Flextronics is a leading end-to-end supply chain solutions company that delivers design, engineering, manufacturing and logistics services to a range of industries and end-markets, including data networking, telecom, enterprise computing and storage, industrial, capital equipment, appliances, automation, medical, automotive, aerospace and defense, energy, mobile, computing and other electronic product categories. Flextronics is an industry leader with $24 billion in sales, generated from helping its customer’s design, build, ship, and service their products through an unparalleled network of facilities in more than 30 countries and across four continents. Flextronics’ service offerings and vertically integrated component technologies optimize customer supply chains by lowering costs, increasing flexibility, and reducing time-to-market. For more information, visit www.flextronics.com or follow us on Twitter:@flextronics.
How long have you been at Flextronics?
I’ve been at this location for ~30 years. I’ve been with Flextronics for 7 years, which acquired Solectron. I was with Solectron for seven years before that, and IBM which was the previous owner.
Can you tell me about your career path?
I graduated from North Carolina State University and started out doing design at a nuclear facility for nine months before I interviewed with IBM when they moved to town. I started working a process engineering job there to try something different. From the process engineering job I went on to different management positions including Manager of Operations, Engineering Manager, Site Engineering Manager, and Business Unit Manager. At Flextronics, I’ve been the Director of Operations and Engineering and just recently became the site General Manager.
What are some of the major lessons you’ve learned along the way, or advice that you might have for people entering the workforce to succeed in this industry?
Don’t put yourself in a box. Be willing to do anything. If you go into it saying you’re just going to be an engineer or a materials person, for example, you won’t be successful. Be willing to try anything and learn from that experience.
How do you define success?
Success is different for different people. For me, it depends on where I am in my stage in life. Earlier on in life I wanted to be a manager and I put short term goals in place to make that happen. Be willing to make changes to broaden yourself.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
Working with the people. I love seeing people grow and develop.
What keeps you up at night?
End of quarter (laughs). No really, my biggest concern is the future of our workforce. We have great experienced people that have been with our plant for many years. But we have not had to do a lot of hiring. We don’t see a lot of young people in the factory. We now have a lot of people who are close to retiring, five to six years out. We’re now thinking about how to build our talent pipeline. We’re looking to hire, to continue to grow revenue and bring the right skills in.
What kind of benchmarking do you do? Do you have a chance to benchmark other CEOs and GMs? What do you ask them? What have ben some of your biggest takeaways?
At Flextronics, we have robust processes where lean is the vehicle. We like to share best practices through the corporation. We do this by communication with GMs at other sites, and we shamelessly steal each other’s ideas to be most efficient across sites. For example, when the market collapsed, we moved from high volume low mix to high mix low volume environment. We had to change our fundamental processes to do it. We have designed quality processes that support this strategy. The good thing about this is that we’re starting to see products move back from China. It’s good to see products coming back because of the reputation of quality at this site.
Within Flextronics, do you compete with other Flextronics plants for new business? How do you differentiate internally within Flextronics?
We do not compete internally, if we did that then we’d the give customer the advantage. We have a business development group and global account management who know the footprint of Flextronics, they know which customers would work better where and they drive that customer to that location. It’s about operating profit and customer satisfaction.
What other challenges do you see with competition and how are you leveraging quality and continuous improvement to address those challenges?
We have fairly robust lean processes; we’re ahead of the curve. At our site, we have best-in-class Surface Mount Technology (SMT) Set-up in the corporation, so we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve got processes that force you to have to continuously improve. If you think you’ve arrived you’ve got a problem. We have 100% participation in lean processes at Flextronics, from simple to important financial impact. Every dollar makes a difference. We can never get comfortable, always have to accept that there’s a new norm. You have to be continuously improving. It’s been ingrained in our culture. Take our SMT Change-Over cycle time as an example. At one point, it took us 3 hours. By leveraging lean techniques and the creativity and engagement from our people, we dropped it to 1 ½ hours. Now it is under 9 minutes, and is a benchmark within Flextronics worldwide.
What are some keys for success in terms of engagement with employees to drive improvement?
Our employees are the most important asset to our company. The moment you lose that, it’s over. No idea is a crazy idea. We also have an open door policy. I believe that you can’t block people from coming in. I also like to make it a point to walk around and just talk with our people. We make sure at the end of every quarter we communicate the status of the company and the status of the site, and try to correlate what they can do to help with our performance. We have a lot of positive engagement from the team about that. Leverage success by getting them involved and listening to their ideas. But you have to make sure you communicate bad news too, people will trust you when you give good news as well as bad news. You also have to find ways to measure great ideas. In the past I’ve seen people measure what’s easy, but not what’s important. Sometimes what is important is tough to measure. Pick the right things to measure, it will make a difference.
What does the future of manufacturing technology look like?
Manufacturing is coming back to the states. I’m probably the most excited about this as I’ve ever been. We’re moving work back from china, that’s exciting. That’s something no one thought could happen. And what’s driving it is a good skilled workforce. When customers come to visit they can see we have a great workforce and processes. People are paying attention to the cost of acquisition and risk. You can build things in the US if you take into consideration the transportation costs, inventory costs, etc. Also China has mandated annual labor increases. There are other harder to quantify impacts like “China Fatigue” (taking a call at 1am, and all the travel) and IP protection. Another focus is quality to drive speed. Quality plus speed is the right equation.
What kind of trends are you currently seeing in manufacturing?
This is actually the first time in a decade that I haven’t seen major technology shifts yet. I don’t see anything big on the horizon but that could change almost instantaneously. I could walk in tomorrow and have something new in front of me. What I have to ask myself is, “do I have the resources and skills to acclimate to those changes”? I have confidence, because we have one of the strongest technical skilled groups on the East Coast.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in manufacturing over the next 5 years?
Moving labor back to the USA. There’s going to be a ton of pressure to continue driving price reductions. The challenge is going to be the US looking more at robotics and automation. The downside here is that once we begin using robotics and automation, it can be done overseas for a lot less. Automation will be a short term break. We need to make sure that we can leverage our processes, skills, and people so that we’re better than what would be expected out of China. We must continue to focus on speed, cycle times, and to minimize inventory impacts to customers.
Keeping inventory is another challenge. It’s important to forge relationships with distributors, and give them space in our building. We give them forecasts and they purchase material. This can creates false lead times.
What does the future of quality and continuous improvement look like at Flextronics?
Quality is the anchor for what we do. Continuous improvement is a way of life for us. It has to be. If you don’t have continuous improvement, you’ll die or become a dinosaur. Lean, continuous improvement and quality all tie together.