Ray Pritchard Looks Back at IPC’s Beginning and His Role in Getting it Started

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I have known Ray Pritchard for a long time—as long as I’ve been involved with IPC, in fact. He directed the organization for 35 years before turning over the reins. One could say he grew up with the organization—or vice versa. Ray was always a bundle of energy and still is, still joking and warm, a great people person, and I am sure he had a little something to do with the spirit of camaraderie and cooperation that is the hallmark of the IPC we know today.

It was such a pleasure to sit down with him in a quiet corner during this 60th anniversary year and hear him talk about his early involvement in getting a fledgling organization, with just a handful of members, off the ground and running.

Patty Goldman: Ray, it is so wonderful to see you. The founding members brought you in to run the organization back in the beginning, am I correct?

Pritchard: That was an interesting story. These young entrepreneurs, they were a new industry. Nobody knew them. Nobody had heard of printed circuits at the time, because everything was plugged in with wires.

They were meeting in Chicago at the Palmer House in 1957, and they said, "You know, we'd like to have a trade association. We've got all these problems. We don't know what to do about them." Somebody said, "Why don't we look in the yellow pages and find a professional high-class organization that could help us?"

Our company was right next door. It was called H.P. Dolan and Associates. It sounded professional, like there were all kinds of people, but I was the “associates.” Harry Dolan at that time was out of the office, so Gene Jones and Bill McGinley walked in, and I'm sure when they saw this young-looking kid—though I was 30 years old—they thought, “What are we doing here?”

I'd made a flip chart showing things we had done for the six associations we were working for, and they were all manufacturing associations, so they all had needs for standards and technical work and improving the technology and all that. Then they needed market data, and they needed all kinds of things, but we'd done them all. So they saw my chart flipping, and they said, "Come on over to the Palmer House, and we'll talk to you about what you might be able to do.”

I go over there. There are about four or five guys there, and I start doing my flipping, and they saw what we had accomplished for the six other associations we worked with. Then we talked about the problems this fledgling PCB industry faced. They had individual problems of growing pains with an industry, but they also recognized they needed standards, and they needed technology development, and they needed all kinds of programs. That's how it got started, and then we got down to the bottom of the list of things that they had a problem with, and it was money. They didn't have any money.

The whole industry, printed wiring and the world market, at that time was only $30 million. Now it’s in the billions. We got down to them wanting us to do some work for them. They said, "You guys have accomplished the kinds of programs we need. How much is it going to cost to work with you?" I thought to myself, I have no authority. I'm just the associate. I'm just the kid who works for Harry Dolan. But I liked these guys. I just felt something about them that I liked. I didn't know what a printed circuit was. Nobody did then.

I thought, “I'll make them some kind of offer.” Because at the time, the Electronic Industries Association (EIA), the big dog, had offered to have them come in as a subcommittee, and they were thinking about doing that. It never would have been the same. By taking the leadership, they chose to be independent and work diligently to do the things that needed to be done…and the OEMs also came to join in the standards efforts. They have become recognized worldwide as a major organization. With EIA it would have been the opposite.

I thought, “If I let these guys walk out of here, they're not going to remember our conversation.” I gave them a price it wouldn't be possible to give, and then that was the start of it. Of course, the next day when I went back to work, Harry said, "Where were you yesterday afternoon?" I said, "I was next door at the Palmer House, signing up a new association." He said, "What? We can't even keep up with what we got now. We've got six associations, and between you and me, we’re going crazy." He said, "Well, how much are you getting from them?" And when I told him the amount, he said, "When are you going to do it? On Saturdays?" That was the start, and we built it up to quite an organization.

Goldman: How long were you there?

Pritchard: 35 years but it went by awfully fast.

Goldman: Of all the programs developed by IPC which were the most important?

Pritchard: Technology exchange and research were very important, but standards were the key to IPC’s successful growth.

They realized that the same problems they had, their customers had, and their suppliers had. Every government agency that was involved had their own beginning of specifications for boards, and we didn’t want fight with them. Slowly we started realizing, why don't we bring them in as members and work together? Well, the problem with that was that “not-invented-here” syndrome that's always been a part of humanity, and they wanted to do their own. But slowly we brought them into the IPC, and they ended up working with the board manufacturers, and more and more progress was made.

Government and OEMs started sending people to the meetings, and the thing is, they sent their best people. They didn't send some guy that was in the back room wondering whether there would ever be such a thing as a printed wiring board. They sent good guys, and we started developing our standards, and we worked hard to make them available through all the channels. When I left, we had over 100 committees and subcommittees, etc. It's still unbelievable what a good job that they've done.

Goldman: And then we started the IPC trade show to complement the committee meetings and conference.

Pritchard: That’s right. However, compared to some of the early shows, it was really impressive when I walked through the halls today. The new management is really doing a professional job. The IPC board of directors should be very proud of the people they selected.

Goldman: And the industry's certainly grown, hasn't it?

Pritchard: It's just unbelievable. The printed circuit board was just kind of the glue that kept the suppliers and the users and the government together. They all needed circuit boards. So any time a guy had a new idea for a project we'd say, "If you can find two guys that would agree with you, go form a committee," and that's how it grew.

And then, by 1974 I was tired. That was 17 years working with IPC and I was the only guy running it. I had a couple of people that I hired because we had a lot of records to keep. So I went out and visited Jim Swiggett, the president of Photocircuits and on IPC’s board, and I said, "It's over my head. I don't know what I'm doing anymore." I was like a one-legged tap dancer, you know, and he said, "Well, is there anybody in the membership that you think you would be able to work with and is just a great guy?" I hadn't thought of it that way. I just knew I needed someone. I said yes and I named a few names, and I told him that the guy I'd really like would be Dieter Bergman.

So he said to give him a call. You know, call some guy that's doing well in his company. Dieter was with Philco Ford and he had just gotten a promotion. I called him and asked him if he’d like to be technical director, and there was this big silence. He didn't know what to think, but he finally said, "Yeah, if you can give me three months, I'd like to do that." That's how we signed up Dieter. I’ve never met a more productive and energetic, not to mention qualified, person as Dieter Bergman. He added a significant dimension to all of the technical programs of IPC.

We proceeded from there to get bigger and better, and then we needed more help. Being a firm believer in nepotism, we hired Mark [Pritchard]. He's been there 40 years now. He ran all of our meetings, and then we got into the idea of videos. We started with Mark videotaping the three best speakers at each of our semi-annual meetings and we sold those videotapes to interested members. We put Mark in charge of educational videotapes which have won numerous awards and are used throughout the world.

Goldman: I remember that we did the committee reports by video. I don't know when that started, but I remember doing it in the early ‘80s, and they televised the reports in the rooms and down in the lobbies of the hotels.

Pritchard: I forgot about that. That was fun, wasn’t it?

Goldman: Well, maybe for some! But back to the early days…

Pritchard: A year or so later we hired David Bergman, who's a very analytical guy. He already had a job elsewhere and he was doing well, but he was Dieter's son, so we signed him up. He's done great work for IPC, and I think he's one of the key persons responsible for building the international side of IPC.

Goldman: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

Pritchard: I’m really impressed with the significant growth the IPC has experienced over the past 20−25 years. It is a compliment to the past IPC presidents, Thom Dammrich and Denny McGuirk, and to the current president, John Mitchell.

Goldman: Ray, it’s always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you. You haven’t changed a bit!

Pritchard: Thank you.


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