July 10, 2019
AdvisoryCloud Featured Advisor Interview with Chuck Alexander, MBA
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Chuck was interviewed by AdvisoryCloud on 06/24/2019 as part of our Featured Advisor Interview series.
AC - Tell us more about your main areas of expertise for being an advisor?
CA - Executive experience over a variety of functions, including:
Hands-on management of a variety of functions, including:
Extensive International Experience, having successfully established multiple third-party relationships and traveled to around 90 countries.
AC - Describe your main motivation for being an advisor?
CA - The challenge and satisfaction of contributing to the fulfillment of a new initiative or mission, or, development of a new strategy.
AC - Elaborate on the types of situations, challenges or decisions, you feel you could add the most value to as an advisor?
AC - Do you see any disruptive trends on the horizon in your industry or position?
CA - The ongoing impact of AI, large data and robotics is bound to disrupt almost any industry or business. Technological changes are accelerating and will impact companies in ways not foreseen at this time. New business models will emerge and displace firms that do not have the foresight to react appropriately. The makeup of the workforce will dramatically change as the half-life of skills is shortening and will require businesses to rethink how to best staff their firms and provide the necessary skills.
Blockchain technology has gained a foothold in the market and is being actively supported by major credible organizations. It holds the promise to efficiently facilitate global transactions at many levels of human endeavor across an amazing array of applications.
AC - Tell me about the most impactful project or decision you’ve been involved in as an executive.
CA - When I was Director of Product Line Management for Control Data’s disk drive product line, the product line was targeted at the high-performance workstation, minicomputer, and industrial markets. CDC introduced a high-performance disk drive that soon became the industries leading drive in terms of performance and reliability. The PC industry was just taking off and the disk drive was a key component. Every PC had one and the required quantities were beyond anything CDC had ever manufactured. CDC’s disk drive attracted the attention of major Personal Computer manufacturers, but the pricing was not competitive. CDC’s disk drive price was significantly higher. The management team was not receptive to lowering prices as their school of thought focused on gross profit margins I did a break-even analysis to determine what volumes would yield profitability. When I presented my analysis to the management team, they, especially the Finance Director, rejected it. Fortunately, a new VP for the location had just assumed office and asked me a lot of pertinent questions; who are the customers, what price do they need, and how many will they order? I told him I would report that at the next weekly staff meeting. I did, and the response was “go get the orders”.
Accordingly, the fixed overhead as a percentage of product cost declined substantially and allowed competitive pricing when the higher volumes were realized. The factory turned into a profitable high volume-manufacturing site and sales more than tripled over the next several years to $700 Million. The operation was transformed into a high volume focused manufacturing organization and was the leading supplier to the PC industry. Manufacturing operated around the clock seven days a week and direct headcount increased substantially. It was soon on product allocation.
It became apparent that manufacturing capacity would have to dramatically increase and costs significantly lowered. Many of CDC’s competitors had moved to manufacture offshore and that seemed to be the direction to take. I was appointed to lead the Far East manufacturing site selection effort and provide assessments of various country alternatives. I visited Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Companies in Japan and Korea submitted proposals and I coordinated the evaluation and response to them. The final step in the decision process was for key corporate and division executives to visit the candidate companies. CDC then made a decision to reject third-party manufacturing and set up its own manufacturing facility in Singapore. Additional product costs reductions were also realized.
Without my initiative to justify market-based pricing, CDC would not have become the industry leader in that market segment. Most probably the business would have been sold or closed.
AC - You have an impressive background of a diverse range of executive experiences. Are there other examples where you have made a major impact or decision?
CA - As part of my New Business Development position with CDC, my first assignment was to obtain $20 Million funding from the Government of Iran for the development and manufacture of new technology. I developed the proposal, convinced the Iranians to fund the project, and negotiated the technology development and manufacturing Joint Venture Agreements. The development was successful and the JV was in the process of fitting up the factory in Shiraz, Iran when the Shah was deposed and the exiled Mullah, Ayatollah Khomeini, returned to Iran.
Later, California Trade Delegations contacted CDC and requested representation on the first USA trade delegation to the Peoples Republic of China since the normalization of relations. The delegation was comprised of industry-leading companies in the minicomputer industry. I was selected to represent CDC along with an individual from the Minicomputer Division. About ten other companies participated. We traveled to Beijing and Shanghai where each company gave technical presentations to selected members of the PRC’s Fourth Ministry of Machine Building, an organization of approximately one million people. CDC was requested to visit the PRC for subsequent presentations and meetings. I returned with a team and made presentations at various locations on four other computer product areas. The PRC identified disk drive technology as a priority and sent a large delegation to visit various CDC locations. I negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding and entered into technology transfer and manufacturing licensing contract negotiations. I made two more trips to advance the negotiations.
During the last trip, I transitioned my role to another CDC executive since I had accepted a position to head up the Business Management Offices for CDC’s European disk drive factories.
Also, I successfully proposed and negotiated technology manufacturing license agreements with Iskra in Slovenia and Docas de Santos in Brazil. Implementation of both of those agreements required much coordination and support from various CDC organizations. Since these projects were not mainstream to the product division’s day-to-day operations, I recognized the need for a vehicle to keep them involved and created a concept called the Joint Business Committee. The JBC members consisted of senior personnel from each party, including selected CDC corporate executives. It met at alternate locations several times a year to review progress and identify issues that needed working. In addition, new business opportunities were discussed for possible future cooperation. I was the JBC secretary and created minutes of each meeting, which were used as a vehicle to follow up as needed to keep the relationships on track. This concept was effective in bonding the parties.
During my consulting relationship with Digital Equipment Corporation, I was asked to evaluate whether they could leverage their in-house disk drive technology to enter the OEM market. DEC developed and manufactured proprietary disk drives for its computer systems business. Their strategy was to exit the disk drive manufacturing business by making it sufficiently attractive for sale to another OEM manufacturer.
DEC didn’t have a clue about OEM marketing and needed someone savvy to help them. They asked me to assess their Shrewsbury, MA disk drive operation to determine the feasibility of whether they could reasonably succeed. After reviewing the relevant resources and status of the products under development, I concluded that DEC was well-positioned to develop a competitive offering, but would have to put in place a dedicated sales force and customer support organization. I wrote a White Paper that reflected those conclusions and made a number of recommendations. DEC accepted the White Paper’s findings and I was retained for ongoing consulting to be a key player in driving the strategy.
One of the major contributions I made was to influence the engineering culture. They had excellent engineering but had a tendency to develop a better mousetrap that didn’t comply with industry standards. I proposed a process for product planning and set up a procedure for monthly meetings with the key players to guide plans and implementation. I was the planning committee secretary and published minutes with action items for subsequent follow up. During meetings, I would present an overview of the findings I learned about the competition. Gradually the culture changed and the engineering organization became customer-oriented.
I also worked to recruit a credible sales organization and represented DEC in product launches and fielded questions during press tours. I was asked to represent DEC at an industry conference in Paris and made a presentation on the data reliability features of DEC’s disk drives.
More than three years after I became involved, Quantum Corporation bought the business.
If you are interested in speaking with Chuck about this topic or others, you can book a meeting with him through his AdvisoryCloud profile here: https://www.advisorycloud.com/profile/Chuck-Alexander
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