Lessons Learned on the Road to Becoming an Industry Veteran
Rick Polansky is an accomplished sales leader with a successful record of over 20 years selling and closing in Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) for leading brands such as Celestica and Flextronics, and major OEM companies. He is an expert customer solutions executive delivering multimillion-dollar revenue growth, expanding his client base, and securing customer loyalty.
1. Talk to me a little about the passion you have, as someone charged to grow the business in this space?
I have been in the industry almost since the inception of contract manufacturing. Back then the change to SMT created an environment where the contract manufacturers brought real value in the transition from through hole to SMT. All the EMS companies were small in the 80’s, so we had to listen and develop solutions our customers needed, and to be successful, we had to establish a deep trust and add real value to have major organization move their internal manufacturing to an outside partner. Trust and commitment was a core part of this.
We are, again, in an environment where the customers need skills that they do not have internally to compete in a global economy. But, the change we are seeing is much more complex than just a technology shift, it is customization and flexibility as a competitive advantage. Companies like OtterBox and Samsung, Logitech, Bose, showed the dynamics of this. This is the right time to offer creative, flexible and customized solutions. The dynamics are similar to the SMT conversion, but the solutions are much broader and more complex. And the trust and integrity that you will do what you say to truly help is even more important.
2. Tell me Rick, how have you seen the market evolve?
We are seeing a re-emergence of a market all about not only getting the customers what they need, but getting them things that they do not know that they need. They don’t need widgets to ship to big box stores anymore or through distribution; they have to address many channels they need to deliver an exceptional customer experience. They need solutions profiled to their specific market needs and they need suppliers that can manage the entire process to assure that their customer experience is exceptional. The winning corporate brands need a total solution and a partner that enhances their deep product technology skills with innovation and complimentary services. The companies that are embracing these changes are the ones winning. It is no longer about providing a quote for build to print; it’s about bringing innovation that enhances their overall solution.
3. Who has influenced the way you approach leadership in this competitive environment?
I had the good fortune to work with thought leaders of this industry that include Michael Marks, former CEO of FLEX (formerly Flextronics), Mike McNamara, current CEO of FLEX, Jure Sola, CEO of Sanmina, Pete Lindgren, CEO of Otterbox, Craig Muhlhouser, former CEO of Celestica. Every one of these leaders knew their core assets were their people. They built an industry by developing, mentoring, training and acknowledging the talents of their teams. They had a clear plan and from that they built innovative companies with innovative dynamic talent. That passion and desire to bring extraordinary solutions to their customers is inspiring. They wanted solve big problems and they inspired those around them to do the same. I believe that when people are inspired they then inspire others. With a clear focus on direction, a commitment to excellence, an inspired team will win.
4. You have a very successful track record and recently were referred to as an ‘industry veteran’. How did hearing your name linked to this term make you feel?
Aside from old? Seriously, I am proud to have made a career helping companies succeed. Being on the forefront of innovation, being part of the explosive growth of technology, and the impact of that technology has been exciting. But more importantly, being in front of the customer and listening to, and helping them address rapid change, global competition and faster and faster product development and deployment cycles is exciting. When your success is predicated on your customers’ success, and you define the partnership in that light, all parties bring their best game. The success becomes shared success. I want my machine operator to be impassioned by the knowledge that what she is doing is helping our customers and that helps her and all her co-workers achieve success. I want my program managers and the entire staff committed adding value through a deep-seated knowledge and creative solutions that achieve greatness.
5. And fill us in on your background, walk us up your ladder of success through to today.
I came to Texas on a Greyhound bus from New Hampshire and started my career in the oil industry on the offshore drilling rigs; hard work, dangerous and everyone knew that what they did or did not do impacted the safety of everyone around them. That was a good life lesson. Then, after the big oil crash of 1985 I moved into defense electronics in a sales support role for Minco Technology Labs. There I quickly made the transition to sales and in my first year, with the support of our top talent engineering team, we won the largest contract in the history of the company for a submarine subsurface communication system for the US Navy. I was hooked! This was less dangerous work but the stakes were bigger. Failure could put many at risk, so failure was not an option. And the dynamics that we were changing how things had been done since WWII was both exciting and humbling.
