Interview with John Putman

This is a chance for me to interview my Dad on a number of topics that I  find fascinating about him. In life there is a possibility of having many business partners, but none as unique as the partnership  that we have. Here is a look at some of questions that I have always wanted to ask.

Matthew: Well Dad we have worked together officially for 13 years or so, but of course we have worked together my whole life, from science fairs to remodeling a basement. It occurs to me that we are alike in some ways, and very different in others. I am not saying that we are neurotic, but if I were to diagnose you I would say that you are slightly Obsessive Compulsive, and that I was ADHD. If this is true, how do you think this difference effects our very long business and scientific partnership?

Dad: I know that my OCD is sometimes frustrating for you and maybe your ADHD is frustrating for me. However, this is what makes it so much fun to work together. You have so many ideas and it is great to discuss them. But I don’t think that that there is as much difference between your ADHD and my OCD as you think. In your case you look at many different projects more or less simultaneously. I look at a single project but hopefully from many different angles. That is why it seems to you that I obsess on a single project – I am really obsessing at different approaches to it. I dream about it. The big difference is that you are a parallel processor and I am a serial processor. I like to concentrate on one well defined project and associated problems and work it to conclusion (yes, I know, obsessively so).

Matthew: You have worked a 45 year career in the rubber industry, from making rubber compounds to making equipment for rubber testing. How is making an inspection microscope for semiconductors and life science different?

Dad: This is so exciting. I am learning a new set of engineering requirements and scientific applications while still being able to apply some of the old standards. We still need to consider quality versus process control as well as gauge capability. I have said in jest that I spend 80 hours a week to finish 8 hours of work. In a way this is true because of the learning curve, but it is also what makes Nanotronics Imaging so exciting to me.

One of your biggest contributions, in my mind, is that you and a very small team (including Nanotronics Chief Programmer Jeff Archer) incorporated the first PC data acquisition systems in the rubber industry. How did you have the confidence to do this, and what is a similar feat that you feel up against leading development at Nanotronics?

Dad: I know that you think that I am being modest when I say this but, I don’t consider the past data acquisition system a great contribution. This is to say it was the obvious thing to do. Likewise, I believe that the thing that needs to be done with Nanotronics is clear: to simplify microscopic inspection so that quality and process control can be cost effectively facilitated with high resolution, quality and timeliness. We have a great team put together to do this – it really has very little to do with me.

Matthew: You have always told me to focus on the customer and the product not the competitor. Can you elaborate a bit on this? In some ways it goes against some traditional wisdom where market research and business strategy drive the business, and competition is a big part of that?

Dad: You are making this tough. I had no idea that you were actually listening to me for the past 20 years. On the customer/competitor point I am not sure that I am right but I am certainly opinionated on the subject. I hate to generalize but I think that I am safe saying that companies have a strong focus on profit. I also believe that, in general, all companies want to serve their customers, otherwise they would not be in business. However, in niche markets, the types that I have been involved with, it seems to me that most suppliers have the opportunity to focus more on profit than on service. My first question about providing a product or service is never “what can we sell it for?” The first question is how can we provide a better product or service. If we look to the competitors we are influenced by their art or technology and their pricing. Of course, we ultimately need to be competitive in the market, but that is the last consideration in my analysis. In the long run we may have to know how we compare to the competitors’ products but what we really need to know even more is how to solve the customers’ problems.

Matthew: How much do you consider your legacy? You have employed a lot of people, and hold patents, but you seem as much tied to the legacy of being an Ohio business as any personal achievement. Is this true?

Dad: I hate questions like this. I really don’t care about my legacy. It is a bit personal, though, about being an Ohio business. I know so many great people there and they have tremendous capacity to contribute their technology and enthusiasm to the growth of a new business. I like being a part of that.

Matthew: While talking about Akron, Tech Pro was truly an international company, and you had a very global perspective on business. How have you seen being international in terms of business change over time?

Dad: Simple: International is the new domestic!