Thoughts from the Executive Office

L.T.'s Blog: Semiconductor Device Manufacturing and MEMS Technology: The Right Move at the Right Time

Semiconductor Device Manufacturing and MEMS Technology:

The Right Move at the Right Time

 

As industry veterans and students can testify, the semiconductor manufacturing industry is a cyclical business.  As wafer fab capacity utilization ebbs and flows, so does the rhetoric surrounding that capacity.  When business is good, practically no one has capacity to supply wafers to external customers let alone do development.  When business is bad everyone is in the foundry business.  Many small companies have been burnt by an improving economy that severely restricted their production allocations.  What makes this down cycle any different from the past down cycles?

 

We are enduring the worst business slump in memory and the jury is still out on when the worldwide recovery will occur.  Pure Integrated Device Manufacturers (IDMs) are a vanishing breed with mergers, acquisitions and plant closures a common occurrence.  An IDM used to have to be a jack-of-all trades; good at all aspects of the product development cycle and having total control from design concept to device drop-ship.  The severity of this down cycle has caused substantial long-term changes to the industry.

 

Not one company has the capability to do it all alone or with ruthless efficiency anymore.  Outsourcing elements of product development is now an accepted, mature business model.  Many device makers are also going fab-lite, where they keep their bread-and-butter depreciated manufacturing process technology and fabrication facility running and outsource their future technology needs to an advanced foundry partner.  The outsourced and fab-lite business model trends are gaining momentum with many IDMs today and will continue in the future.

 

The evolutionary change brought on by these accelerating trends is that the outsource model has allowed IDMs to be less of an isolated island of exceptional people and technologies like they were a few decades ago.  IDMs have opened up and are seeking interactions with suppliers that have created superior business models in areas where IDMs could only spend money.  Suppliers who deliver new efficiencies for both buyers and sellers of outsourced services typically deliver tomorrow’s solutions today.

 

Now is the opportune time for the development of new technology and business relationships between MEMS companies and device makers.  There is un-utilized capacity at many IDMs and foundries today and a buoyant feeling that there is light at the end of the tunnel, generating a scramble for “what’s next on the menu”.  There is also an understanding that long-term success can be achieved through collaboration and not necessarily solely dependent on home grown solutions.  IDMs are opening their minds and their fabs to identifying new technologies and product developments that are complementary, and possibly additive, to their company’s product portfolio.

 

Many IDMs are open to establishing dialog with technologists and business leaders of silicon-based technologies where common requirements lead to common benefits.  Learning from past down cycles, IDMs and foundries know not to be too dependent on a narrow product portfolio.  Silicon fabricators must be creative in utilizing their open capacity, if not, they face serious challenges keeping their people employed and declaring continued value to their corporation and stakeholders.  Since MEMS is a technology cousin to silicon-based manufacturing technology, expanding into MEMS manufacturing is a natural evolutionary step, complementing today’s device maker’s bread-and-butter process technologies.

 

Why is this the best time for creating relationships with the device manufacturing industry?  Because MEMS is not the science fiction it once was.  It is real and maturing, sensing, actuating and saving lives, and encompassing daily living.  The integration of electrical and mechanical components can only get stronger and more pervasive.  It is a natural addition to many current device makers manufacturing processes.  In fact, over half of the Fab Owners Association’s device maker membership manufactures MEMS devices for themselves or on a foundry basis.

 

Engaging with IDMs and foundries can take various forms based on individual needs and priorities:

  • A few device makers provide a pre-production or limited production incubator environment.  This allows MEMS technologists to buy time on manufacturing capable equipment permitting the development of proprietary robust process recipes.  Some incubator environments supply pre- and post-processing steps to create a complete process module, ready to be exported to a foundry or other manufacturing partner.
  • Other manufacturing partners are willing to supplement MEMS technologists with in-house experts.  These experts become additive to the collective problem solving capability required to develop a product for manufacturing.
  • Still other companies are looking for business relationships which can eventually add to their product portfolio.  These companies are willing to supply time, money, effort and dedicated capacity to help make the product a success.
  • Some foundry companies are even willing to make any technology or product you supply to them.  This business model offers the greatest flexibility and places all the risk on the customer.

