This spring, Mouser Electronics’ president and CEO Glenn Smith marked his 40th anniversary with the company. Smith started working for Mouser part-time in the warehouse in 1973 while he was in college. One of just 12 employees, he worked his way up through the organization, which today has 1,200 employees, 400,000 customers, more than $600 million in revenue and 19 offices around the world. Mouser was also ranked 8th in Global Purchasing’s 2013 Top 50 Electronics Distributors report.
Global Purchasingrecently asked Smith to talk about the changes he’s seen in the industry over the last 40 years. What follows are excerpts from our conversation.
Global Purchasing: You recently celebrated your 40th anniversary with Mouser. What are some of the key changes you have seen in the electronics industry over those 40 years?
Glenn Smith: Well, there are so many. The electronics industry and the distribution industry both have seen many changes and challenges. Back in the olden days, I think everyone was disrupted by the new technology of surface mount—there were so many questions about that at first. More currently, I think the Internet has been disruptive, although in a good way, for most people.
In distribution in particular, there have been other changes. As just one example, FedEx started as a company the first year I started at Mouser. That has certainly changed the way distribution has worked. [Back then], we used carriers, but there was no global or nationwide carrier that covered everything. As a result, everyone had warehouses all over the country. Those have mostly gone away.
GP: Mouser has grown considerably during your time with the company. What milestones are you most proud of to date?
Smith: Well, there are so many of those too. When I became president of the company, we were less than $10 million in sales, and last year we had over $600 million—that’s been a big change. I used to know who every employee was, then I used to know every person in the product department—now that has certainly changed.
I’d say getting into the top 10 global distributors has certainly been a great milestone. It shows how the distribution landscape has changed. Nobody thought that catalog distributors would really be the force that we are in the industry.
GP: As Mouser becomes more global, what are the greatest challenges the company faces in serving a worldwide customer base?
Smith: The challenge is that while [customers are] trying to design a new product and bring it into production, there are still local regulations and processes and business practices that affect them, not to mention different languages and currencies. So you have to blend all that together and still provide the service customers need. As a result, you have to determine the things in your service model that are global and what has to be tailored individually. That’s challenging.
We’ve chosen to put marketing and salespeople in each region and in different countries because of those different requirements—also because you’re talking to customers that might think differently in different parts of the world. They might think differently in Italy than they do in Sweden, for instance.
GP: Mouser has posted solid sales gains despite the tough global economy of the last few years. How are you able to accomplish that?
Smith: We’ve focused on the engineer and on delivering new products for the engineer’s new designs. We’re trying to help them by giving them a technological edge. We don’t ask our suppliers to tell us their top runners because that’s looking back; we want to know what they think the market’s needs are. We want to know the roadmap for what’s needed for future designs, not past designs. I think that [approach] is something that’s needed globally. And because it’s needed globally, we keep adding customers globally. That’s behind what’s driving the growth: all the customers that need what we’ve got.
GP: What is your outlook for the electronics supply chain for the rest of 2013?
Smith: In terms of dollar growth, Mouser is continuing to grow, although slower than in years past. But we’re not seeing any slowdown in the growth of our customer base or in orders being shipped. Those are all increasing in huge numbers, so that tells us that we’re still penetrating new designs. The production side of the [distribution] business has been slower over the last few years, of course. In general, I think 2013 is going to continue to grow.
GP: I know we said this would be just five questions, but is there anything else you want to add about your 40 years with Mouser?
Smith: We just feel very fortunate that we have a model that works so well. Our focus on the design engineer has really allowed us to grow. And it’s helping [our sister company] TTI grow, because we do find new designs that end up spilling into new production. That probably helps other distributors, too. There are not a lot of people that can replicate what we’ve done. We feel very lucky that we’ve developed a model that works so well.