NF: You are taking the reins from Bruce Cooper, who has been President and CEO of East Coast Microwave Distributors, Inc. (ECM) for 24 years. Has he given you any advice?
JD: Bruce has been a great inspiration to me. I think more than giving me a few words of advice, he has shown me that when you instill positive values, teamwork, strong ethics, and leadership—coupled with passion and empathy—you can create long-term success, no matter what industry or field you choose. Over the last two-and-a-half decades, Bruce has grown East Coast Microwave into one of the most successful suppliers of microwave, RF-component, and interconnect solutions.
NF: Coming from XMA Corp., you are certainly no stranger to the microwave and RF industry. Have you spent a lot of time in this industry over your career?
JD: I’ve been very fortunate to work in and around leading-edge technology most of my career. Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked for Fortune 100 companies in embedded computing, as well as smaller firms focused on electronic packaging and unique interconnect solutions serving the telecommunication, medical, and military markets. In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to work in Washington, DC with many technology innovators. That experience greatly strengthened my personal understanding of the needs of the men and women who utilize these technologies to communicate—and even defend our nation, when called upon. It’s been a great journey so far, and there is no question that I still have a lot more to learn.
NF: What are your goals for ECM?
JD: We understand that there are changes occurring in the marketplace—not just in technology for higher frequency ranges or increased power levels. Today, the way in which we provide products requires us to evolve, learn, and improve the way we define “value” as an organization. I believe our long-term goals are aligned with these challenges. As we continue to build and grow the organization, we will add human talent and core technologies that create solutions for our customers. Moreover, our goals will include investments that improve our customers’ experience, making it easier for them to find solutions and create more efficient ways for them to do business with us.
With that said, I think the most challenging aspect of these goals for any CEO is understanding how to accomplish them over the course of not just a few months or quarters, but to sustain the momentum of change in today’s business environment. My personal goal at ECM is to see that we, “the team,” continue to focus daily on what is truly important to our customers.
NF: ECM currently stocks product for more than 20 manufacturers of RF coaxial connectors, cables, cable assemblies, and microwave components. Do you plan to add manufacturers and/or product lines going forward?
JD: We have incredibly strong long-term relationships with our manufacturing partners. We have grown our businesses together. Without them, we would not have had the industry recognition we have enjoyed over the last 24 years. I certainly see us strengthening these core ties in the future. We also will evaluate potential manufacturing partners that could enhance and support our core business. To be clear, though, that is just a small part of the future value that we hope to bring to our customers today and to a broader audience tomorrow.
NF: How much pressure is ECM getting from the bigger distributors in terms of service, price, availability, etc.? I’ve noticed many of them trying to raise their profiles in the RF and microwave market.
JD: I am a strong supporter of competition. I believe it encourages innovation, makes people earn their customers, and drives improvements in customer service. There are several larger distributors that are trying to do more within the microwave and RF space. They have tremendous size and scale. But what they lack may be something less tangible than resources.
To use a sports or golf analogy, we believe our only competitor is ourselves. Instead of focusing on the other golfers around us, if we continue to focus on “our” game, play the course, and practice and work hard to improve, so shall our game. Our goals each time we service a customer—regardless of how big or small they are—are to always beat our own last performance.
NF: What strengths does ECM offer compared to those larger and broader distributors?
JD: The greatest strength of ECM is the people and team we have in place and the way they interact and support our customers. Every business metric and process we analyze for improvement is driven with the customer in mind, from on-time delivery and what we carry in inventory to our customer satisfaction measurements. These continuous improvement methods—coupled with our technical knowledge, extensive on-site inventory, and value-added services for cable and cable-assembly solutions—give us a competitive advantage over other distributors. In addition, we have instilled trust among our customers. They know that ECM is willing to go the extra step to support their needs.
NF: I imagine there is a lot of pressure to raise ECM’s profile on the Internet, so that engineers find you amongst the different sources. A lot of smaller microwave and RF firms are still struggling to produce effective websites. Do you have any advice?
JD: Most design engineers—if not all—utilize the Internet as their initial search method. Having a presence on the web is important. But it can also be dangerous if not approached carefully. Tremendous amounts of money and resources can be allocated through the use of paid keyword searches and analytics.
In my opinion, the trouble with focusing on this as a singular strategy for small business is what happens after you’re found—not to mention the overall expense. Anyone can throw money at a website. But not everyone can supply “authorized-franchised” name-brand products that are guaranteed to not be counterfeit directly from the factory. My advice is to work with your manufacturing partners, understand the products you’re supplying and the niche you’re in, and plan how to best communicate to the specific customers you’re trying to reach.
NF: Has ECM had to deal with any counterfeiting issues? What steps do you have in place so that counterfeit components do not enter your supply chain?
JD: We are very fortunate at ECM that we are an authorized-franchised distributor for every one of our manufacturing partners. We will not carry or distribute a product that does not come directly from the OEM manufacturer, thereby alleviating concerns over the origin of our products. In addition, ECM has strong internal controls with documented ISO procedures for handling and containing products within our inventory.
NF: ECM is a woman-owned firm, which makes it unique in the microwave industry. Yet Bruce Cooper is credited as Founding Director. Can you tell us a little bit of how the firm evolved?
JD: The company was founded based on Bruce’s extensive knowledge and experience in the microwave and RF industry. Bruce started out as a design engineer and ultimately became an entrepreneur and leader of electronic distribution businesses. We also are very fortunate to have Sheri Cooper, Director of Operations and Majority Shareholder, as an integral part of the day-to-day operations of the business. Her main focus at this time is to help improve our IT infrastructure and strengthen internal processes. Both of these individuals have a passion for the industry, and have fostered an organization that is based on shared business ethics and a commitment to superior customer service.
NF: What type of atmosphere do you plan to foster?
JD: Being a new CEO in an organization is always challenging. There are established cultures, procedures, and strategies that have built the company into what it is today. I believe we can harness the positives from the past and incorporate new visions for the future.
I hope to foster greater empowerment of our employees through values and passion, reaching every customer as an individual, and engaging with them—to better understand their specific needs, to bring back lessons learned, and to improve the velocity of our innovation. In simple terms, I hope to foster an environment of respect, professionalism, and altruism to help not only our customers, but the community around us.