Steve Driver's Blog

Always invest in the very best!

It’s no secret I’m dedicated to investing in specialists and professional services to drive Spirit forward. The Spirit team is strong, but years of experience have taught me the value of looking outside of my own team to see who else’s expertise I can tap into.

In the last month, Spirit has brought in three new experts to make improvements. Firstly, I’d like to tell you about Grant Harrison, director of specialist commercial repair and maintenance business Majengo, who I’ve been working with for many years now.

Grant is leading a number of projects to improve the facilities at Spirit. Majengo will be modifying the partitions and ceiling of the Spirit factory. They will be installing state-of-the-art LED lighting throughout the factory as well as making alterations to facilitate new manufacturing machinery. They will also be modifying the sales office and creating a new room upstairs for the PCB assembly department. Grants know that there’s a need for speed in the PCB industry and has estimated that all work will be completed by the end of April 2013.

The alterations will improve our working environment, expand our capabilities and most importantly enhance the wellbeing of our team. I can’t wait to see the end result of the projects, which I know will be completed to a high standard. From factory improvements to a completely different side of the business – I’m happy to announce that we’ve recently appointed MPW Insurance Brokers to provide cover and risk management advice. I met Andy Webb and Ian Gregory, Partners of MPW, at a business birthday party. We instantly hit it off and social chat quickly turned to business. Three months – and an outstanding presentation - later a deal was stuck that will be the insurance brokers provide General Insurance cover for Spirit. I’m looking forward to working with MPW’s dedicated team of brokers, whose professionalism was evident at our first meeting. I’m actively seeking out the top specialists and professionals to support us in our development, and working with MPW reflects this dedication.

As well as bringing the best people on board, I also look out for the best technology that can drive Spirit forward. The latest company to impress me with their technology was NLP Logix. NLP Logix is a predictive modeling and machine learning company based in Jacksonville, Florida.

The company has applied machine-learning techniques to Spirit’s massive transactional data to predict potential client dissatisfaction. Every week, current customer information is evaluated by the model and results are made available for evaluation and reporting. Using predictive analysis on our data has already uncovered new insights into our clients buying patterns. It allowed us to rapidly identify when there is likelihood that a client may downgrade their ordering and made it possible for the sales team to rapidly follow up in person before the client makes permanent changes. This is the best sales tool I have come across in a long while – and I have no doubt that it will increase customer satisfaction.

Teaming up with these experts will certainly help us to steam ahead. I encourage all entrepreneurs and business owners to consider the value in investing in specialsts and seek out people to help them get to where they want to be. Relating back to my earlier blog post on ‘co-opertition’, successful businesses rarely operate alone - collaborations, partnerships and appointments are key to staying at the top.

Spirit Underpants…

I’ve been in the PCB industry long enough to know what matters most to our customers, old and new. It’s obvious that we should deliver the best technology, on time and to the highest standards, and these are commitments we honour day in day out. But our most valuable asset is our commitment to great customer service, or what we call at Spirit ‘service beyond expectation.’

What customer service really boils down to is Spirit’s people…and the people’s Spirit. Anyone who knows me will tell you that passion drives my business. I believe it’s the secret behind every successful business – from Virgin to Apple – these big guys had a vision, but it was the passion behind the vision that makes it succeed.

And that’s the sort of people I welcome to my ever-expanding team. I have a metaphor that I think epitomises my expectations of my team. It is based upon my expectation for them to �?come to work wearing Spirit underpants.�? Let me explain myself - before you go off telling peers of Spirit’s peculiar uniform requirements. Now, what I mean by this is that I want my team to share my enthusiasm, excitement and passion for Spirit Circuits. I want them to see their time with us, not as a ‘job’, but as an exhilarating opportunity to be part of our pioneering adventure. It’s about getting up everyday and feeling energised for the business day ahead and it’s about being a proud member of the Spirit team.

So, what exactly does service beyond expectation whittle down to? And, how do we continue to offer it?

Every member of Spirit is admired for their in-depth knowledge - not only their technical know-how and manufacturing expertise, but their knowledge of the industries we operate and applications our PCBs power. This means that our experts are fit to answer our customers’ questions and support them through every stage of the process.

Added extra
Every customer appreciates an added extra – but in business, providing that extra is far from the end of the story. When your child gets a happy meal and their free toy is not in there, you’d be likely to complain and demand why. What this exemplifies is an ‘extra’ becoming a ‘standard’ – no longer do customers appreciate extras but simply expect them as the norm. That’s why at Spirit we’re mindful of ‘extras’ going stale –by keeping our ‘added value’ fresh our customers are not disappointed.

