Catching up with Fineline-Global N. American CEO Eran Navick
After entering the North American marketplace just six months ago, printed circuit board manufacturer Fineline-Global is making its mark. As the largest value-added PCB supplier in the world, Fineline prides itself on being any able to meet any challenge for any company in any part of the world. I recently had the chance to sit down with Eran Navick, the company’s North American CEO to catch up on how things are going.
Dan Beaulieu: Thanks for taking this time to talk to me today.
Eran Navick: No problem. I always like talking about Fineline.
Beaulieu: Let’s start with your background.
Navick: I have been in the PCB industry since the early ‘90s—almost 30 years now. Oh boy, I feel old now. I started as a junior engineering team member in an R&D group in Israel and became fascinated by layout and CAM tools. My first four years I served as a PCB designer. Although my background is engineering, I responded to a challenging position at a PCB manufacturing facility and spent the next four years of my professional life in a manufacturing facility. That is also where I met the founder of Fineline-Global before he took off to open AVIV. Most of my knowledge about the production of PCBs I owe to that time in my life.
My next position was in California, back in R&D, yet this time I was more in the operational aspect of designs. I was humbled by the quality requirements of the Japanese telecommunications market, and eventually found myself in an executive position in a NASDAQ-traded company, serving as the global director of quality assurance, seeing all operations out of three design centers, and responsible for production quality of worldwide contract manufacturing. During that time, I was also managing all the layout aspects in the company. I stepped down from this position after 12 years and joined Fineline in 2014 as we started looking into developing the North American market of Fineline-Global, by forming Fineline-USA. I still enjoy looking at a challenging layout design and am thrilled when I find myself in a room full of designers and engineers to discuss layouts.
Beaulieu: Tell us about Fineline. What is the history of the company?
Navick: Fineline-Global was founded as a merger between two companies in 2007. AVIV PCB and Technologies was founded in 2002 by Benny Kremer, a long-time veteran of the PCB industry from Israel, and Fineline GmbH. Since 2007, the company has had a steady growth in revenue, with impressive year-to-year revenue and following on the commitment of providing global solutions to local markets, Fineline has steadily opened offices all over Europe, and recently put the focus on developing the North American market. Right now, Fineline has offices in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the UK, Israel, Russia, and of course, in China, besides growing our business in the USA and Canada.
Beaulieu: Very impressive. It is stunning what you can do when you are flexible. What is the mission of the company?
Navick: Fineline is a solutions provider. We bring to the table a value-added service to allow our customers a long-term, reliable source for printed circuit boards. Our operations motto is "The Four A's." Any quantity, anytime, anywhere, and any technology. We provide customers with printed circuit boards along the life cycle of a product, from concept proof, to end of life, regardless of technology. We deliver to multiple locations, based on request, and we guarantee the board will be made to spec and be identical at all stages, even if there is a need to change production lines (with the customer’s approval, of course). We go the extra mile to be a true team member in the supply chain of our customers. We see them as our partners and we try to enable a steady growth through solid service. We recognize our own growth is possible only when our customers have theirs. The same goes towards our manufacturing partners. Note that I do not put any emphasis on quality. It is because we believe quality must be embedded in the production and processes, and the customer fully assumes this is given.
Beaulieu: Obviously, the company is growing very rapidly. What are your annual sales worldwide?
Navick: In terms of revenue, we have ended 2017 with over $165M. We forecast 2018 to show another growth year to year. In terms of operations, Fineline directly employs around 300 people worldwide, and we are still hiring in some countries.
Beaulieu: As a truly a global company, what advantages do you provide to your customers?
Navick: We take care of all production aspects around the clock. We don’t lose time when production in China is 12 hours off compared to East Coast time. We can quote, process orders, answer questions to suppliers, and serve our customers from different locations on the globe. Still, customers have their local office to communicate with, in their own language, when they are in the office working in the local time zone. We take advantage being global, but for customers we are local.
