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CORNER OFFICES: Inside TTM

The culture at Santa Ana-based TTM Technologies Inc.: Time is money.

The maker of circuit boards—the backbone of virtually every electronic device—sometimes is called on to turn around jobs in a day.

TTM makes circuit boards that get built into computer products, weapons guidance systems, networking gear, satellites and medical devices.

It also makes complex, specialized boards for the latest and greatest in consumer electronics, such as cell phones, tablet PCs and “anything that starts with a little ‘I,’” said Ed Porter, vice president of operations at TTM’s Santa Ana division.

TTM, which stands for time to market, has grabbed Wall Street’s attention with a surging share price and projections to grow sales 30% this year to $1.5 billion.

The company’s stock is up 120% in the past six months to a recent market value of $1.4 billion.

Chief Executive Kent Alder and his team run not only the biggest circuit board maker in Orange County but in all of North America.

That’s after Alder spearheaded a big acquisition last year that doubled TTM’s size.

TTM paid $521 million for Hong Kong’s Meadville Holdings Ltd., a printed circuit board maker that added a half dozen more factories and expanded global operations.

Along with government customers, TTM serves a who’s who of the tech industry.

Its circuit boards land in products by Research in Motion Ltd., Motorola Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Intel Corp., LM Ericsson, Huawei Technologies Co. and Irvine’s Broadcom Corp.

TTM’s local prototype work requires orders to be turned around in as little as a day or as long as a few weeks, depending on the complexity of the boards and the customer’s demands.

The company’s able to stay competitive—and profitable—here because it charges a premium for fast, high-end work.

TTM buys raw sheets of metal and plastic for circuit boards from suppliers in North America and Asia.

It layers the sheets with resin-coated fiber glass material, not unlike a sandwich, to form conductive boards. They then are stamped with a high-tech process called laser direct imaging, mounted onto plastic backings and heated up until they are laminated together.

There can be some 50 separate processes to make a single board, not including testing and inspection.

TTM doesn’t do high-volume jobs, which others in Asia can do cheaply.

“This facility focuses on very extreme technology and very compressed lead times,” Porter said. “We sell time. Everything we are doing here is primarily on a premium.”

Sales engineers work closely with customers to draw up models and create specs for each job.

The Santa Ana site processes some 20 unique jobs per day.

Speed

Speed is key.

“If you are late to a key customer, the price falls,” Chief Finance Officer Steve Richards said. “Our customers are willing to pay good prices to us for that work because we have a history of being able to deliver on time with quality they expect.”

It drives a frenetic pace that has Porter and his team working nearly around the clock.

“The customers they serve depend on that engagement for prototyping and new product introduction,” Chief Operating Officer Shane Whiteside said. “A lot of what they do is on an expedited turnaround time. Ed and his team kind of exude that ‘hurry up, hurry up, hurry up’ energy.”

In addition to Santa Ana, TTM makes circuit boards and related products in San Diego, Silicon Valley, Connecticut, Utah and China.

Two Connecticut factories serve military and aerospace customers and have a different vibe.

In Santa Ana and other sites, “It’s all about hours and days,” said Executive Vice President Doug Soder. “But the defense business is dealing in three-month lead times and product development that takes years.”

Acquisitions have played a big part in shaping TTM.

In 2007, the company doubled its yearly revenue with a $226 million buy of Tyco Printed Circuit Board Inc., a former Tyco International Ltd. unit.

The deal brought more stable and profitable work from customers such as Raytheon Corp., Boeing Co., and Northrop Grumman Corp. It also gave TTM initial entree into Asia with a Tyco assembly plant in Shanghai.

TTM moved its headquarters to Santa Ana in 2003 from Redmond, Wash., after it bought Advanced Circuits Inc., a unit of Honeywell International Inc. with a local plant.

Santa Ana

The company’s dayshift workers in Santa Ana fire up at about 5 a.m. Porter spends some 60 hours per week at the plant and is on call at other times.

The Santa Ana site operates virtually 24 hours per day and has 350 to 400 workers, depending on demand. It’s made up of four side-by-side buildings and another across the street.

TTM’s headquarters, which has another 50 workers, is a block away from the factory.

At the company’s no-frills corporate offices, the vibe is more laid back. But the hours are just as long.

The acquisition of Meadville has meant that TTM’s executives usually put in an extra couple of hours at the end of their day to do video conference calls with their new Chinese colleagues.

Many of the company’s executives have past relationships from former jobs. Half a dozen worked together at Tyco Electronics.

