David Wolff discusses the decision behind board distributor P.D. Circuits' sale to NCAB.
When we first interviewed David Wolff, the year was 2001 and we were still PC FAB Magazine. After 10 years, little has changed about Wolff's driven, hyperfocused approach to selling printed circuit boards. However, within weeks, P.D. Circuits, the board distribution company Wolff founded more than 20 years ago, will be acquired by NCAB Group, a Sweden-based organization of 13 PCB suppliers. Wolff spoke with PCD&F Editor in Chief Mike Buetow in late July.
PCD&F: What does this mean for you personally?
DW: When we first started getting into discussions, I thought, "Great, I can get out." [laughs] But they wanted me to stay, and the more we talked, the more pumped up I got about staying on. So, I'm staying on as Managing Director of NCAB Group USA. NCAB Group is just that – a group of local business units that serve local markets. We share common values, strategies, and resources to provide superior product and service to our customers. The company believes in being local because they understand that each market is unique. NCAB chose P. D. Circuits because we have a proven record of success filling the needs of the US market. I’m excited and proud to be joining the NCAB team and I look forward to helping grow the company.
PCD&F: This wasn't the first company to try to buy you out.
DW: No, NCAB was not the first company to approach P.D., but they are clearly the best fit. We share the same values and drive for superior quality and customer service.
PCD&F: I admit to being a bit surprised to learn how large NCAB is, but given how common it is for component buyers to use distribution channels, I guess I shouldn't be.
DW: Through its 20 year history, NCAB Group has done a great job supporting its customers and it’s been very well managed. With their consistent growth and the addition of P. D. Circuits, the company will top $100 million in sales this year. Companies like ours are playing a bigger role in electronics both here in the US and other parts of the world, especially Europe. Everyone is sourcing boards from China because it’s the center of the PCB world and will be for quite some time. Given that fact, size is becoming more important and will certainly be an asset going forward.
PCD&F: How does NCAB's model compare to P.D.'s in terms of quality and inspection?
DW: It's almost scary how similar the two companies are. We both developed over the last 20 years with no knowledge of each other, yet some of our processes, procedures and even custom software are almost exactly alike. Our quality records are very similar, with both being at the top of the industry. We differ a little on our inspection processes, so we’re looking to adopt best practices to serve our different markets around the world. I would not be joining NCAB if I couldn’t assure our customers continued superior quality.
PCD&F: What does this mean for P.D.'s China operations?
DW: Like P. D. Circuits, NCAB believes in being local on the supply side, so they have an office in China, just as we do. We’ll be combining the staff of the two China offices to create the premier PCB manufacturing management organization in China. The two offices are currently about 15 minutes apart. We’ll get everyone under the same roof soon after we close.
PCD&F: Do NCAB and P.D. share any suppliers?
DW: There's a big overlap in supply partners, so it's really helpful with the current supply base. There are also a few supply partners that NCAB has that will be good additions for us and vice versa.
PCD&F: Will this keep you closer to home in the future?
DW: For the first year or so, this means more travel for me. But it was already part of P.D.'s business plan to have me spend more time supporting the sales team. I'll continue that, while Andy D'Agostino, our vice president of operations, runs the show.
PCD&F: You have invested a lot in your proprietary tracking and pricing software. With the acquisition, what happens to that tool?
DW: NCAB has its own custom software and, as much as I hate to admit this, most of it is better than ours. Just like adopting best practices, we’ll probably find a few modules or functions of the PDC software that can be blended into the NCAB software. Over time, we’ll transition to the NCAB software platform.
PCD&F: P.D. has been very successful selling to EMS companies. PCD&F sees a transition where OEMs will be taking back much of the component procurement from the EMS side. How does that track with NCAB's focus?
DW: NCAB is active on the EMS side, but probably a little heavier on the OEM side. They do a fair amount of automotive PCB sales direct through OEMs, for example. As far as I can see, the industry is in the very early stages of what you are describing; where companies that have traditionally used three to four EMS firms are starting to see they need to be more centralized in their approach, especially for custom parts. PCBs are very complex custom parts. As NCAB says, it’s your key component. Without a good PCB, there is no product. Through some costly experiences, some OEMs are coming to realize that they need tighter controls over their PCB supply chain and NCAB is structured to provide that control.
Ed.: Also see " 'Fabless' Ops Bring Fabulous Returns," PC FAB, January 2002.