Then I joined XeTel, in 1989. At that time Solectron was the largest EMS at $140M and were about half that size. XeTel, a spin-off of Texas Instruments, was a technology leader and our customers needed us. I left after XeTel went public and joined Sanmina, opening up their first remote sales office in Austin. In 1995 Sanmina was still under $1B and Juri Sola (CEO) was active in every aspect of the company. He was tough, a Croation football (soccer) player. He knew that it took a team to win. He was demanding but fair and I learned a lot. Three years later I joined SMTC where we were part of the roll out of DSL FTTN (Fiber to the Node) bringing Internet to the masses through the installed phone lines, still in broad use today. This single piece of business doubled the size of the SMTC and still has an impact on how we get our broadband data today. That was challenging; hard work, but fun. After the “tech wreck” in 2001, I went back into Defense where I had top secret clearance for 3D visualization technologies; working with some of the world’s leading scientists and defense departments like DARPA that was funding innovative new technologies. This was mind-bending technology in use at a critical time for the US military. But the people I worked with at SMTC had joined Flextronics and recruited me to stand up new business segment, SBS (Small Business Solutions), creating a small flexible company inside the giant company to support low volume, high technology solutions, bringing the resources of a giant company with the flexible and innovative market offering of a smaller more nimble operation.
After the Flex acquisition of Solectron for $10B in 2008, I left and joined Celestica. We set up a new Industrial Segment and I was tasked with leading that initiative. In my first year in Celestica we brought in a giant appliance company by demonstrating innovation they had not seen. We bought and took apart their and their competitors’ products and in our first meeting showed them that though we were not experts on appliances we were experts in manufacturing and solutioning. We were experts in our approach to problem solving. In a supplier conference with ten competitors we were selected to support a product we had never built, because we differentiated with innovation resulting hundreds of millions of dollars. Following that I was asked to manage to global team for sales and solutions and for the next four years traveled over one million airline miles to every part of the planet where our customers were, and me and my team posted record sales revenue every single year.
My entire career has been about challenging the status quo, leading with innovation and creativity and the privilege to work with some of the leaders of this industry and using that knowledge and those experiences for building and developing customer centric winning teams and delivering results.
6. Back to your new role with VirTex Enterprises, what challenges are you looking for in this position?
The market is truly hungry for the technology capable, innovative and flexible manufacturing partner. They are not seeking a quote model; they are seeking a solution that lets them differentiate with innovation, and the products they produce are a piece of this. The market has always been product driven and that is changing. The large EMS giants are not nimble enough to address this and they are trying to solve it with innovation centers. But they do not have the patience to truly listen and develop solutions around a specific customer’s needs; we do. They try to bend the customer to their methods. They are still trying to fit them in a box. We develop value based solutions around the customer’s specific needs; not ours. We participate with solutions that enhance their unique aspirations.
7. As I stated earlier, there is no greater value than a positive reputation and VirTex Enterprises enjoy the solid reputation that precedes them. Why do you think VirTex Enterprises have been so successful in building up and maintaining such a strong reputation?
What is most exciting to me is the focus that Brad Heath and VirTex has had on customized customer solutions. He built a company on this and has proven that there is a market gap for this service offering. Brad and I worked in the dynamic Austin market for our entire professional careers, have worked together in the some of the same companies and we have always held a strong mutual respect for one another. Austin has been an incubator only second to the Silicon Valley. We both approached the market with a long term approach based on our integrity and always trying to do the right thing, no matter what. We both believed that your integrity and reputation is built across a timeline. VirTex is a company built on realized promises of providing in-depth solutions where the largest EMS companies have failed. Many of our customers are also friends, business associates and former co-workers and former employees from different companies. They know us, they trust us and they count on us. In addition we provide this same service to some of the Tier 1 EMS companies specifically because they cannot do what their sales people promised.
Thank you Rick, it has been a pleasure. Congratulations once more, I’m looking forward to hearing more about VirTex Enterprises, your strategic direction and growth.