 

To become or remain competitive in today’s struggling economy, business managers must think outside of the box, creating new and exciting opportunities that fully leverage an innovative, collaborative business model.  Many of the Fab Owners Association device makers are open minded and willing to dialog with MEMS technologists and business managers to engage in a challenging new chapter in the evolution of the industry.

 

To find out more about engaging with a device maker, please contact L.T. Guttadauro, FOA Executive Director, at lt@waferfabs.org.

The Maestro Blog: Lessons Learned in Small Countries

I’ve been traveling internationally since college days.  Most of the time now, I do it for business and so am under pressure of schedules and deadlines, but I still love it.  St. Augustine said, “The world is a book and those that do not travel read only a page.”  I always interpret that statement to mean that we learn much by traveling and opening our eyes and brain to new ways of doing things. 

Bikes Own their Own Road  

Every year when I travel now to Belgium and the Netherlands, I marvel at the efficiencies of these two countries.  You see people on bikes everywhere. In the Netherlands, a bike path runs along every thoroughfare: from major highways to village streets to farms and the web of canals threading through the countryside.  In both countries, some of the paths are marked by colored pavement.   In Belgium, streets have separate lanes for bicycles.  On rainy days, university students in Leuven, Belgium, cover their bike seat with covers that look like shower caps.  In the Netherlands, mothers bike along with their children sitting in front of them, protected only by a small wind-screen.  The bikes are big and solid, but ride smoothly and are very maneuverable.   With parking at a premium and car rentals so high, biking is a great way to see the country side and villages. 

Considering that Belgium and the Netherlands are two of the most densely populated countries in Europe, it’s a credit to their city planners that accommodations have been made for cyclists and their safety.  The bike paths are paved, have lanes marked, and even their own signs and maps showing locations.    As I bike through San Jose on roads shared with cars that come perilously close I wonder why we cannot adopt the same kind of culture that these two countries have.  Why can’t we simply incorporate bike paths with every new street that is paved or upgraded?  It takes so little to get people out of their cars and walking or riding between locations. 

Trains, Planes and Automobiles. 

The second transportation bonus in Europe is the train system.   I never find the need to rent a car.  The trains work well. You can get anywhere on a train and quickly. The TGV runs between Brussels and Paris, making the trip about 75 – 85 minutes.  Brussels to London is about 2 hours with a blast through the Chunnel.  A journalist told me that the high-speed train from Munich arrives in Paris in just under 6 hours.   If you fly between the cities, you need to get to the airport at least 2 hours in advance, go through security, expect weather delays, and have the usual hassles of an airport.  Meanwhile, the train arrives in Paris’s Gare du Nord and you step outside and into a waiting taxi.  Cities fly by as if in a dream, but the ride is smooth enough so you can walk to the diner car, work on your laptop or read with less shimmering movement than an airplane – and a lot quieter.   The high-speed rails are not quite working between Brussels and Amsterdam, but even with easy train changes, the trip can take just under 3 hours and is a lot smoother and more relaxing that fighting the traffic in a rental car and wondering where you will park.  Plus, the cost just cannot be beat.  And while you are riding in comfort, you can buy soft drinks, coffee and snacks to munch on.   

Europe’s Approach to High-Tech 

For me, the biggest lesson in traveling to Belgium is the amazing support that government gives to high-technology business.  The city, province, region and federal government all support high-technology businesses through direct funding, grants, contracts for research and development, incubator support for fledgling companies, and cooperative programs that bring government, university, business and services together. Universities are active participants in research programs, taking on projects under the supervision or cooperation of companies.  These projects help students work in direct correlation to the real world of business. And by being linked in to real problems and challenges, there is an implicit guarantee that continuing on for a Master’s degree or PhD will allow these students to be practicing for the challenges they will find when they enter the workforce full time. The European Union steps in through various channels such as the European Space Agency, the European Commission, and other entities to fund programs or to assign work done. This is similar to what we have in the USA through DARPA or a federal agency, but on a broader scale. 

