St Nick

St NickSequoia Technology made a smart move when they gave Nick Lidington the reins of the company. He brings a shrewd commercial awareness and is expecting success. Richard Wilson found out why
Two months ago Nick Lidington moved into the managing director’s office at specialist semiconductor distributor Sequoia Technology. It was a new experience both for Lidington, who joined from broadline distributor Future Electronics, and the team at Sequoia.
“What I’ve been doing here is looking at the structure of the business, things need beefing up and changing,” says Lidington, who is still realistic enough to accept that there is a learning process to go through on both sides. “I’m very much the new boy,” he quips.
Despite Sequoia’s absorption into the French Tekelec Group five years ago, Lidington significantly still views the company as having a start-up culture. Sequoia was formed in 1986by Mike Carlucci, Chris Shipway and Glyn Jones, bringing little-known USsemiconductor start-ups, like Crystal Technology and ISD, to the UK.
Today, the three founders have left and Sequoia is part of the Tekelec Group, but the the distributor’s specialist technical design-in pedigree continues. Lidington has little doubt this is the company’s strongest asset, but he does see some potential in adding new financial discipline to the business. “As a start-up Sequoia has been doing things on a family basis,” points out Lidington. “When the company gets bigger you cannot do that and you must put some structure and disciplines in place.”
First, he wants top balance the company’s technical pedigree with more commercially minded managers.
He’s strengthened the sales force to 12 people and is drawing up plans for a north/south geographic split in the sales activities.
These are all obvious changes for someone with Lidington’s broadline distribution experience. And as Lidington points out: “The changes should all be transparent to the outside world.”
But it is not all about changing the way the business operates in the backroom. There are new franchises in the pipeline and perhaps most important of all a new strategy to create demand for products, rather than expecting the technology to sell itself. “To generate new business from here on, we must create new markets for the products,” he continues. “Don’t just find the socket that already exists, you must create the socket.”
The capability to find new markets and customers for relatively little-known products is largely what Sequoia’s business has been built upon, but according to Lidington, the strategy was arrived at largely by chance rather than judgement. “The company was doing this by default. In future we will do it more by design. The trick is creating markets out of thin-air,” adds Lidington.
As for new franchises, Lidington says: “There are five on the go as we speak. Some are just about signed up and some are potentials.”
Most of them will be new companies to the market. US firm Xaqti, a Gigabit Ethernet chipset supplier is typical, says Lidington.
However, he is not just on the look out for exotically named Californian start-ups. There may one or two more established suppliers and product lines in the pipeline for Sequoia, “for filling in the gaps in the portfolio” as Lidington puts it, similar to Sanyo, an existing Sequoia line.
Lidington’s message for Sequoia Technology is that the policy of spotting marketable technologies and products and bringing them to the UK will lie at the heart of future success.
But perhaps the quality Lidington brings to the company, which arguably has not been present in the past, is a heightened awareness of the importance of commercial disciplines and in particular Sequoia’s own marketing strategy.
After all running a distributor is just like running any other semiconductor business; there are products and there are markets, and as Lidington puts it: “You need to be a marketing man to choose which will fly.” Target Europe
TTi is probably one of the largest component distributors which you have never heard of. Already the largest passive component specialist distributor in the US, the company is still in the process of building up its reputation in Europe.
Perhaps more widely known amongst the UK’s defence manufacturers, TTi is endeavouring to get rid of its “military-only” tag, by expanding its UK business in commercial markets for passives and most recently connectors.
The company has operated in Europe for four years, selling specialist passive components in the military sector. According to Lee Stinson, the company’s European general manager, the intention is to become more active in the broader commercial market, where it recognises the biggest growth potential exists.
This reflects a similar change in TTi’s principal North American business where military once represented 90 per cent of sales compared to 10 per cent today.
Stinson points out that in the US44 per cent of sll passive component sales are made through distribution channels. In Europe the figure is close to 20 per cent. “So there is some way to go,” he commented.
US and far eastern suppliers dominate TTi’s portfolio. For example the company claims to be the largest USdistributor for trimmer suppliers Bourns and Kemet.
According to Stinson, plans for the European business will also include taking on some local manufacturers. The company already has a US franchise for Philips Components, but this does not apply to Europe, as yet.

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