“We have worked together for years,” Whiteside said. “Our culture here and at our plants is, above all, very professional and respectful. But, it’s also candid and informal. We try to strike a positive tone and maintain enthusiasm.”

Dry Humor

There’s a common streak of dry humor.

Whiteside, when asked what his hobbies are, deadpanned: “Catching up on work e-mails.”

Chief Executive Alder isn’t into micromanaging or formal meetings.

“He really gives you a lot of room,” Richards said. “He trusts us to recognize which issues are significant enough to warrant his involvement. We all brief him on a regular basis and he gives us a lot of autonomy.”

The company is big on open communication.

“We don’t have barriers for input and we have a very participatory style,” Richards said. “I feel like my voice gets heard on issues that go beyond finance.”

TTM runs pretty lean.

Executive roles sometimes overlap.

“I wear a number of hats around here,” said Diane Weiglin, executive assistant to Alder.

She does marketing and trade show work, in addition to helping out with investor relations.

Alder often consults with her on weighty corporate matters.

“He and I can talk very openly and sometimes he bounces things off me,” Weiglin said. “I am always honest in my answer. He has come to respect that.”

Transparency is a treasured corporate value.

“No hidden agendas. No backroom strategies,” said Kent Hardwick, vice president of global electronic manufacturing services.

Hardwick came to TTM via Tyco’s acquisition of Santa Clara’s Sigma Circuits Inc. in 1998.

“One of the reasons I decided to stay with TTM after it acquired Tyco was the vision that the executive management had,” he said. “I thought it was the best in the industry.”

TTM’s managers had “integrity,” according to Hardwick.

“Coming from Tyco—where our CEO and CFO ended up in prison—it was another world,” he said. “Kent and his team are sensitive to moral issues and business ethics.”


THE TEAM

Kent Alder

• Kent Alder: 61, chief executive, president, director. Former Tyco executive, started TTM by combining Santa Ana’s Power Circuits, Seattle area’s Pacific Circuits in late 1990s. Led buy of former employer, Tyco Printed Circuit Board, in 2006. Former chief of ElectroStar, Utah board maker acquired by Tyco in 1996.

• Shane Whiteside: 45, chief operating officer. Climbed ranks at Santa Ana division of TTM. Earlier was operations VP, operations director. Retired Marine. Bachelor’s in economics from UC Irvine. OC native, enjoys surfing.

• Steve Richards: 46, executive VP, chief financial officer. Joined in 2000. Promoted from treasurer in 2005. Earlier worked for BP’s Arco in financial planning, analysis, reporting. Bachelor’s in journalism, University of Missouri, Columbia. Business master’s, USC. Runs marathons. Competes in Iron Man competitions.

• Doug Soder: 50, executive VP. Runs Connecticut operation, former Tyco unit serving military, aerospace. Started in 1980s as sales engineer at Harrisburg, Pa.-based AMP, which Tyco bought in 1999 for about $12 billion. Political science bachelor’s, Dickinson College. “Enthusiastic, but not good” skier.

• Ed Porter: 42, VP of operations, Santa Ana. Among three North America VPs that handle all of TTM’s U.S. factories. Reports to Whiteside. Joined TTM a dozen years ago from San Diego’s Top-pan Electronics. Oversees 24-hour Santa Ana plant, some 400 workers. Navy veteran. Enjoys surfing, golf.

• Kent Hardwick: 53, VP of global electronic manufacturing services. Runs former Tyco unit in Santa Clara, acquired when Tyco bought Sigma Circuits in 1998. Reported to Soder when he was at Tyco. Enjoys fishing, snow sports.

• Canice C.K. Chung: chief executive, Asia Pacific. Joined with last year’s buy of Meadville Holdings. Earlier ran Hong Kong-based Elec & Eltek International’s circuit board unit. Held posts at Fairchild Semiconductor’s Hong Kong arm, China Cement, others. Accounting degree from Hong Kong Polytechnic.

• Dale Knecht: 48, VP of technology. Joined from Tyco. Earlier spent nearly a decade AMP before it was acquired by Tyco in 1999. Bachelor’s in math, Lafayette College.

• Grace Lee: 43, senior VP, human resources. Joined last year from Britain’s IMI, where she headed human resources for energy division. Business master’s, Stan-ford, University of the Philippines. Enjoys traveling, learning about different cultures, “trying exotic cuisines.” Also likes boating, fishing, skiing.

• Diane Weiglin: 45, executive assistant. Landed post in 2004. South Africa native. Earlier worked in marketing, public relations at Polaroid’s London operations. “Wears many hats.” Part of North America marketing team, helps handle communications, trade shows, some investor relations. Recently took up golf.

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