President Obama appointed a technology chief to his Cabinet.  That action was long past due, making it a critical first step toward acknowledging the importance of technology to national prowess, leadership, jobs and future security.  But much more has to be done.  Invest in a company and only that company benefits.   Invest in technology programs and the companies that pursue them and everyone benefits in terms of job opportunities, new products and services, and our lifestyle. 

To see how a collaborative R&D model works and benefits in Europe, you can visit www.imec.be.*  You will see how companies, universities, and government can cooperate to develop new technologies and solutions that affect everyone’s quality of life.   In the philosophy of St. Augustine, we learn a great deal from traveling.  And more to be gained when we implement the lessons of those experiences. 

 

Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR (sm)*Maestro Marketing & PR represents IMEC. 

The Maestro PR Blog: Filing Police Reports When Traveling Pays Off

Every year, I lead a press contingent to Europe for in-depth discussions with a client.  Most American journalists prefer to make their own travel plans and arrive on location after touring or accomplishing other business.  In preparing first-time travelers, I try to include a lot of information about details outside of business. This includes recommendations to wear sturdy walking shoes for trekking over cobblestoned paths; tipping guidelines; and some basic traveler safety. 

This year, one journalist became the victim of two thieves.  He had just arrived in Europe after a long flight and was looking for a train to our meeting point.  A man approached him, asking for directions.  While distracted, another man slipped the journalist’s computer case off the luggage handle and disappeared into the crowd.  The case contained more than the laptop PC.  The journalist’s cell phone, notebook, and other personal items were gone as well. The journalist filed a police report and went through the tedious, time-consuming motions of cutting off services on his cell phone, and shutting off access to files and mail online.  He never expected to see his belongings again.   

 

Imagine, then, his surprise when – a week after his return to the USA -- he received a call from German police.  They had his laptop PC in their possession, along with a case of other stolen PCs and electronics.   The police were able to track him down because his business card was still taped to the PC.  All they needed was a copy of his police report and they would send the laptop to him.  And, no, this wasn’t another scam:  He wasn’t asked to send money. J   Traveling internationally is hard enough, and taking steps to file a police report seems like such a waste of time, but this is one case where it paid off.   

Several sites offer advice about what to do if you’ve lost a passport or are a victim of crime, but I think the best starting point is the US Department of State.  Find the info at http://travel.state.gov/travel/travel_1744.html

 Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR (sm) 

9-11 Victims - You Are Remembered

Enough said.

Business 101 Lesson for Rep Joe Wilson, Other Elected Officials & Voters

Setting:     Any Company USA.

 

Event:        An all-hands employee meeting with the company president & CEO, or, hey, the chairman of the board. Take your pick.

 

Situation:  An employee points his finger at the president during his remarks and shouts, “You lie!”

 

Question:  What would happen to the employee? 

 

A good guess is that the employee would be fired.   If he isn’t fired, he should resign and find a job, a company and a leader that suits his beliefs.

 

In the case of elected officials, like Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, Congressional representatives do not have the luxury of always liking or believing what the President says.  And for good reason, elected officials are ‘hired’ by voters because of what the causes and values they stand for.

 

My guess is that Joe Wilson was hired by his South Carolina constituency because of his beliefs.  Good for him. 

 

However, Joe Wilson crossed several boundaries with his outburst during President Obama’s speech to Congress the other night.  He crossed the boundary of respecting our nation’s president.  He crossed the boundary of allowing the President his First Amendment rights, and his right as President to address Congress.   Joe crossed the boundary of good manners. He crossed the boundary of representing his employers – his constituents – in a professional, adult manner. 

 

I think worst of all, he demonstrated that he is not suited to the job of a Congressman.  The basic requirement for being a Representative or Senator is that you are comfortable with compromise, negotiation and teamwork to solve problems.  If you believe that you are joining Congress to change the world, the job is not for you.  Government is not a jet ski; it’s a carrier – big, unwieldy and unable to make turns without a lot of maneuvering.  If Joe Wilson so detests the President that he is willing to call him out in a public forum that is televised around the world, then he has personalized the job to a point where he is no longer effective.

 

But enough about Joe. 