Digital support
Since 2011 Spirit has utilised a document management system, powered by M-files, that facilitates valuable customer insights. Recently, after integrating a new predictive analytics system, we have been able to predict possible customer dissatisfaction, and jump-in before a problem arises. The software feeds valuable information about customer satisfaction to our dedicated sales team who can then get in contact with said customer to see what we can do to surpass their expectations.

Staying in touch
Connecting to the previous point, we know it’s of paramount importance not to neglect our clients. This can be as simple as keeping our customers up-to-speed with latest offerings, new technologies and capabilities to simply sharing our latest updates, news and insights with them. It can also mean investing in new software. Spirit is now using data scientists to analyse our customers weekly to ensure all of our customers receive the same high level of attention. The system, ‘predictive analytics’ uses bespoke algorithms to interrogate part number history, ordering patterns, enquiry patterns, allowing us to understand customers’ behaviour. This will stop customers falling through the net and will ensure we continue to give each customer the dedicated attention they deserve.

Treating customers equally
I learnt this lesson early on - every customer is equal; despite the size of the orders they place. However well you are doing and however much you think you don’t need small orders – you are wrong. Every customer deserves the best of your team and it’s bad practice to only pander the ‘big players’ who generate the biggest income.

Optimism is key!

…If all else fails and opportunities look scarce, remember this quote.

Earlier this month we set off to the ‘Get Hired Portsmouth Careers Fair’ and set up camp, all in search of young talent to join our team. The day was a huge success, and with local job hunters bustling around in search of their future, their enthusiasm was contagious. For anyone who moans that the ‘youth of today’ are not hungry for careers or lack the drive of their elders, the groups at this event certainly proved them wrong.

From the offset, our expectations set sky high - and we weren’t disappointed! With over 40 strong applicants eager to fill one of our three vacancies, it was a pretty successful day.

Nowadays the universal job application process is rather, shall we say, monotone. A flood of emails or distinctive white envelopes addressed to ‘HR’ falls into the hands of a poor, unsuspecting employee who simply doesn’t have the time to sift through every CV in great detail. To put it simply, in today’s competitive climate, an email just doesn’t really cut it.

Now that doesn’t mean to say that people are not successful when they email their CV to a company, but employers are more likely to remember the name of a friendly face rather than the name on the top of a piece of paper. With this in mind, we were ready to search on the morning of the event. Our mission: to find three bright, innovative individuals to join the Spirit team.

Openings in production, maintenance and quality meant that the job roles were just as diverse as the people. And this is what is great about events like these.

The venue played a big part in the success of the event, too. Fratton Park Stadium, in all its space and glory, was host to some of the biggest employers in the area. Lloyds TSB, the Royal Armouries and other company giants were there in hope of finding their next generation of employees.

The day was packed with lots of different workshops and seminars lead by the National Careers Service. Visitors were treated to a mix of CV sessions, interviewing skills and various training opportunities. It was great to see the job seekers leave with the event with valuable training and hopeful careers opportunities.

I must not forget to mention Portsmouth paper, The News and careers service, Jobs Today. They were responsible for organising the event, so kudos to them for making it all run so smoothly.

The standard of applicants were high, just as we were hoping. It just goes to show that even when times are hard; where companies remain cautious to taking new staff, and job seekers are losing hope at securing ether income, let alone their careers… optimism is key!

A Roller Coaster of a Year

Typically British! Best foot forward was the order of the day in January 2012, start the year with positive energy, vigour and enthusiasm ready to face another year on the PCB rollercoaster.

Well not so typically British, at Spirit we do not talk about the weather, no do we moan and groan and complain about the economy and the worst recession for 70 years. My motto is and always has been…you can only play with the cards you are dealt. My staff both understand this and support this. I am forever the optimist and we work hard looking for new opportunities and improvements to the supply chain process. In tough times you need change. Spirit has changed course many times to survive and now finally we have a steady course that is yielding us some good growth.

Well as we sit back and reflect on the year, it certainly was a rollercoaster of a year. Thankfully we did put our best foot forward and remained on it throughout the year and finishing the year last month with a hugely successful exhibition at Electronica in Munich.

Strategy is an important factor in all business but even more so when competition is global and tough. When we set our stall out in 2012 we had a clear strategy and everyone in our business had bought in to it. MPCBs (Metal Clad Printed Circuits) are now widely used in the LED and power conversion industry sectors, at Spirit we have spent the last two years researching and preparing for this new wave of work also known as IMS PCBs (Insulated Metal Substrate).

