so I think generally the view is to wait and see how things develop. I do know that our aerospace and defense customers are generally encouraged, but as I said, they would have been either way.

Matties: A couple of last thoughts here. What advice would you give a buyer of circuit boards today?

Edman: Well, it would be self-serving but I do believe in it. I think our customers should look for a cradle-to-grave solution and fully understand where the PCB stands in their bill of materials. If you look at our customers, the PCB is an important element of their bill of materials. So I would suggest that they be thoughtful about their selection of printed circuit board suppliers. Look to a supplier that will add value to their total offering to their own customers.  

If you look at our industry and the kinds of changes that our customers are experiencing on the hardware side, it's unbelievable what is going on out there. Given the rapid pace of change coupled with cost pressures, our customers have to make sure that they are partnering with the right supplier and that's what we're determined to be—that right supplier.

Matties: What do you enjoy the most about your job?

Edman: The people. No question. We have a great organization, a global organization, and I enjoy working with them.

Matties: You mentioned that your role was around strategy. What is the strategy?

Edman: At TTM, we have a strategy built around market diversification and we really like our position in terms of our end market exposure. We focus on adding value, which I’ve touched on, to our customers and that is very important to us. Those are two major aspects, and the third is focusing on growth and where we can bring growth to the organization. Automotive and aerospace/defense are the two areas right now we are very focused on. So you take those as the three pillars of the strategy that we're asking our employees to deliver on.

Matties: Good. Any thoughts you've had that we haven't covered here that you would like to share?

Edman:  This is the first time that I have attended this show and it's tremendous. The energy here is great and to see the kind of attendance and the number of companies exhibiting here is pretty impressive.

Matties: Lots of equipment and lots of energy around this show for sure. It just keeps growing and growing, it's crazy how fast this show is growing. Tom, I really appreciate you taking the time out to meet with us and do this interview.

Edman: Of course. Great questions, thank you.


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