Bernie Kessler: Pioneering Spirit Then and Now
I sat down with longtime friend and IPC Hall of Famer (1991) Bernie Kessler of Bernard Kessler & Associates at IPC APEX EXPO 2015 in San Diego. Among other things, we discussed the early days of IPC, and the beginnings of APEX EXPO.
Patty Goldman: Bernie, you were originally with Mica Corporation, a laminate supplier in California, and you then started your own consulting business in 1979. You are also quite possibly the eldest statesman here at IPC. How are you doing?
Bernard Kessler: I’m doing great. I should have brought the cover of People's Magazine in which I appear this month [March, local CA doctor’s office version]. I had a heart procedure about a year ago. Apparently, it's new and the hospital is trying to promote it, so they asked me if I would appear at a dinner and recite the change in my lifestyle as a result of the procedure. I said I'd be happy to appear at dinner and asked what they planned to serve. I mean, what else am I supposed to do? Then they went one step further and they said, "Would you agree to appear in an ad?" So I had a series of interviews that they oriented towards the heart procedure and the change in lifestyle and not what I actually said. So, we can do the same here for this interview; I don't mind it. Edit in any fashion you wish [chuckles].
Over a length of time, when you're associated with a company, and that company experiences growth, and growth incorporates the idea of not only new products, but also new people, we don't necessarily recognize it but the company is really not the same company through the years. Now, with that in mind when your employee level is 100 and people join you, they join a hundred employees. When it's two thousand, they join two thousand people, and the experiences start to differ.
Now I take a look around here, look at this show and the size of it and how much it has changed as it has grown. And I remember the concerns we had when we first discussed having a show along with the IPC meetings. I forget what we called it...
Goldman: It was called IPC Expo then, because it was just the PCB manufacturing side of things, no assembly. I was at that first meeting in Chicago, too. We were very worried as to whether or not it was a good idea.
Kessler: Yes, I was worried. However, this is a great opportunity to tell my story. If you remember, I voted against the motion to have this Expo every other year. I spoke to the issue of having it every year, and then I offered an amendment that we have it every year, and that amendment was defeated. It was the single time within IPC that we really had a different perspective between the major suppliers and the small suppliers, like me.
I was fairly well integrated into the NEPCON show, at a very good priority position. These guys, the major suppliers, wanted to go to Munich for productronica every other year and then have this show every other year. But a small supplier like me could not go to Munich. That meant if we jumped out of NEPCON into an every two year enterprise, we lost our position at NEPCON.
Goldman: And position was everything at NEPCON.
Kessler: Position was everything at the time, and so I voted in favor of the annual. Well, I lost. But we were so successful with that first Expo that they then decided to do it on an annual basis.
Goldman: So you won in the end?
Kessler: I lost all the battles, but I won the war. Now I look at this and I am absolutely amazed. And I think I miss the pioneer spirit, which seems to be gone, because we've already reached a whole series of plateaus. We were concerned about the first plateau and now we're well past that.
Goldman: And it's a regular phenomenon now...
Kessler: That's right. And by the way, I will say this about the IPC meetings: They seem to be getting better and better in terms of organization, in terms of the technology related to the meeting, the websites, etc. I'm very pleased at what I did over the years at IPC. I think the technology is way, way beyond me at the moment. It was normally slightly ahead of me, but now... [laughs]
I just had a conversation with a visitor from Europe, regarding the difference in the levels of technologies, while looking at the people in the hall of fame and what they're noted for. They have me down as having expertise in raw materials.
Goldman: From your affiliation with Mica Corporation?
Kessler: At Mica, yes. But the raw material was limited at the time, very limited. You had a paper base that we did not manufacture and of which I knew nothing. We had epoxy paper, epoxy glass, and we were just introducing, as advanced materials, polyimide, and some people were playing with Teflon, but that was the extent of it. Today the technology is far broader and far more advanced, and so I come here with a great deal of admiration for the progress, as an industry, that we have made. And I enjoy having been at the beginnings, where life may have been a hell of a lot more hectic, but, I suspect, much simpler.
Goldman: I think you’re right, Bernie. I’m glad we had this chance to talk. Thanks so much for sharing your story of the early days.
Kessler: You are very welcome.