 

There are two lessons here.  One is that people need to see themselves as employers, not just voters.  When that happens, government officials will then act as employees of a large business, not as a person with Representative, Senator, Congressman or some other high-falutin’ job title.  When elected officials forget that they are employees of the people, the relationship between their actions and behavior and the demands of their employers is forgotten.  Voters hold the power of the ballot and need to use it to hold their representatives to a standard of performance. 

 

This is the way of business, and it’s a good lesson for government.  Businesses have the annual performance review.  Government has elections.  Both have a sound purpose.

 

Elected officials need to remember that they are sent to city councils, state legislatures, and Congress as employees of their voters.  And the reason they are elected is to get a job done by working with everyone else.  If they do not buy in to the basic premise of compromise, negation and cooperation, they need to find a job where these things don’t matter.  Right now, I cannot think of one company job with that kind of opening.

 

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The above remarks are the personal opinion of Barbara Kalkis, Maestro PR.

SEMI Outlook Panel Sees Upturn Ahead. Are You Ready?

Speakers at today’s SEMI (www.semi.org) outlook luncheon presented forecasts that could be called rosy.  The upturn is coming, but there will be some thorns along the way.  No matter, these are thorns for which the industry can find answers, with collective effort.  Some takeaways:

  

John Housley, Techcet (www.techcet.com), entertains as well as informs with side issues that influence the technical data. Today, he identified water as the next big issue in the industry, pointing out the millions of gallons being consumed in manufacturing.  Finding ways to reduce water usage – while being ‘green’ in the solution – was the challenge and opportunity for the audience to explore.  John further noted the need to retain technology IP in the United States and to build opportunity for engineering jobs in this country. 

  

Dean Freeman, Gartner Research (www.gartner.com),  looked at the past, present and future of the overall industry, and spotlighted growth areas for the industry:  solar/PV, solar, and TSVs (through-hole vias).   With community lighting adopting LEDs, Dean saw this as a potentially lucrative market approximating 20 percent CAGR.   As for TSVs, Dean estimated the market could approximate $1 billion by 2012.

  

Bill McClean, IC Insights (icinsights.com), pushed the audience to think “quarterly, not annually”.  Something that public companies hear from Wall Street. But Bill’s comments were about seeing the growth that has happened in the third quarter and building on the growth factors within the industry for the next quarter.    One of Bill’s other comments also struck a chord.  He reminded the audience that downturns are periods of “pent-up demand” and cited historical instances where downturns were followed by major spending as companies and consumers began upgrading and replacing their current systems.

  

As always at SEMI luncheons, these three speakers presented data-rich content that is available by contacting the speakers directly, or through SEMI.  Definitely informative reading.

  

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 These comments are the personal opinions of Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR (sm).  

Maestro PR Blog: Subway® Slashes the Sandwich Fast-Food Business Model and Builds a New One. Is there a high-tech marketing

Yes.  After all, this is a business blog. High-tech companies can learn important marketing lessons from consumer companies.  And the most important lesson is that winning in the market requires breaking current business models and creating new ones.  The new business model may not be revolutionary; it can be evolutionary.  It may not be inventive.  It might not be innovative. But it changes the way that consumers think about products, choose them, and place their loyalty – and dollars. Subway® has done an excellent job in its market sector. And while semiconductor chips may seem millions of miles across the market spectrum from pickle chips, the lesson of Subway is important to winning market share and revenue in these fierce competitive times. 

The Sales Dilemma.Just consider the marketing and sale dilemma of consumer companies.  These sales warriors compete in markets overcrowded with suppliers.  Every day they face-off against low-cost Asian manufacturers.  They compete for shelf space to win a share of fickle minds that will love them and leave them to save a nickel.   At every step, they need inventiveness and ingenuity to woo and win a sale and do it all over again as soon as a competitor comes up with an offer that may sound a lot better than it really is.   If this sounds like the semiconductor industry, you’re in the right place. 

