It's like winning the Cup!

17 February 2009

Tim Fryer

If you support a football team that always loses it is sometimes hard to remember what the good times were like

My local team as a boy was Partick Thistle, often the butt of ridicule, and so I know what it feels like to be on a losing streak. Sometimes in such circumstances the gallows humour sets in to the point where success seems an impostor. When Partick Thistle beat Celtic 4 –1 in the Scottish League Cup final of 1971, my vague recollection is that the joy was tempered by disbelief, things like this didn’t happen to a team that was affectionately known as Partick Thistle Nil. That boyhood memory was Partick’s last moment of glory to date.

Possibly not the best analogy ever, but the plight of Partick’s long suffering fans is not that dissimilar to how the besieged electronics industry feels at the moment. The relentless procession of negative headlines about the economy as a whole affects us all and those of us in the electronics industry are far from immune.

But then comes along that Cup Final, out of the blue, to lift spirits. And the industry got such a boost last week at the Southern Manufacturing and Electronics Exhibition at Farnborough. I wrote about this in my column last week, before taking myself off to the event itself, proclaiming that it provided a good mix of products and services to satisfy the various interests and demands of the electronics designer.

The good news is that it lived up to its billing. People came to do business. There was no indication of an industry in decay, let alone with a terminal illness. Instead there was a buoyancy that was not even in evidence at the event last year before the first credit had been crunched. Indeed, early figures indicate an attendance of around 4600 – up 5% from last year.

Everyone I spoke to was feeling, admittedly with the same bemused expression of those Partick Thistle fans all those years ago, that the good times were returning. One exhibitor told me that it could have been better, but such is the low cost format of the show that it would only have taken one of the several good quality enquiries to be realised for the show to have been worthwhile. Everyone else had no reservations – there was still plenty of life in the electronics industry.

I am not proposing that we bury our heads in the sand. I was at a conference at the beginning of this week given by analysts iSuppli who dissected every part of the global industry. The outlook was fairly gloomy, but then being realistic it is not great on a global scale. The electronics industry is estimated to be worth $1.2 trillion and a third of that is tied up in the mobile phone, PC and laptop markets. No wonder the performance of the companies that make these items, so dependent on consumer confidence, make the headlines when they are not performing as well as they have become used to. But then in the UK these are not the sectors that define the success of the domestic electronics market as a whole. The upbeat visitors to Southern Electronics are more likely to be those involved in defence, medical, industrial control and so on – industries that don’t ‘move the needle’ as far as gauging the fortunes of the global industry is concerned, but that are the backbone of the industry in our own backyard.

My point is only that we are allowing our views to be distorted by global figures that are less relevant than the local ones and, as Southern Electronics demonstrated, some of the local ones are quite encouraging.

And for the record, like so many Scots at the time, I supported whatever team Kenny Dalglish was playing for, and so became a Liverpool fan in 1977. It may be shallow but it has meant there have been a lot more cup finals along the way!

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