In the Spotlight:

Clive Wall

In september 2016, Fineline Global acquired the UK-based Exception VAR Ltd, a successful company with annual sales of over USD 12million and an enviable customer base. Subsequently, joining forces with the already established Fineline Global UK saw the formation of Fineline VAR Ltd.

For VAR’s management and staff this brought many changes. Most importantly, VAR had now moved into a new arena – from being a local UK operation to being part of Europe’s leading PCB trader.

In this interview, Clive Wall, Exception VAR’s MD, shares his experiences at the company as it went through this major international transition.

Q: How did the acquisition affect VAR in terms of resources and people?

Clive: A great advantage of becoming part of the Fineline family is the ability to provide local support for all our global accounts. This has enabled Fineline in all regions to capitalize and grow. For many global customers, we have given one point of order entry, enabling them to meet their KPI’s of supplier reduction, but with local support in each country they have increased service levels, technical and commercial support. It’s a win-win situation for all concerned.

For example, whilst we previously had a presence in Asia, immediately after Fineline bought us, we had access to the extensive resource of the Fineline supply chain management team. Our Fineline office in Dongguan, headed up by Danny Chen, has over sixty staff covering RFQ, Expediting, Logistics, Quality, Engineering and Supplier Management. Having access to this resource brought instant benefits.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced post-acquisition?

Clive: Having worked for UK companies, where the owners were typically brought up in the UK PCB market, many without wider experience of global trading, suddenly the moving to overseas ownership created some apprehension. Would Fineline expect the UK to operate the same as Russia, Israel, Germany and the many other countries? Would they appreciate the local market? Would I experience cultural challenges and groupthink pressures?

But the Fineline philosophy is “Think Global, Be Local.” It is very much about remaining a local company, while being powered by the strength of a global organization. And it’s not just in words, but also in practice and actions. The global network strengthened our local presence beyond what we imagined.

Q: How were existing processes influenced? What types of changes did you have to make?

Clive: Many PCB trading companies talk about quality assurance and inspection at their own warehouse, but the real value is quality assurance and inspection on site at the PCB factory. With Fineline’s roving process engineers and on-site inspection teams, we now offer true added value at source. This has enabled our operations in the UK to become more streamlined, and our quality and delivery performance to achieve market leading levels.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference has been the relationships with the factories. I have spent two decades visiting factories in China, but the experience with Fineline is unique. The multi-level relationships, openness and co-operation are special. It is clear that one of the reasons behind Fineline’s success is the relationships.

Q: How soon were VAR and Fineline ready to set off?

Clive: The new IT system installation began a month after the acquisition. There were the obvious teething troubles that most IT installations face, but within two months the benefit of the bespoke system soon came to light.

The IT system is tailored to PCB trading, giving flexibility in every area of the system. Coupled with high efficiency, it creates a slick process for managing our customers RFQ and order processing. The business intelligence available gives clear visibility, reliable and real-time data enabling immediate overview of every part of our business. As a management tool it is fantastic, for customer reporting it is excellent.

Q: Share with us your personal take on the acquisition

Being part of the Fineline wider management team has been a great experience and the opportunity to be involved in the regular management meetings gives the opportunity for high level discussion, sharing of ideas and coordinating the global activities.

The company is progressive and being involved in the developments, not just for the UK but the global operations, brings home the size, power and forward-thinking of Fineline.