How We Are Alike.While we in the semiconductor industry like to think of ourselves as different from the scrambling two-step shuffle danced by consumer companies, there are more similarities in what we do.  The first similarity is that competitors in both marketing categories must differentiate themselves from their competition.  IC suppliers do this through specifications we call product features.  Eateries call specifications the menu.  Consumer companies differentiate  through perceived value and service offered.  So do we.  Only difference is that, in the case of fast-food companies, this amounts to whether there is a tomato on your burger or pickles.  Different, but the same concept.  Differentiation requires the ability to break out of the competitive pack in order to be perceived as a leader and then become an actual revenue leader.  It’s not just a matter of offering a vegetarian sandwich instead of a hamburger or (for semiconductors) lower power and better speed.  It means offering something of value that customers want. And this is the toughest part of all.  A company needs to find the advantage that delivers a perceived benefit or advantage that customers want, without them even knowing it.  Until you offer it to them. 

And this is where the Subway lesson comes in.  Subway® has offered its $5 foot-long sandwiches for a long time now.  You choose the kind of bread you want. You get a 12-inch sandwich roll – regular size, not a skimpy special smaller size.  You choose your lunch meat from a list.  You tell the “sandwich artist” (as they are called) what sauces and veggie toppings you want.  The meat portion is no different than the other sandwich options, and you get as many toppings as you want.  And the best part of it is that you can create a sandwich that is under 400 calories.  It’s a great deal, especially if you need a quick lunch that doesn’t break your lunch budget or your diet.  And the sandwich is made to your specifications. From a purely outside view as an aficionado of fast food, these sandwiches are great.  Two people can share the $5 foot-long -- my favorite is the grilled chicken breast – and get a decent meal with no fat guilt.  Is it gourmet?  No.  But neither is any of the other sandwich I get from similar restaurants.  Speed and efficiency are the keys in fast food.  Price is also a reason for eating fast food.  Now, I never recommend competing on price.  It becomes a no-win situation.  But here’s the twist that Subway has put on its low price.  They are working the volume factor.  And they offer some toppings for a fee.  Buy the chips, soup, a drink and a cookie that they offer, and their unit sales revenue increases along with your tab.    Still, what’s not to like.  You get a regular-size loaf of bread for your $5.  That’s a major difference compared to, say the Quizno’s® $4 torpedo white-bread sandwich offer.  (Which is a very small loaf of bread compared to Subway’s loaves.) You keep your calorie and fat levels low.  And you get all the toppings you want, so more food for your money.  This translates to value, quality, custom solution, and price advantages.  

The Lesson for Tech MarketingSubway’s model has been successful from all appearances.  I go into the shop at lunchtime and the place is crowded with professionals in suits, moms and kids, and seniors.  In fact, even the 2009 Zagat Fast-Food Survey rated Subway as the #1 overall provider of what it calls “healthy options”, “best service”, and “most popular”.  (See www.subway.com). Semiconductor companies are accustomed to selling on product specification sheets.  But competition requires more than good specs.  It requires that companies show value beyond the basic product – something that customers want but may not identify in a sales meeting.  It may be design tools, applications support, personalized consultation, an ecosystem of complementary suppliers, on-site training…whatever.   But something that shows your company is not just working in the same old way, waiting for someone to place an order and pay the bill. For now, it appears that Subway has broken the sandwich store model with a marketing approach based on price – yes – but also on value, perceived benefits and customer preferences.  You can’t ask for more from a food chain – or a semiconductor company.    -ends- The above comments are the personal opinions of Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR (sm).

Consumer Packaging Needs to Copy the Semiconductor Industry – a Maestro PR Blog

Consumer packaging designers spend a lot of time thinking up ways to make their products stand out from the cluster of competitive products that share their shelf space.  A package’s look, color, emotional appeal and aesthetics all help move a product from a display to the shopping cart.  And designers continually test these attributes and others with customers who are more finicky and less loyal than cats.

 That all said, it’s time consumer packaging designers learned a few lessons from the semiconductor industry. While no chip package could be considered pretty – many company logos are even duller than dull – semiconductor companies understand efficiency and sleek design better than any other industry I know of.   A trip to the local drugstore made me think about this.

I used to buy hair conditioner in a toothpaste-type of tube that could be stored flat in the drawer.  Or placed on its flat-top cap on the medicine cabinet shelf.  It was also easy to tuck into a corner of my suitcase.  Today I had to purchase the same product in an elaborate hard-plastic pump package that stands up by itself.  Yes, the package is pretty, but what a waste of plastic.  The hard fat tube takes up more room in my cupboard and a suitcase.  In fact, I probably won’t bother taking it on trips any longer because the hard packaging will take up too much room in a suitcase.  Especially for international trips when every ounce counts.

