Distribution World – Memec's Guardian

Distribution World – Memec’s GuardianFollowing in the footsteps of Dick Skipworth will be a challenge, but one David Ashworth reckons he can live up to by continuing the company’s success. He tells Distribution World how he will go about it. Mick Elliot
I couldn’t get through to David Ashworth first time I called. He’s in a meeting with Dick Skipworth, I was told.
Don’t however jump to the conclusion that Dick Skipworth who Ashworth is succeeding as Memec’s chief executive, is still the eminence gris behind the scenes.
Ashworth is very much his own man. He is a Memec veteran who has spent the past five years running the company’s operations in Asia-Pacific.
So we can expect a change of management philosophy. “I like to get more involved with people. championing their issues and supporting them,” he comments. “Dick’s approach was more dictatorial, he had a real passion to pursue the Memec philosophy.”
“He is a difficult guy to follow,” Ashworth agrees. “He has an enormous reputation in the business. I think he felt the issues facing distribution needed a younger person with more energy so he’s left me to wrestle with them.”
Ashworth will not be changing the focused, technical led strategy which has shaped Memec into probably the UK’s biggest success in worldwide component distribution. But there will be issues to address.
Not least the effect of the Internet on the way information is provided to customers. “Most engineers in the UK have access to the Web or Internet where they can collect a huge wealth of information,” he remarks. “Software, data sheets, applications notes, it’s all there. As distributors we have to assess how we can deliver online technical support, and other applications support on the Web.”
These delivery channels will not replace the face to face meetings. Where Ashworth does see change is in the balance of time spent with customers and where it is spent.
“We would reckon on a sales engineer’s time being spent 70 per cent with engineers and 30 per cent with purchasing. But its changing,” says Ashworth. “Customers are using contract manufacturing which also takes on the purchasing. Now our sales people will be sitting with the customer’s marketing teams. We need to know where the customer’s technology is going, what does he need from us to support him.”
“Contract manufacturers are a challenge for distribution,” Ashworth acknowledges. “It puts the emphasis on coordinating with both the customer and the contract manufacturer and we have to ensure our service is better, our response is better and our logistics are better.”
Most distributors rear up at the notion that a design-in project in which they have invested a lot of time and effort is not so secure when a contract manufacturer enters the scenario with its own purchasing clout.
One major advantage Memec can employ says Ashworth is simply its range of products and technologies many of which a customer cannot source elsewhere.
Memec’s parent, the Veba Electronics Group has established Atlas Services which now looks after all logistics for all its electronics distributors which also includes EBVand WBC. “It can create problems, for example in control of costs,” says Ashworth. “The positive side is that it leaves us to concentrate on what we are best at which is selling and marketing our principal’s products.”
The logistics centre at Memec’s headquarters in Thame is now managed by Atlas and looks after both the UK and northern Europe.
There is coordination between all the Veba companies. “We have a strategic accounts manager in Memec who regularly meets his counterpart in EBV to exchange data and areas of cooperation,” he says
If there is a difficulty it arises from the different models of distribution represented by Memec and EBV.
“Our approach is towards higher margin, lower volume while EBV is the opposite,” says Ashworth.
Memec of course is still an attraction for semiconductor start-ups. Its reputation goes before it.”It’s no problem finding them,” laughs Ashworth. “In fact if we took on every company we spoke to we’d get buried.”
There is an art to the process of selection. It includes identifying start-ups looking at the longer haul.
“You would not want to invest four years in establishing a start-up for it to be bought up by a bigger group,” Ashworth explains. “That was Dick’s great strength he could always tell which one smelt right.”
Memec is also benefiting from a broader geographic presence. “If you are a cash-strapped start-up the last thing you want is to deal with goodness knows how many different distributors in different countries,” says Ashworth. “It is easier to deal with one company which offers a consistency of services across geographies with financial and logistics support in place.”
But Ashworth does not believe this spells death and destruction for the smaller, national-based technical distributors. “Start-ups will always want the focus a smaller distributor can offer.”
Ashworth sticks to that view despite the demand creation ethos which suppliers have created and all major distributors are striving towards. “Demand creation is fine but suppliers have got to come up with the resource to support that strategy,” he stresses.
He believes trying align demand creation with a multi-stranded distribution network is to say the least difficult.
Ashworth also reckons there should and will be a trend to suppliers downsizing networks. “It is not hard to work out that as a supplier the fewer channels you work with, the easier it is to work closely with them and motivate them to sell your products.”
Ashworth recognises the scope of the task in front of him. “It is easier if you join a company in trouble. This one is very successful and I have to continue that success,”he adds. “I will be the guardian of that legacy.”

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