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American Made Advocacy
By Travis Kelly
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American Made Advocacy: Member Profile on Hari Pillai
Member Profile: Hari Pillai, president, Technology Components, Sanmina
How did your career bring you to your current position at Sanmina?
I think I’ve had a good dose of luck throughout my career. But beyond luck, I had a vision to become a general manager as far back as my undergraduate years. I made all my career decisions based on that. My evaluation criteria was always, “How does this opportunity get me closer to my goal?” Sometimes opportunities come from unexpected places. For example, my first entry into the EMS business and first general management role came by chance when I met an executive from one of the EMS industry’s leading companies at a barbeque in 1991. This brought me into the industry and eventually led to me joining Sanmina in 1994 to lead what is now our Integrated Manufacturing Services (IMS) group.
Over 15 years, I took on additional leadership roles and became president and chief operating officer of the company for a few years. I left Sanmina for a few years to work in private equity, leading two companies before returning to Sanmina in my current role. A big part of my return to Sanmina was and is the strong conviction that PCBs are an exciting product critical to the company and strategically important to the country.
What are the unique challenges facing the industry? Where are things headed?
On the economic business side, this industry has been decimated over the past 20 years. The U.S. shrunk from about 25% of the world’s supply to 4% today. The U.S. suffered because of offshoring and lost the infrastructure and innovation that other countries invested heavily in. We need to get that back. This is why the PCB Act is so important. On the technology side the U.S. is dealing with finer lines and spaces that traditional techniques struggle to keep up with. The U.S. needs to invest more in R&D to innovate the future. This is easier for large companies like Sanmina. Our PCB business is part of a multi-billion-dollar company. We have the benefit of being able to draw on an astonishing array of engineering and scientific resources. The reality is that it is much harder for small companies that don’t have the financial resources and breadth that Sanmina has. But with the potential benefits of the PCB Act on the horizon, it could give small to medium companies the resources they need to invest in the future and keep pace with the march of technology.
How can the PCB Act bring manufacturing back to this country?
I am optimistic that the legislation could result in two or three new PCB fabs in the industry. We will need this capacity to handle all the reshoring that is going on. It has been great working with PCBAA and member companies to get the attention of legislators and policymakers in Washington. What we are asking for in the bill is much less than the CHIPS Act. In reality, our bill protects the investment that the government and private companies are making via the CHIPS Act. Without concurrent increases in PCB manufacturing, we will remain dependent on other countries for most of the PCBs needed to support the semiconductor fabs being built over the next few years. PCBAA is making a difference by addressing the entire ecosystem. We need both a vibrant manufacturing and supplier base to rebuild an industry that has been in a downward spiral for so many years. That ecosystem includes material suppliers and equipment manufacturers and I look forward to reversing the trends of the last decades and rebuilding the PCB ecosystem.
You have spent time on Capitol Hill. What was your message when you met with members of Congress and their staff?
My message was that this is a larger issue than just PCBs. It is about ensuring the vibrancy of the entire technology ecosystem. I reminded them that electronics govern all aspects of modern life. PCBs are pervasive in every facet of modern life, especially in mission critical applications like those found in national defense systems and critical infrastructure like telecommunications, aviation, medicine, and computing. We need reliable and secure sources of electronics in this country. Congress needs to take a holistic view and pass legislation and make policy decisions that address the entire ecosystem.
What needs to be done to attract new workers?
I think every employer faces a challenge in attracting and retaining talented employees. While Sanmina has been able to win more than our fair share, it has not come easily. We need great employees that are similar to the make-up of American society in general. Sanmina is always looking for strong technical talent, but we also need people with a high school education who are willing to work with us to train and develop their skills. Sanmina does a lot of our own training and have found that our investment in people creates a stable environment. We really put down roots in communities and stay a very long time given the investments we make in our people and the fabs that we build.
This column originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine.
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