Another important thing for being global is the leverage it gets us due to our combined buying power. It is also promising stability as we are less sensitive to market trends in a specific region. It allows us to serve our customers for the two most important things to them: priority on production lines and price. Being a VIP customer (we are within the top five customers for most of them) enables us to leverage on it, get priority, negotiate pricing, and support our customers with service most of them would be struggling to get otherwise. For our international customers, we can work with their operations, and supply the same PN to different locations, based on their needs, from the same source, but handle each location for them in their own time zone, language and currency. It also means it is always 9 to 5 somewhere. We take advantage of the difference in time zones, and our regional teams can serve one’s needs almost 24/7. You will rarely hear us say that we got files ‘after cut-off time’ simply because our global system allows us to do our due diligence (either quote, run DFM, or act on the operational side). The result is, while our North American customers are off for the day, we are not.
Beaulieu: How are things going in North America for the company?
Navick: After a humble start mid-2014, with a very small sales force in the USA, we have gradually gotten to know and understand the local markets of the USA and Canada, and during 2017 started a massive growth in our sales force to be able to reach such a big territory. We are partnering up in different states with representatives like KTT out of California, Hughes-Cane in Texas, Tempest in Indiana, ATS in Massachusetts and have hired direct employees to run regional sales. We are taking care of marketing—one of the reasons we are having an interview today. We expect a decent growth in the next year as a result. Our new multi-agent website is another layer in marketing ourselves and reaching out to customers. It looks promising.
Beaulieu: What do you do better than anyone else?
Navick: The real difference I see is that Fineline is a company where individuals put their own ego aside, help each other, share loads, appreciate efficiency, and strive for the greater good, and it trickles down to quality of service, not only the quality of the product. It is in the company’s DNA. Let me explain. The business philosophy of Fineline is to find the customer solutions, not just sell boards. We listen to what the person on the other end wants. There is a great difference between what he or she needs to what they want. Price is important, no doubt, but we win business even when we are not the lower bidder, and our success rate is increasing over time with existing customers. Unlike other brokers (I hate using this term because we do so much more than brokerage), we look at situations where our involvement will allow our customers to have an edge in their markets. While not being shy and being profitable and growing year to year, our way of doing business is to create the synergy between the PCB manufacturing facility, the contract manufacturer, and the end user to tighten up the partnering. We also respect our suppliers and share with them what we do. By being transparent, honest and respectful, we apply Fineline’s DNA to the process, and that is what makes us good at what we do. This is our edge.
Beaulieu: Where do you want to be in five years?
Navick: Judging the market size in North America, we see an opportunity to rapidly grow and have our fair share in the PCB market. I think $50M in sales in North America sounds like a reasonable goal for the next few years. Some of us in the company believe it should be even more than that, and of course I hope they are right and I am too modest in my forecast.
Beaulieu: How do you see the global PCB market currently?
Navick: While prophecy is not in my skill set, looking at the current market trends, I see that the priority that suppliers used to give export over their local markets, especially in China, is diminishing. The price gaps between selling to local markets and to export is slowly closing. In general, the PCB industry is mature, and year-to-year growth is slow. As a result, the VAR we offer (value added reselling) becomes significant. It allows companies to stay competitive not only with negotiations of better pricing for the products, but with lower overhead.
Beaulieu: How do you see the North American market currently?
Navick: It is certainly not behaving by traditional segments any more. While others will categorize market segments by industry, for the PCB market I also believe there should be a secondary segmentation. Regulations and standards change, and with them the secondary segmentation kicks in. As an instance, the medical industry goes through a change due to regulations change. The IoT development becomes a stronger player industry with very demanding technology, but pushing to very cost-effective solutions, some traditional aerospace and semi-military production has more flexibility in overseas production, and it is an on-going trend, quick-turn capabilities are no longer limited to local manufacturing, so overall this is a very dynamic, evolving, and morphing market.
Beaulieu: What do you think is the most important quality a great PCB supplier should have?
Navick: Since technology and quality are sort of embedded in the process today, at least with Fineline’s hand-picked partners, and with on-line quoting, pricing is pretty much set. I believe the leading edge of suppliers is WIP tracking and visibility. As part of a supply chain, especially for Lean manufacturing, it is imperative to allow customers to do tighter planning of their operations.
Beaulieu: Are there any last comments you’d like to leave our readers with?
Navick: Thank you for the opportunity to introduce Fineline to the readers. I think we have something interesting to offer anyone who builds any hardware electronics. Being engineering-oriented (about one third of the company are very technical), we speak the language from engineering to supply chain. We offer endless depth of knowledge and have some technology gurus in the company who may help anyone in any stage of design.