Going Solo, by Dick Skipworth

Dick Skipworth, who founded MEMEC in 1974 and led it to become the third biggest distributor in the world, recalls the rocky road from being employed to being self-employed.

In the early 1970s, Skipworth was working for Transitron which was in decline.

As the Americans do, they kept firing CEOs in the hope a new one would solve the company’s problems. One day a new CEO came over to the UK.

He immediately criticised Skipworth’s customer list for being too heavy on smaller companies.

“Why do we have so many customers?” He said: “I don’t want to deal with ‘tailings’, I want to deal with big customers.”

I said: “We don’t have products for big customers,” recalls Skipworth, “you don’t usually get fired for incompetence but you do get fired for disagreeing with your boss. I left in January 1972 with £280 redundancy.”

The month before he had been offered the chance of a distribution contract with the Florida semiconductor company Harris. He had turned it down. Now it seemed like a lifeline. He rang them and they said: ‘Come over and talk’.

“I bought the cheapest ticket I could get via New York and North Carolina and saw Harris. They did not want to commit to a one-man band. I came back devastated. . . .well not devastated. . . . disappointed.”

In 1972, the semiconductor industry was in deep depression. There were few jobs open. Skipworth asked a company called LEMCO (London Electrical Manufacturing Company) which made low-tech capacitors for a job and they said they would pay him commission if he sold any.

“It was a real sweat-shop down in Hammersmith,” recalls Skipworth, “that was hard because in this business you have to do a lot of work up-front before getting orders. I don’t think I got any commission out of LEMCO at all.

A saving grace was the appointment of a new UK manager at Transitron. Dick offered to take the smaller customers off his hands in return for a commission on the sales he made to them.

“I knew more about his account base that he did,” says Skipworth, “and I knew where there were design-ins which were coming to fruition. So, in March 72, the commission on what I had sold for Transitron was higher than the salary I had had when I was employed by them. It was the Transitron rep deal that kept me alive.”

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