Harris is the man to reshape Smiths Connectors

Smiths Connectors is a technology leader which not enough people appreciate. It is a global company which has not always operated globally.

But there is a new man in charge and Paul Harris makes no bones about it; he wants to change things at Smiths Connectors.

The high reliability connector company is global with operating divisions in Europe, the US and Asia, but Harris believes the company is “not global”.

“The aspiration to be a global business was there, but the plan wasn’t,” says Harris.

Paul Harris

Paul Harris

Harris joined Smiths Connectors from Huber +Suhner last June and he believes the company’s three brands are confusing in the market. “We have to simplify who we are,” says Harris.

The company’s Hypertac, IDI and Sabritec brands will be moved into product families and all products will be marketed under the one brand. “All products will be Smiths Connectors,” says Harris.

He also plans to expand the company’s global footprint. “We are present in 30 countries at the moment, this will expand,” says Harris.

To do this, Smiths will partner with local companies and use distributors to expand its global reach.

Harris has also started a restructuring of the company’s sales channels. “The sales channels were largely determined by geography,” says Harris. “They will become market focussed.”

Smiths’ most important markets are defence and aerospace where its reputation for producing high-reliability and rugged connectors has been forged. To this it has added high density connectors with high speed data contacts.

Its high-reliability contact technology is also finding new applications in markets, such as medical and electric vehicles.

This means a change in the way Smiths designs new products. “Our design centres around the world will become market focussed. The US design centres will be defence, medical and ICs, Europe will be defence, transport and medical and Asia will focus on aerospace, transport and ICs,” says Harris.

“When some companies talk of market focus they are talking of just the sales teams. I am talking about the whole company from design to production as well as sales,” says Harris.

Harris may have questioned the multiple brand sales structure, but he has no doubt what the company’s biggest asset is and what differentiates it in the market.

“The core is the product technology. Half of the products we sell are engineered products. This is definitely not an off-the-shelf connector company. This differentiates Smiths,” says Harris.

The centre of all product development is the company’s contact technologies, such as the hyperboloid and spring probe contacts. “We take these technologies and create packages around them,” says Harris.

Interestingly, Harris is not entirely persuaded by the apparent mania amongst components suppliers to turn their products into systems.

“Of course we will offer system solutions, but it is not a priority for us,” says Harris. “When you follow the ‘systems’ route in my experience margins go down and the supply chain becomes more complex. You also risk competing with customers.”

Harris prefers a more measured approach, which involves moving up the value chain through partnerships with systems companies.

An important word for Harris is ‘diversification’. “We will diversify the customer base, we will diversify geographically and we will diversify our sales channels,” says Harris.

When Harris joined Smiths last year half of sales were in the US, 30 % in Europe and only 20% in Asia.

A priority for Harris is to expand the company’s business in China.  “We have to get into China, most firms did that 10 years ago, but it is not too late for us, there is still room to grow there,” says Harris.

Over the last two years the company has been integrating the specialist contact technologies from its different businesses in new combination products.

For example a new range of modular PCB connectors combines high-reliability hyperboloid contacts developed by Hypertac, with high speed 10Gbit/s PCB interconnect design based on the spring probe contacts developed by IDI business in the US.

Another example is the firm’s MicroSnap Connector, designed in Italy. The original design used the Hypertac contacts and now the new smaller version incorporates the IDI spring contacts.

Harris has already identified some new areas of opportunity.

“There are opportunities in fibre optics and the provision of high speed data links in high reliability applications such as space and avionics,” says Harris.

He is also on the lookout for new markets for the company. “It is important to get into new markets early, that way you can maintain your margins,” says Harris.

Another application area on his radar is RF.

“To grow we must rethink what we want to do and how we can do it,” says Harris.



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