 

I also purchased some suntan lotion for my niece’s small daughters.  Instead of a soft plastic pump container, many SPF 50 lotions for kids now come in an aerosol can.  Huh??  Weren’t aerosols banned and shunned years ago in consideration of the ozone layer?  What’s wrong with the pump containers?  Is it so hard to pump lotion onto your hand and spread it on?  Is there a problem with washing our hands after rubbing a lotion onto our skin?  Is an aerosol really safe to spray around a small child’s eyes, especially when kids are usually squirming around with their attention somewhere else? Just what is wrong with a good old-fashioned tube?

 You might argue that liquid volume doesn’t compare apples-to-apples with semiconductor packaging. But the semiconductor industry’s innovation of small, efficient, and weightless packaging should give consumer packaging designers great ideas for creating smart, cost-efficient, environmentally conscious designs.

Our industry can squeeze a gazillion electronic functions and apps on both sides of a tiny circuit board the size of an adult thumbprint.  Or use a ball-grid array that can be ‘glued’ to a circuit board.  Or use a band-aid shaped package that’s just as flexible.  Semiconductor chips are manufactured and placed inside consumer products naked – with no packaging to house them. Three-dimensional (3D) packages thinner than the plastic containers for some conditioners or suntan lotions can shelter several chips performing a myriad of functions.  The packaging isn’t pretty, but it’s economical, cost-efficient and, most of all, it works.

 

Packaging designers for consumer products need to take one of their cell phones, iPods™ or Blackberries™ apart and see how the chips inside are packaged.  Our industry is able to put audio, video, keyboards, calculators, cameras and other functions in sleek products that fit in a shirt pocket.  It’s not just a lesson in productivity, it’s a lesson in sleek design and environmentally conscious manufacturing.   And inspirational for innovative consumer packaging design.

 The above comments are opinions of Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR (sm).

Maestro PR Blog: Blast Emails to the Wrong People Is Bad Marketing

Over the past three months, increasing numbers of companies are sending me news releases, data sheets, personally addressed letters and even homemade digital photos of devices and equipment.  Sometimes I’ll read the news release, but mostly these missives are just sales documents.  And all of them have no relevance to me.   They may be relevant to a client, but for me they are spam.  So, how did my name find its way to these lists?  It appears these companies may be buying names from trade shows or other online service companies who deal in database management. 

 

Okay, trade shows have a right to rent lists and web companies need to sell their services.  These motives I can understand.  However, what makes a company think that a PR agency has an interest in buying semiconductor chips in lots of 1,000 pieces or a huge machine for a half-a-million dollars (or more)?

 

This kind of direct-email selling is out of hand.  Companies are not reviewing their database lists.  They are buying or collecting names and sending to everyone, hoping to find someone who is relevant to them.  It’s an update on the old direct mail campaign programs.  The concept is that you mail offers to everyone and if you get even a small percentage – sometimes even 2% - of a reply, you’ve succeeded in getting a payoff.  While the risk of hitting the wrong people is lower thanks to the ease of creating email distribution lists, the method of selling lacks any professionalism or marketing savvy.

 

And who in high-tech purchases goods for their company this way?  Will purchasing agents, engineers and technical staff really buy equipment based on a blind email?  Will these folks even be inspired to investigate the company that sells using blast emails to names that aren’t vetted in any way?

 

The Internet can provide excellent coverage and visibility for a company.  And, yes, direct email communications works supremely well.  But it only works when there is some thought about using it to reach the right people. 

 

In the 19th century, Charles Messier, a French astronomer gave sense to the universe by creating a catalogue of objects in deep space.  If astronomers find the need to create order out of randomness, certainly marketing people can do the same.

