Who would you pick and what questions would you ask if you had the chance to speak today with one of the sharpest minds in the corporate world? How much would you pay for such an experience even if you'll only get a smidgen of their time?
Last year, someone paid $3.5 million for the chance to have lunch with Warren Buffett. More recently, an individual offered to pay $610,000 for the opportunity to spend 30 minutes with Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook. (Anonymous bidder pays $610,000 for coffee with Apple’s Tim Cook.)
Few in the electronics industry can match such an offer. But you don’t have to. The opportunities to gain deeper insight into business management are within reach and many of these at a relatively affordable cost. Even those who can afford to pay the hundreds of thousands commanded by Apple's Cook can do even better by talking to senior industry executives. For folks in the electronics industry I recommend executives at components distributors. Why? You’ll learn more in one hour with them than you could from spending three days with Apple’s Cook.
Here’s why. Component distributors sit at the intersection of all business relationships in the electronics industry. They hold everyone’s hands and know virtually all players in the industry, including OEMs, EMS providers, ODMs, value-added resellers, component suppliers of all shapes and stripes, logistics companies, integrators and even supply chain management software vendors. Heck, the biggest distributors even do business with and talk regularly with smaller distributors.
Managing these often conflicting relationships can test the nerves of the most patient person. Let’s start with customers. The largest distributors have tens of thousands of customers: Arrow and Avnet each have more than 100,000 customers. Add suppliers to this list and the complexity of the relationships distributors manage becomes more evident. Note that the customers and suppliers referred to here aren’t the same as the millions of customers a consumer electronics company like Apple deals with daily. Rather, these are enterprises with their own profit objectives, which further complicates the relationship.
Distribution executives are constantly fine-tuning their relationships with these myriad organizations and individuals, in addition to their own employees. They link diverse groups of businesses and help them deal with significant supply chain hurdles as well as government regulators. These executives have to be nimble on their feet, watch out for themselves as well as for suppliers and direct customers. Coordinating all these relationships and finding ways to still eke out a decent profit in a cost-conscious market must be difficult.
If I was running a business I would appreciate the opportunity to dive deep into the distribution trenches and get answers to pointed questions on dealing with challenges and opportunities whenever I can pin down an executive in this industry segment.
I would like to meet Tim Cook. He is a supply chain guru and leads a world class company but Cook isn’t on the Top 10 list of industry executives I would have lunch with if I must bid at an auction for their time. Of course, Cook would be a good pick if I was being vain and wanted a picture of myself with an industry executive that I can adorn my desk with and impress folks.
You may not know distribution executives that well but (trust me) it's worth spending a few minutes having a chat with them and they won’t cost $610,000.