Pritchard looks back at faulty predictions, keys to IPC's success
By Terry Costlow, IPC online editor
Oct 02, 2012
Concerned that IPC might accomplish its goals and disband in 10 years, the association's first executive director took an approach that helped IPC become an international organization.
The electronics industry is loaded with bad predictions. The IBM executive who predicted a market for five computers. The disk drive managers who said that in the
tiny 3.5-inch form factor, 6 Mbytes was more capacity than anyone would need.
Ray Pritchard joined the club when he became IPC's first executive director in 1957. He wondered whether IPC would have enough work to remain viable over the long term.
"I was afraid that after 10 years, we'd run out of things to do. That was a joke! We grew like crazy because the needs expanded so rapidly," Pritchard said.
One reason for that expansion is that Pritchard, who now enjoys golfing in retirement, let people in the industry pick areas that were of interest to them. Whenever someone suggested a new technology that needed a standard or guideline that wasn't in the association's plans, he directed them to people who had similar ideas.
"Never turn down people who want to do something," Pritchard said. "Whenever I found two guys who wanted to do something outside our ongoing activities, I would put them in a meeting room and let them talk."
Sometimes, one of the initiators would end up heading the committee that did the work. Other times, Pritchard looked around for someone who could keep the group moving forward.
"One key is finding the right guy to lead a group. There are always guys who do a lot of talking, but they don't really do anything. That's not the guy I wanted. You need people who are good at getting things finished," he said.
Pritchard also focused on getting employees who were good with people. Once he narrowed a search down to the candidates who understood the technology, he reverted to something he learned during a President's Meeting.
"I asked them to think of hiring someone to replace themselves, then asked them to pick between three categories of people. The categories were intelligence, knowing the technology and people skills. 100 percent of the time, they picked people skills," Pritchard said.
This focus on human interactions was critical when IPC decided it needed to provide market information. CEOs and others needed to provide market data to an association that included their competitors. It took some finesse to figure out how to get them to take that leap of faith.
"It turned out to be mainly a personality thing. I made people feel welcome at our gatherings and created a sense of camaraderie," Pritchard said. "People wanted to cooperate. When they did, I made sure people who did things got awarded. Recognition is very important to people."
There's another reason that the prediction of a short lifetime for IPC proved to be wrong. The association broadened its focus to include the subcontractors who now form the EMS industry.
"When surface mount came along, equipment was very expensive. The OEMs were reluctant to purchase equipment for millions of dollars and see it become obsolete," Pritchard said. "Entrepreneurs in assembly, which was small potatoes then, took a chance and bought the equipment to start doing surface mount assembly."
Pritchard quickly realized that these assemblers were going to be "a big deal," so he made a push to bring them in on the same level as board shops. To move the project ahead, Pritchard went back to an old strategy.
"I brought some of them together. I find that if people get to know each other, they will work together better. Once you get to know someone, it's easier to deal with them than if you view them strictly as a competitor," he said.