Quarter one of 2012 the new buzz word in Spirit was “MASSIVE�?! All our customers were trying to prepare us for a huge upturn in orders. True to form in our industry we had a flood of orders come in and efficiencies went out the window, money was spent in all directions trying desperately to keep everyone happy. When this passed and normality returned we spent the next quarter clearing up the mess and mending all the fences and trying predict the next wave of orders.

By quarter three “MASSIVE�? was replaced with “MISSING�? the storm had passed, calm had set in and still we are told to remain positive, one customer even said there will be an “avalanche is coming weeks�?.

Fortunately for Spirit we are very diverse manufacturer and not totally dependent on this one industry sector, our core business for many years has been quick turn PCBs and over 50% of our revenues are generated from this type of work, with many of our customers using our now using our “Ask Dave�? we have seen a great uplift in new parts month on month. Our “Ask Dave�? service is a guaranteed delivery service where we give £1000 compensation if we are late.

Finally quarter four is upon us and we are ending the year with a blast, after a lull of orders in the middle of the year, October and November we have seen record order intakes and meaningful forecasts and forward orders into 2013. Our focus in the MPCB market was further endorsed in November this year when we appointed David Hunton as Technical Sales Manager IMS products. David joins our fast expanding team of industry experts and brings with him a wealth of industry knowledge. Spirit are recognized as an industry leader in the production of MPCBs. We are supplying most of the major lighting companies in the UK and have a plan to expand our business with export sales in 2013.

Here at Spirit we can report a successful 2012 with 20% growth on last year, furthermore we are predicting similar for 2013. The growth is being fuelled by the LED lighting industry and our presence in that sector. 2012 has been both a challenging and rewarding year for us, in the summer of this year we were awarded supplier of the year by Seward Electronics a long standing customer of Spirit, we also passed a very challenging audit from Tyco Electronics this year and have subsequently been awarded a significant increase in business for 2013.

Lean Manufacturing has been a way of life at Spirit for many years and now with many improvements to the business we are focusing on environmental issues and energy savings, we are in the final stages of ISO 14001 approval having passed the first audits in September. Our final audit is due in February 2013 when we anticipate full accreditation.

2012 is a recorded breaking year for Spirit, we have the highest sales turnover the company has ever enjoyed, we have a highly motivated team that are committed to the business and the industry, we see 2013 being another exciting year and hope to report MASSIVE growth this time next year.

PCB and the Olympic Legacy

There is an abundance of global spirit at the moment - with the recent success of the Olympics and Paralympics, and this is spirit that the business community cannot ignore. Stuart Nathan recently published an article in ‘The Engineer’ where he declared that there were some interesting lessons that industry could learn from the games.

In similar vein I recently delivered a paper on the PCB industry’s relationship with the Olympics. I had the honour of delivering the paper at The ICT Southern Area Evening Seminar, staged by the Institute of Circuit Technology and supported by Spirit Circuits. The paper underlines the vast opportunity that Britain’s’ businesses have to embrace the Olympic spirit and build on its legacy.

My title for the paper, ‘Be British Think Global’, capitalises on the ‘feel good factor’ that Britain has experienced in the past year; firstly with the Diamond Jubilee, then with the Olympics and the Paralympics. I do, however, have concerns about how we are going to sustain this - already we can feel the market is a bit soft, the order boxes in most companies are running low and the feel good factor is beginning to slip away. So, we – the industry experts - have to make a big effort to keep this feel good factor going.

The strap line for the Olympics was to ‘Inspire a Generation’ and I absolutely think we have done that. I visited the Olympic Stadium with my family and the energy there was amazing - the support, the network, the transportation - every box had been ticked. The money that’s coming out of the lottery should inspire a generation, we should get sport back into our schools and get people energised. It was a triumphant British success, managed by British people, designed by British People, built by British people and open and closed by British people.

We cannot deny that we have just witnessed one of the biggest successes in the last decade, we are a country locked in depression and yet we pulled an almighty rabbit out of the hat. We have shared with the world our best musicians, performers, engineers, athletes and ultimately our culture.

I think the winners go far beyond the athletes who picked up medals. The hundreds of businesses and organisations that have supplied materials and services have enjoyed a recession proof windfall. We have witnessed a construction project on an unprecedented scale and the designers have won accolades that will win them new contracts for many years to come. Most importantly, employment has been created and young people have been inspired.

The UK economy is set to benefit from £16.5bn from the Olympic effect…believe it if you will. As anyone involved with PCBs will know, our industry has been severely damaged over the past decade with the lack of support from government and the onslaught of products from low-cost base countries.

We seem to have stabilised with a hardcore of around 30 PCB manufacturing businesses battling it out to find the right work for their factories.

