Executive Interview: Pete Pragastis, VP and GM, M3US Group, Anritsu Company
1. Let's begin with your background. You started working at Omniyig while in high school, then worked as a technician tuning YIG oscillators while going to college. Tell us about your career in the RF/microwave industry and what has motivated you.
Yes, my career start in the RF/microwave industry was a bit nontraditional. I learned more practical work before I learned the theory behind the way things behaved. I began working part-time during my high school senior year, basically at the bottom. I like to say that at some point in my career, I have experienced nearly everything there is to be done in the RF/microwave technical field, from assembly, to design, to starting a new company. This certainly gives me a unique perspective to running a business. I still, time permitting, very much enjoy getting down to the minute technical details.
2. You became the GM of Anritsu's U.S. business in January. What attracted you to that role and the company?
I have always admired Anritsu, as well as the predecessor company, Wiltron, for the many innovative products the company introduced over the years that have been catalysts in moving our industry forward. I have, at times, been a customer and sometimes a competitor, so I was familiar with the company from several perspectives.
What I would say attracted me the most, however, was the group I manage designs and produces most all the components and products domestically, in Morgan Hill, California. Unlike many of our competitors, Anritsu retained and expanded its U.S.-based manufacturing operations and is in a good position to take advantage of the “on shoring” wave and buy domestic trends today. It’s not very well known, but I would say Anritsu, a “Japanese owned” company, produces more products in the USA than some of our “American owned” competitors.
3. The test and measurement industry comprises a handful of large companies, such as Anritsu, and perhaps two handfuls of small, entrepreneurial firms formed to solve specific measurement problems. What differentiates Anritsu among the players?
This is a very good question. My background, being a founder of Phase Matrix—a small, entrepreneurial firm—which was sold to NI—a large company—in 2011, gave me some perspective from both sides. The differentiator for Anritsu, in the “large company” space, is the amount of vertical integration we have. This gives us better control of our quality and security of our supply chain. Today, we hear of so many company/industry supply disruptions, some due to COVID, others to inflation. The vertical integration gives us some assurance and buffer from such events.
4. How are R&D, manufacturing, applications support, sales and marketing divided between the U.S. company and your Japanese parent?
Anritsu overall is organized into group companies providing varied solutions worldwide for a “safe and secure society,” which is part of the company philosophy. We provide solutions in RF communications, networks and food safety. Each group is responsible for its own R&D, manufacturing and marketing. All groups share and support a global Anritsu-dedicated sales channel.
The parent company in Japan sets overall strategy and goals, acting as the “North Star,” if you will, and aligning the individual group activities with an overall direction resulting in greater than $1 billion in annual sales. I serve as the general manager of the M3US group. We are responsible for the Anritsu RF/microwave instruments, components and services portfolio. We serve the communication, defense and automotive markets, primarily.
5. Do you organize your business around product families or market solutions? How does that approach support your value proposition?
The group I manage is unique within Anritsu in that it serves many different areas. These include services, components, instruments and solutions. We are primarily organized around product families. At the most basic level, we provide unique services, such as thin film fabrication and assembly, utilizing our state-of-the-art capabilities in these areas. At a higher level, we offer unique microwave and mmWave instrumentation grade components. At the highest level, we have turnkey 220 GHz vector network analyzer (VNA) systems for on-wafer probe solutions. Our products are sold stand-alone to individual customers or can be found within market solutions offered by other Anritsu groups, turnkey 5G characterization test with an anechoic chamber, for example.
6. Which markets and products are you targeting for growth?
Certainly, the global 5G cellular roll-out is a top priority for us. Our group provides best-in-class tools utilized during the infrastructure build out. Our recently released Field Master™ Pro platform, covering measurements for all the 5G requirements—FR1 as well as FR2 frequencies to 54 GHz—is a good example. We had initial success with our partners in Korea and hope to leverage that experience as the U.S. and European carriers proceed with their infrastructure build outs.
7. 5G is still in the early phase of deployment, yet we’re already reading announcements of 6G collaborations and R&D projects. While no one can define 6G, everyone seems to think it will play out at THz frequencies. How is Anritsu positioned to support 6G R&D?
There are two trends I have observed in our industry, kind of a Moore’s Law of increasing transistors on a die equivalent for communications. We are always pursuing higher frequencies and bandwidths for obvious reasons as we seek to deal with the ever-expanding digital data requirements.
Historically, Anritsu has provided pioneering work to expand instruments into these trends. We were the first to provide reliable coax connections to 40 GHz with the 2.92 mm K connector followed by the V connector to 65 GHz. These innovations enabled very broadband measurements at the time. Today, we offer the widest, single sweep VNA measurement available with our VectorStar™ 220 GHz solution. These tools are used by some of the leading research facilities around the globe, as they look at next-generation innovations such as 6G, and Anritsu enables them with instrumentation available today.
8. Several years ago, we wrote about your thin film and microelectronics assembly facility in Morgan Hill. How does this capability fit in your business?
As frequencies and bandwidths expand, having control of the critical processes becomes quite important. There are not many facilities one can go to that have fabrication, assembly and test under one roof and U.S.-based. Our MTC (Microwave Technology Center) capabilities, as I previously mentioned, give us a leg up in that respect. We have invested over the years to expand the capabilities where we are processing wafers in addition to thin film. Together with our state-of-the-art machining capabilities, MTC gives us technology advantages well in line with where the market is going.
9. How has Anritsu fared during the pandemic, both externally (customer demand) and internally (operations and supply chain)?
Similar to many competitors, we experienced a step drop in demand at the beginning of the pandemic. I was not present during the most traumatic part of COVID. I sympathize with management, not just at Anritsu but all the industry that had the difficult job of balancing employee safety and business survival. We were fortunate to be able to navigate through COVID with no layoffs and little supply chain issues. Because of our vertical integration, we were able to manage. Today, we are again on a growth trajectory and actively hiring.
10. Considering the disruptions and adjustments we’ve all made the past year, what changes in the business landscape do you see continuing in a post-pandemic world (e.g., remote work, business travel, conferences and trade shows)?
Certainly, for the short-term and until the whole world is immune, the post-pandemic world will not be the same. For some, it has even caused a reset, if you will. Some retired early, others decided to change careers. However, in the long-term, I am of the belief we are creatures of habit, and we need the human-human interaction. Yes, there will be more remote work, especially as technology evolves and allows, but I do not believe travel, trade shows and conferences will go away. For our group, we implemented a gradual return to the office policy in May and expect to be back to full-time office work by end of July. Of course, this all hinges on no COVID resurgence.
11. Outside of business, what interests do you have?
I used to enjoy traveling with family but have not been able to do much of that lately. I will now have to rachet up the travel bucket list. Over the years, I have had several interests that I pursue sporadically, including winemaking, beekeeping and soccer.