Microwave Journal

Executive Interview: Gareth Phillips, Managing Director of Intelliconnect (Europe)

May 15, 2023

1. How would you describe Intelliconnect to our readers? What’s your business model and what can you tell us about the “metrics” (number of employees, locations, physical footprint, number of products, etc.) of Intelliconnect?

Intelliconnect is a specialist provider of custom RF connectors and cable assemblies for highly engineered products where quality is paramount. We pride ourselves on being easy to work with and genuinely believe in being our customer’s best partner. We work with defense primes, blue chip, national and international private companies and universities all over the world as well as upstart-ups and anyone else, regardless of size, that needs high-quality RF connectors and cable assemblies.

We have three sites, two in the U.K. and one in the U.S. In the U.K. we have a sales and engineering office in Chelmsford (the birthplace of radio) just outside London and a manufacturing facility located centrally in Corby. The U.S. facility is in Tennessee and houses sales, engineering and manufacturing.

Nearly everything we make is custom, but we do have some standard off-the-shelf products like our Pisces waterproof connectors, and our recently launched Q-CON cryogenics multiway and solderless range.

2. What is the company’s market and product focus and what are the core competencies that differentiate you from your competitors?

We focus on defense, harsh environment, industrial, medical and cryogenics. Our major differential from our competition is that we are easy to do business with. We don’t charge NRE, we don’t have MOQs and for standard lines, we have a targeted 24-hour turnaround for quotations, not that many of the things we do are standard! And we have industry-leading lead times. We are SC21 silver accredited, which highlights our commitment to quality, on-time delivery and continuous improvement.

But our real secret sauce is our people. The team at Intelliconnect care about the business and each other and work hard to continually improve everything they do. Our sales and customer service team is award-winning, our engineering team has more than 80 years of RF design and build experience and we have built out production and operation teams that are outstanding in their field.

3. Intelliconnect is a recent acquisition of Trexon, which in turn is a portfolio company of private equity Audax Group. What are the advantages and opportunities that this kind of structure creates for you?

The Trexon acquisition has been empowering and gives us confidence that we will achieve our long-term strategic goals. We have always had high expectations for what this business can do and we have seen this progression really accelerate over the last three years but being part of the Trexon family and having the backing of Audax means we can kick on and invest in the future of the business.

4. The company is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. How have you seen the company, its products and its markets change over that period?

Everything has changed at Intelliconnect over the last 20 years except its ethos and culture. Customers that have been with us since the early days will tell you that we are the same service-driven business we have always been, but we have grown our offering and the industries we operate in.

Our founder identified the need for high-quality connectors in the U.K. market after the offshoring by our competitors during the 1990s. Initially working on connectors for light fittings, the business expanded into the U.S. and the medical market before moving into supplying defense primes. The move into cryogenics in 2015 really helped propel the business forward and we aren’t looking back. Our first hire was a lady named Maria who I am proud to say is still with us and still working hard to see us succeed.

5. Intelliconnect has some aggressive growth goals. Can you describe those goals and your plan to meet them?

We are an ambitious team that have seen the business grow 4x in the last three years and we are not planning on stopping anytime soon. We had planned to 10x the business by 2032, but that was before becoming a part of the Trexon group and with their resources and ambition we have the opportunity to do more.

We’re investing in sales and engineering resources, globally, to develop our footprint and product offering. We have some exciting partnerships in development that will increase our reach and raise our profile further, we have a group of sister companies that will continue to grow and, not least, we have the Trexon and Audax leadership teams and guidance.

6. You provide products into a wide array of market segments and applications, what are your top two or three markets? Do you see this mix of products and markets changing in the future?

When it comes to product mix, defense and medical have always been key markets for us and will continue to be but cryogenics and our CryoCoax brand have seen significant growth and gives us the greatest opportunity to build innovative new products in a growth market. When it comes to market segment growth, outside of the U.K. there is a real opportunity to grow our defense customer base, especially with our expanded Pisces range of waterproof connectors and we are building our sales network accordingly.

7. Intelliconnect is very involved with the quantum computing market. How do you see that market expanding and what role do you think your company will play in enabling that growth?

When we got into cryogenics more than 8 years ago, it was to support a key customer with their low-temperature RF needs. I don’t think anyone in the business could have predicted the growth we have seen in the sector being driven by the huge demand for quantum computing. Being an early entrant to the market, we have been able to establish ourselves and the CryoCoax brand at the forefront of cryogenic connector and cable assembly supply.

We are working with our existing customers to support their current and future requirements and are looking to bring new innovative ranges to market to fix problems that people don’t know they have yet.

8. What market applications or product developments excite Intelliconnect most?

It’s really hard not to be excited by the quantum applications that are being developed, as well as terrified by their potential to tear down data encryption as we know it. We have already seen some startling results and we really are in the infancy of this technology.

Hypersonic technology is also fascinating and I look forward to seeing how this market develops and finding a place for our harsh environment connectors within it.

9. Your mission statement talks about being agile and innovative through quality, performance and customer service while maintaining accountability and respect for your employees and stakeholders. Can you comment on what this means for the culture of Intelliconnect? How are you implementing these goals?

Our culture has always been about doing the best job for our customers and each other. When Roy Phillips started this business, he knew that Intelliconnect had to be “a different kind of Interconnect solutions provider” which has served as our tagline for the last 20 years.

Entering an established market and trying to stand out, we knew we needed to be different from the incumbents. Most of our competition were having their connectors made in Asia and Eastern Europe, so we couldn’t compete on price, but we could compete on service and quality.

We have brilliant RF engineers that thrive on solving customers’ problems. They work hand in hand with our partners to give them what they need and on a timescale that puts us ahead of our competitors.

We have a culture of accountability which means issues are highlighted sooner as people are prepared to talk about them knowing that we will look to solve the problem rather than look to blame someone for it. This doesn’t mean we don’t investigate how issues come about and the source of them, but our team know we work together to solve, fix and re-train as necessary.

The team cares about this business and the business cares about them. They work hard and always pull out all the stops to meet deadlines and we provide a safe and positive working environment, as well as regular training and development. As a real living wage employer, our employees at all levels know that they will be able to make their bill payments month to month and still be able to live.

We’re growing and have three sites, we work hard to keep the teams aligned and we manage this through regular communication and clear policies. We also have an annual employee survey which helps us to identify areas that we can improve upon, and the results are taken seriously.

One innovation I am particularly proud of is our “Local CSIP” (Local Continuous Sustainable Improvement Plan). Each site has their representatives whose job it is to canvas the teams about what things we can improve as a business for the betterment of our customers and supplier partners and our team. They then meet bi-monthly and capture the suggestions. We found that suggestion boxes didn’t get any traction, but these sessions have brought up so many great ideas and so many quick wins that have been simple to implement without huge expense to the business.

 All of this means nothing if the management team aren’t accessible to all staff and aren’t prepared to get their hands dirty when needed, and I am happy to say that the management team we have built are all prepared to get into the trenches when required and their doors are always open.

10. What else should our readers know about Intelliconnect?

We are nothing without our partners. We believe in relationship excellence whether that is with our customers, suppliers or our own team.

If your readers are looking for reliable, high-quality U.K. and U.S.-made cable assemblies and connectors then we would love the opportunity to demonstrate our award-winning customer service and engineering expertise to them. We supply products across the globe and with no barriers to entry (MOQ, NRE charges) there really is no excuse!