I believe that working together will make our industry stronger. The Olympics and Paralympics have shown us all the value of collaboration. As Stuart Nathan asserts, ‘Industry needs to look further and wider for inspiration and listen to people that it wouldn’t normally interact with’.

There are many of us with different skill sets and capabilities, so we should encourage what I have coined ‘co-opertition’; working harmoniously with each other and not against each other. There is enough capacity in the country for us all to work well together and there is an opportunity for us to keep the work in this country.

The relationship between the Olympics and our industry is a close knit one – I will go as far as to assert that PCB manufacturers are the unsung heroes of the games. Some of the most spectacular moments were facilitated by our PCBs – one iconic example was their application in the LED light show that animated the closing ceremony.

There is no doubt that many of us will have had PCB’s at the games. We may not know it, but I restate that we were the unsung heroes of the games. If the lights came on and cables moved or sound came out then we must have done our job. There are circuit boards driving each one of those mechanisms, so we know that some of our boards were there.

Stuart Nathan’s statement asserts,‘ British engineers and manufacturers can learn an important lesson from all the medal winners. If you are successful, don’t fade into the background.�? So, go on get out there and tell the world the part you played!

I will bring this discussion to a close with the mention of a phenomenon that goes back more than one hundred years, branding. Some of the sports men and women can enjoy huge success if they brand themselves properly and protect their brand.

Mo Farah will be a success for the rest of his life - he is very marketable. Farah is going to have his own brand, as will Bradley Wiggins and Jessica Ennis. These people will be in our media, they will be on cereal boxes, they will be on toys and they are going to make a fortune from their success.

Companies, I believe, can also survive from the same branding. You’ve got to protect your success and you’ve got to keep it right all the time. Don’t press the self-destruct button, have a plan, protect your brand, work together, look for global opportunities, think of the long game. The Olympics was a long game, a very long game, yet with lots of careful planning it all came together. Keep learning, keep training and keep practising. But most importantly I think we need to be proud of our country and our culture and take it with us wherever we go.

Once your business’s image is right and that you are working in harmony with your competitors to provide the best possible products and service there is one more objective that you can implement to sustain a legacy. This relates to UK cycling performance manager, Dave Brailsford’s ‘philosophy of marginal gains’. By identifying small ways of improving practice you can kick start a strategy to see long-term results. From staff training to streamlining your manufacturing process, know that these minute improvements can reap long-term capital gain and a lasting Olympic legacy – there is no quick fix in business, only dedication to build on your strategy year on year.


Now there is a word that just flows off the tongue, well not really! Co-opertition is probably as difficult to understand as the mere thought of working with your competitors. However, it’s a proven fact that the road to growth is paved with partnerships and you should not preclude competitors from your growth plans. Rarely do you find that a successful business operates alone. They collaborate with other businesses both within and outside their supply chains to establish mutual alliances. They do this because they know that partnering can leverage their own competencies and those of others to help propel their growth.

Collaborate to accumulate. Collaboration is a watchword for the 21st century. We have discovered that working together and engaging with complementary, non-competing businesses is always more powerful than working alone. Of course here will always be some elements of competitive overlap but you should not let this discourage you from collaborating with a competitor that has a process, service or product that would both enhance your business and your relationships with customers.

Collaborative partnerships are enabling. They can help you increase your revenues, reduce your costs and stay ahead of your competition. Through win-win cooperation, pooling of resources and leveraging off mutual strengths, alliances can help you maximise your opportunities while minimising your investment and risk.

If you want growth in the 21st Century keep an open mind! Co-opertition might just be the key to your business achieving its goals.

The Spirit of British Manufacturing

If British manufacturing is to be profitable again, it needs to keep on investing in cutting edge technology like industrial automation and add value with technical services such as design for manufacture, or customized services for particular sectors. These services could include R&D assistance, full product box build or even ongoing maintenance and repair. Manufacturing companies no longer just make things! They must offer services that support the customer and enhance the manufactured product. Take a look at Germany; it’s by no chance that Germany is the world’s second biggest exporter of goods after China. When you think of Germany, words such as excellence, complexity, flexibility and reliability come to mind. In Germany they have made their products and processes harder to reverse engineer or copy, giving enough head room and time to innovate further through R&D investments and keep ahead of the curve when copies or alternatives flood the market. Germany is known for the quality of its engineering base - here in the UK we are known for world-class services (second only to the US). Whilst the UK will never be a manufacturing hub for mass production, there is still a good future for companies that concentrate on the long game and work with companies that have high volumes of prototyping and pre-production. UK companies should focus on, and partner with customers who specialize in unique highly reliable products made to last several decades, rather than fast moving consumer electronics devices. The latter products will only ever be prototyped in the UK.