It’s Only Common Sense: Mike Wilson, World’s Greatest Design Salesman, Has Died


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My great friend and business associate, Mike Wilson, passed away last week after a short illness. The world will be a little less interesting without Mike. For the 25 years I knew Mike, he was always up to something. Even in the past few years, two or three weeks seldom went by without my phone ringing. Mike would say something like, “There’s a guy we have to talk to,” or “What do you think about doing this?”

Mike was always working on a plan, or coming up with a plan, or setting up a plan, and there was nothing he loved more than when a plan came together. He and I worked together on numerous ventures—sometimes we were successful and sometimes not. But it was always great fun working with him.

I have to say that I owe him a lot for the many great people he introduced me to over the years. I think there are hundreds of very interesting people, and some real characters, that I would have missed without Mike’s introduction.

He was also my Carl Sagan, my patient explainer when it came to anything PCB design-related. You see, truth be known, I’m a right-brained English major and a complete fraud when it comes to technology. All I care about is whether a company does something better than anyone else and has something that I can sell. So when someone called me with a new, unusual design tool (often, the next “big thing”) that they wanted me to help sell, I always asked Mike to talk to them so that later he could “Carl Sagan” for me—translate—into a language that even a non-tech English major could understand.

Years ago I fell out with my boss, and to get me out of his sight, he ostracized me to go on the road and run that company’s design service bureaus. Mike was my guide, showing me the ropes right down to how to talk to designers. He would tell me, “Quit talking so fast to those guys; these are designers, and you talk like you do to your sales guys. They’ll think you’re some kind of back-slapping sales asshole flim-flam man and they’ll tune you out. Take it easy with them, speak slowly and speak like you mean it, and they’ll learn to respect you.” I did, and it worked…thanks, Mike.

Mike was indeed the world’s greatest PCB design salesperson. Man, he knew everyone in the design world and everyone knew him. Being a board sales guy all my life, I was always amazed when Mike took me on design sales calls. I was used to selling boards; usually, I would have to sit for hours waiting for the board buyer to finally come out and sit with me in the lobby. If I was really lucky I would get to go in one of those little rooms off the lobby with the buyer.

But with Mike selling design services, it was a whole other world. I remember my first design sales call with him to Compaq in Texas: Instead of having our meeting in the lobby, Mike’s contact quickly escorted us up to the fifth floor to a conference room filled with Compaq design engineers. There must have been 20 or so of them, all anxiously waiting for Mike so that they could start debating the virtues of Cadence vs. Mentor vs. PADS vs. Scicards for hours. Mike finally convinced them that he knew a guy who knew a guy who could do software conversions of Cadence into any other software, and Mike soon had them eating out of his hand.

This guy always had “an idea,” in fact, many ideas. He had so many ideas that when we worked together I had to limit him to two ideas a month instead of the 10 or 20 he’d always come up with, just so that the rest of the organization could keep up with him.

Mike is the guy who coined the term “Total Concept,” which is still used today to mean the design, fabrication and assembly of PCBs by one company. As he loved to say, “Our customers love it and our competitors hate it.”

And talk about being persistent. When he had an idea, he would keep at it and get it done no matter what it took. He was also the first person I know to come up with the idea of embedding PCB designers into OEMs sites. And he was the first guy to come up with the idea of having designs controlled in one of our design centers while our designers, both direct and subs, were embedded in various OEM sites.

But most of all, Mike was fine man, a good man who you could count on in any situation. Mike was someone I always looked forward to talking with when I was stuck in a rut and needed to find a very creative way out.

I will miss those early morning calls with Mike, who rarely bothered to say “Hi,” and usually jumped right in with his latest, greatest scheme with an excited, “Hey, have I got a plan for you!”

My heart goes out to Mike’s family, his wife Sharon and children Marcey, Stacey and Michael, as well as to all of those who knew and worked with Mike over the years. Our electronics community—particularly the design community—is going to miss this kind and gentle soul, a great guy, an idea factory of a man. He was the world’s greatest PCB design salesman. So long, Mike.

It's only common sense.

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