Martin Cotton Explains Ventec’s Plan for Growth

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I always enjoy talking to Martin Cotton, global director of OEM technology and marketing for Ventec and a longtime PCB designer. I ran into Martin at DesignCon and asked him to discuss Ventec’s plans for the future and how he figured into the equation.

Martin Cotton: Good morning, Andy.

Andy Shaughnessy: Good morning, Martin. Good to see you. Tell us a little about Ventec for anybody who is not familiar with the company.

Cotton: Ventec is a Taiwanese PCB laminate company with manufacturing headquartered in China. That's quite an interesting subtlety because it is headquartered in China so a lot of people think it is a Chinese company. It's Taiwanese, but in fact the manufacturing is headquartered in Suzhou. So that's always very interesting in some markets, like Israel, for example, who would not deal with China, but would deal with Taiwan. That makes it a pretty interesting dynamic dealing with customers there.

Anyway, the background is that Ventec is a very young company, started in 2001. We’ve had $155 million turnover in such a short period of time, 14 1/2 years, which is a fairly decent rate. The thing about that is, Ventec has always traditionally been a "me too" type of company, without understanding a lot of the "why" part.

So we've built this business, which is fairly successful, primarily inside China and the Asian Tiger ring if you like, but certainly we have other ambitions, too. The key thing here is that about two years ago there was a lot of discussion about how we do that. Ventec senior management got together and decided they were going to start up an OEM group, and that's what I head up, so I'm the global director of OEM technology and marketing. It's a hell of a long title, so we kind of split it up.

But it enables me to talk with designers, get into design rooms, design offices, etc., and also do some things—a bit more marketing, think back and things like that.

Shaughnessy: You're kind of an engineer, but not really? You speak engineering.

Cotton: Yes, I'm a PCB designer and I designed my first PCB in 1967, so I've been around forever and that gets you a certain amount of pedigree. I spent most of my life in OEM environments, and since I retired from actually on-the-board designing, I work with OEMs all around the world and show them how to design using various laminates, and help when they have a product introduction, such as this one at DesignCon here, where we're looking at the new tec-speed material.

It's a branding exercise for existing materials, but it's also an umbrella for future materials. Some of them we've got picked out on our banner there, but actually some of the other, more advanced materials, which we can't publicly disclose at the moment, they're all under that umbrella of tec-speed.

The company, as I said, two years ago decided to go the OEM route, and part of my function is to assist the company to move from a group of entrepreneurs to more of a “corporate-y” formalized company, so things like specification of material and documents, internal discussion documents and this kind of thing, rather than the brains in the R&D group working in isolation saying, this is what we need; actually having a look at it and determining which products we actually need to do in the short term and then long term, a collaborative effort.

Shaughnessy: They want documentation.

Cotton: Yes. One of the interesting things here, I was with my colleague Pete Koolen, who works with the global account manager. He principally works here in Silicon Valley. He used to do the SV guys, all the big high-speed people. But the key thing here is that the global account management structure enables us to keep a formal mechanism where we can control the flow of information, rather than having three or four people all working with the same customer, all in different parts of the world. We have fewer people who spend more time on the OEM and we spend more $$$$ on airfares.

Rather than three people saying, "Oh, I'm looking after X OEM," we have one person, around the globe. Obviously we have local help, but the global account system enables us to control the flow of information. That's the key thing, you've got some real control over who's doing what and the qualification of materials. In the short period of time we've been doing this, we're having a pretty good effect on the rest of the company because they're opening up. It's a different culture as you can imagine, and they don't know the differences, like we don't know enough about the internals of China and Asia, and they don't know enough about what happens in the U.S., in the Valley here. What buttons you need to press and things like that.

So it's been an absolutely fascinating experience in such a short period of time. I'm in my twilight of my career, but it's actually one of the nicest things I've ever done.

Shaughnessy: Because they're on a growth swing.

Cotton: They're on a swing going up, and it's treating people as adults as well, so the development of material, which was under the tec-speed banner, is really important. When I say treat people as adults, you can impart your knowledge from a design perspective, and say, "Look, we actually need that one, not that one." You can say, "Well you've got this Dk or this Df," and sometimes I'm learning materials really rapidly, some of the nuances like maybe on some higher reliability material, instead of going up to a high Tg on some boards and some materials, depending on the process, it is actually better having a lower Tg, something that I had no clue about during my design career.

Although I'm a veteran of the PCB world, it's not something I know everything about. It's actually a fantastic learning curve, so it's new. We want to use DesignCon as an initial pipeline. Are we in the right place for our audience? We're getting a lot of feedback, we've got some things right, I can tell, and some things we haven't quite got right. Our booth placement, for example, in some ways it’s quite good, but in another part because we've got a lot of people standing there with speakers going on, we can't always hear what's going on around us.

People are a little bit wary of standing and having a casual chat. Although we're having people coming onto the booth who have got invited or something like that, the casuals are not stepping on because they'd rather move over to the Chiphead Theater. So that's a little bit weird, but that's a learning curve, isn't it?

Shaughnessy: Sure. So tell me about tec-speed a little bit. What sort of material is it?


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