In Conversation: Chris Ames, New Commercial Manager, OSI Electronics UK

Chris Ames (left) is OSI Electronics UK’s new Commercial Manager – he joined the company in October 2020, taking another upward step in his career in contract electronics manufacturing.

Not only has Chris brought considerable contract manufacturing and customer service experience to OSIE, but he also has valuable experience in the supply chain and bare board manufacture.

Chris reports directly to Derek Williams, the General Manager, working alongside John Harley, Director Business Development and the other senior managers in the business. Reporting into Chris are the customer-facing account managers and quotes team.

“Every day there’s something new,” says Chris.  “That’s what I like about electronics manufacturing: there are always interesting things to sort out – you rarely have a perfect day in manufacturing, which is why companies with the experience and technology, like OSI, exist.

A life in electronics

I’ve been in the electronics industry – mostly in manufacturing – since leaving school.

I started on the shop floor at 16 on a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) programme assembling products, before moving into purchasing, production management, account management and eventually business development, seeing the whole process through for the customer from quote to delivery.

It’s an experience which offers great value to our customers, enabling me to help them find the best way to manufacture their products.

OSIE UK role

My primary role at OSIE in St Neots is to improve our customer service.  Good though it is, it’s always possible to develop better ways of communicating and enhancing relationships with customers to their benefit.

Making regular contact with customers at all levels has always been very important in my view – understanding what is driving their business builds a picture which helps both of us.

Indeed, listening to what customers had to say and how we could help them was really highlighted through ‘Covid conditions’, where so much which used to be the norm was disrupted.

What am I bringing to the role?

The experience which comes from my long involvement with electronics.

From having literally sat on the shop floor building products, I understand the problems in product assembly and what to do about them. I am very strong in components too, having spent time in purchasing buying them – that’s given me a good feel for both component cost and the cost of putting something together.

Another aspect is my time in customer-facing roles managing all facets of dealing with customers who are placing multi-product, high variant and high value orders – typical OSIE UK customers, as I’ve discovered!

How easy is to sell OSI?

Well, I hate being sold to – that might sound rich coming from a sales person. With contract manufacturing there’s always a reason for people to want to move their business.

So it’s less about the sell, much more about understanding their problem – and then being able to offer the right solution.

Usually it’s one of three things:

Outgrowing their existing supply chain, so they need somebody with the capacity and capability to manage things.

They’re having quality issues with their existing supply chain, so they need someone who can cope with that side of things.

Or it’s a matter of feeling they are not getting a fair deal or the right price.

It does show in the real world things do change, people change, circumstances change and expectations change, which is dangerous for the existing supplier and an opportunity for a new supplier.

I’ve seen it happen, know the signs and am here to ensure customers, old and new, remain wedded to us because they feel the fit is good.

‘Fit’ is an important point: we’re a £20m turnover company with the systems and structures in place for managing large levels of business; we’re also very thorough in the way we go about doing things

Equally we’re flexible and able to react quickly: if a product in production requires a different battery, for instance, we can accommodate that change – without much of a blink!

This is where working closely with customers is so important.  Covid, Brexit and a recent fire at a Japanese semiconductor plant are having a negative impact on component supply – so by being open and giving us forward visibility, we can forward buy on customers’ behalf to secure stocks.

What sells OSI?

It’s being a safe pair of hands.

We are part of a very large group with no cash problems, we have plenty of manufacturing capacity in the UK and, crucially for customers who themselves are growing, we have factories in America, Malaysia and Indonesia with considerably more capacity for super-high volume manufacture.

And in comparison with many of our competitors, we have two other key strengths: a focus on PCB assembly (‘PCBA’) and therefore everything associated with the ‘pure’ electronic side of a product, which is its heart, and then the box build / mechanical assembly – an old passion of mine!

Business hero?  Because it’s tech, for me it has to be Lord Sugar for his business acumen – and because he revolutionised consumer electronics with his Amstrad system.”