Steve Robinson is the president, chief executive officer and co-owner of rigid printed circuit board manufacturing company APCT, running day-to-day operations of the North American global business. His primary duty is maintaining profitability for his financial partners and himself, but he believes his ultimate responsibility is guiding the team in the right direction to preserve the culture and direction of the business.
Although APCT makes circuit boards, Robinson envisions the company as more of a service model because it listens to the clients’ concerns and builds a unique solution to address those. Robinson defines APCT as, “a full-service solution provider – and by the way, we also happen to build printed circuit boards.”
Some customers have technology challenges; some have cost challenges; some have engineering support challenges; some simply have delivery or quality problems, but they all have issues with their current supply chain that can be resolved. APCT is a solution provider.
It uses a broad range of technologies and can provide manufacturing cycles that are faster than most competitors. APCT can provide all of the technology, all the quality and even competitive pricing with its global model. The company is really about understanding what its customers need and what they lack from their current supply chain and then identifying how APCT can provide the proper solution.
APCT was founded in 1977 and relocated to its current corporate office in Santa Clara in 1984. Steve Robinson has been in the industry since 1971, and in the early 2000s, he was involved with an acquisition and merger in which he became a senior executive in a larger publicly-traded printed circuit board company. A few years later, in 2008, after coming to understand the environment in which he was working, he decided he was not in the space he wanted to stay ethically or professionally, so he reached out to the owner of the business and made arrangements to acquire the facility.
The factory was a very low technology facility. It was not the operation, but rather the site that caught Robinson’s eye. APCT is committed to the path of service combined, speed-driven technology and dealing with people on a personal level.
In the last ten years, the number of circuit board manufacturers in North America has declined dramatically. The recession of 2008 to 2009 caused what was probably two of the worst years in the industry in the last twenty years.
After an enormous struggle, the company started to see a turnaround. In 2010, the company turned a profit and was able to start investing and reinvesting in itself. It began to grow again in 2011 and has continued to grow ever since.
In 2013, Robinson began to have some differences of opinion with his two partners. By this time, APCT had expanded from a four-million-dollar, four-customer operation to a sixteen-million, two-hundred-customer profitable business, but his associates were interested in running the business conservatively, while he wanted to chase new technology, particularly HDI (high-density-interconnect) boards. Robinson felt that this was the only viable market segment. Their direction did not align with his, so in 2014, he was able to close a deal to recapitalize and take over.
In 2015, he convinced his new investment partners to give him four million dollars of capital over two years. He invested heavily in advanced technology, engineering, systems and software to support the advanced technology path and now the business has grown to a projected forty-two million dollars this year with three hundred active customers and a significant reputation in the industry.
“This existing facility just renovated with the right equipment and the right people turned out to be everything I hoped it would be and more,” says Robinson.
In April of this year, APCT acquired a second facility in Connecticut from a company that had been there for thirty-seven years. What Robinson was attracted to was the leadership, a team that seemed to fit culturally with his existing team and their core principles and an eagerness to take the leap from a conservative business model to a more aggressive one. Within one year, he had fully integrated the new acquisition into the existing business The company has since transferred its entire East Coast market to the new facility freeing up capacity in the higher-end facility.
APCT was built on relationships and trust and is committed to sustaining long-term partnerships. Customers recognize this, and it differentiates APCT in the marketplace.
Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, in Santa Clara California, APCT is surrounded by innovation. As a result, it has experienced many instances where start-ups have come in a year into not being able to develop a solution and on the verge of losing funding. “When we can help them re-engineer a solution, that is extremely gratifying,” says Robinson.
APCT has designed boards for applications ranging from electric cars to phones, missile heads, radar detection systems, satellites, the fastest computers in the world and the most sophisticated security systems ever developed. But for Robinson, gratification comes from the programs where desperate people come to APCT for help and APCT is able to provide a solution that results in the company prospering. These are the projects that matter.
“It’s the ultimate challenge to my team when they come against a problem that a peer or competitor can’t solve.” As a leader, Robinson is very competitive, and he tries to create a competitive environment for his team, but there is nothing more competitive than when they are challenged by something at which a peer or a competitor has failed. Success in these instances is very motivating.
APCT has even worked on projects for free simply to face the challenge or because there was no budget left, but in the end, Robinson has seen these goodwill endeavors come back like a kind of business karma. APCT generates an average of ten to twelve new customers a month and is always looking for the new long-term relationships.
APCT operates with a commitment to customers from multi-million-dollar a year projects to one-thousand-dollar a month projects. “I want a customer to feel like they’re treated with respect,” says Robinson. “I want a customer to feel like they were listened to, like they were given a fair commitment and execution regardless of their size.”
He believes that he has accomplished this because of feedback APCT has received from its customers, but also from feedback it has received from its competitors. Robinson recounts a story about a tradeshow in San Diego. “Four gentlemen walk up to us. They’re from our largest competitor in North America. We’re a forty-million-dollar company; they’re a billion dollar company. They introduce themselves; they’re all sales managers. They told me how much they respect APCT. They said that they go to customers all the time, and they never hear about competitors from any of them ever, but when APCT is in there you’re all we hear about, and there’s never an opportunity to take you out of there. We don’t even bother.”
To Robinson, this is the ultimate compliment. “That’s the one I’ll take with me when I retire. That’s the one I’ll always remember.” When a company of that magnitude goes out of its way to show APCT respect for its reputation and the way it does business, that says a lot about APCT and the relationship and the trust that it has developed with its customers.
Having grown ten-fold, from four million to more than forty million dollars in nine years, APCT shows no sign of slowing down. The competitive leader with an aggressive strategy will continue to carry APCT into a bright and profitable future.