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Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & Public Relations (sm)

Maestro PR Blog: Industry Lessons Learned at Camp

Every year, we camp in one of the dozens of valleys etched between Hwy 395 and the wall of the Eastern Sierra “range of light”.  It’s a beautiful region: sheer jagged mountains pierce incredibly blue skies that look they’ve been colored by Photoshop instead of nature.  Below 10,000’, Jeffrey pines, junipers and cedars crowd each other for space on the granite rocky ledges, giving way to aspens and sub-alpine flower gardens and more pines, then a vast expanse of sage desert that stretches from California to Utah.  We make camp in one of the national forest sites and settle in for a couple of weeks.  Each time, we meet other stalwart campers seeking escape the big city.  There are no hot spots in these lonely places; no TV; no electricity.  It’s idyllic.  And not the customary location for finding industry lessons.  But this year was different.

 

A couple in a mansion-RV pulled into a site near us.  The rig was not one of the John-Madden level million dollar traveling homes, not even one of the $500,000 kind.  But the size, triple side-outs, outdoor carpeting, mobile cage for Fido, and a truck painted to match, it was easily a $250,000 set=up.  More like a second home than a camper used only on weekends – or so they said.

 

The couple were friendly and the first two days seemed fine. Then their generator went out late one hot afternoon.  The RV was without air conditioning or power to run the stove and microwave, and other conveniences of home.  Fixing the problem was beyond their ability.  The wife grumbled about not being able to cook dinner.  Roasting food over a fire was out of the question.  The husband then decided to run the generator sitting in the truck bed.  He ran the generator for the next 5 hours until the 10pm noise curfew started.  For that entire time, all of us who had escaped to this beautiful place for peace and quiet and scenery could barely hear ourselves think for the noise of that generator sitting in the open luxury truck bed.   The couple were completely oblivious to the noise and nuisance they created for everyone else.

 

When some campers complained, the couple said they needed their AC:

1)       (Opening windows obviously not an option.  They didn’t come for FRESH air.) 

2)    They could not cook dinner.  (Cooking out on the grills provided at each site, or fire pits also in each site were obviously not options. 

3)    Washing dishes in pans instead of a sink also was out of the question.  That was for those people in tents.  They had an RV and by heaven, they were going to get the most out of it.

After two days of this torture, several campers gathered for an impromptu meeting to determine a solution.  Like all brainstorming sessions, 90% of the ideas were no good.  No, we could not cut the cables, put sugar in the gas tank, or flatten the tires. These things would only keep the people in camp.  Two backpackers, looking like they had spent too much time in the wilderness practicing pack-it-in-pack-it-out/leave-no-trace lifestyles, suggested that they had enough rock-climbing rope for a double hanging.  This idea was rejected to allow the backpackers to continue their trek through the Sierras. 

 

Finally, one of the tenters who had size and brawn  - not to mention a beard that gave him a wild look -- over the RV’ers took matters into his own hands.  He went to the site and quietly explained the facts of the wilderness justice to the offending couple. The generator was immediately shut down, and the couple departed for civilization at dawn the next day.

 

That’s when the industry lesson hit me.  Think of the people you know that cannot change the way they operate at work.  They refuse to accept or investigate a new process, method, or way of doing things.  When confronted with problems, they cannot adapt to changes out of their control.

The same situation happens with companies.  Like the RV couple, some companies are accustomed to processes and support systems that work.  They have luxury in the form of corporate routines or repeat-business or revenue streams from longtime clients.  Suddenly, market forces change or competition strikes an advantage, and the company cannot adapt.  The vendors cling to the old way of doing things because they don’t know new ways to work; they are uncomfortable with new methods; and they simply are unprepared for changing the company to meet the new market environment.

The couple at camp could’ve had a tasty meal cooked over a grill or open fire.  They may have enjoyed the breeze that picked up the scent of sage and ‘gentle-Jeff” vanilla-pines.  Washing dishes by hand may have been slower, but definitely more gentle on the land and water usage.  And they would have kept the good will of their temporary neighbors.

 

Companies faced with problems can make the same adjustments.  Instead of instant cutbacks on personnel, production and marketing, they can look for other ways to streamline or change processes, increase R&D to ensure future growth, and continue marketing because when markets change so has their customer base.  And the sales people who say they know all their customers, may find out their contacts are gone, along with their purchase orders.

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Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & Public Relations (sm)