Women in Tech: Frances Stewart at PCB West
This new episode of our Women in Tech webseries focuses on Frances Stewart, VP of Sales & Marketing at UP Media, the PCB West maker!
Frances Stewart – The Interview
Can you introduce yourself?
My official title is VP of sales and marketing. I do many different things, but officially I sell everything that our company has to sell. It’s print. We have a print magazine. We have digital. We have online. Of course, we have the show, PCB West, which involves selling booth space. There are other things that go along with that, helping with marketing collateral and those kinds of things. I’m really charged with driving revenue for our company. In a nutshell, that’s what I’m supposed to do. If it can be sold, as you know, I will try to sell it. That’s my job.
How did you start in the PCB industry?
I started in this industry in 1981. Well, before I started in the industry, I had gone to college, got an English degree, not an engineering degree, and I had been working as a court reporter, just trying to find my way in the world. I had an opportunity to sell classified advertising in a magazine based in this industry, and that is where it all began.
Was it intimidating to work in the tech world with no engineering background?
I was talking to my brother, and he is an EE, and I said, “I don’t know anything about printed circuit boards or electronics. I’m not an engineer.” He said, “Look, you have a personality. You can probably sell. You can learn this, and this is a startup magazine so you should give it a try.” I genuinely enjoy what I do, and I genuinely enjoy the people that I work with, and there is never a dull moment, never. I really enjoy what I do. I wouldn’t be here for, gosh, 38 years, something like that.
What was the magazine you first worked for in the industry?
There was a gentleman who had a printed circuit board shop, and so he had a magazine that was called… It started out called Printed Circuit Exchange, and then it became PC Fab. There have been various iterations of the magazine that came to where it is today. The good thing was he had a board shop. When I didn’t understand something in the magazine, I could go over to the board shop and look at the equipment and the line and the processes. It really was one of the best educations that you could get. If you’re not knowledgeable about the industry, you could actually see it in action.
I was selling classified advertising. Now, remember, this was before the internet, a long time ago, a very different way of putting a magazine together. Again, never a dull moment.
When did you start working for UP Media?
UP Media actually started back in 2001. The magazine was PC Fab and it was owned by one individual, then it was acquired by Miller Freeman, and then it was acquired by United Business Media, then CMP. The magazine that you see today has had various different additions and versions and also had been owned by everything from one person, a very small startup to very large publishing companies. Now we’ve come full circle, and we are a small company owned by one individual.
What do you bring to this industry?
I’m interested in people. I like to ask a lot of questions. I’m a good writer. I know how to construct marketing pieces and write copy. I know what, I think, what looks good. I know what works in terms of advertising. While as you say certainly I don’t have the engineering background, and I always make it clear when I talk to someone, I’m not an engineer, but let me tell you what I can help you with. Let me tell you how I can help you with your marketing. Those are the skills I feel that I bring to the industry, again, not having an engineering degree. There are times when I’m having a conversation, I have to say, “All right, now you’ve lost me. Can you explain this to me?” People love to talk about their products, their company. You can always get a great conversation going just by asking them about their products and about their company and helping them understand what might work to get their company or their product in front of the people that are going to potentially purchase it.
You just said, ‘’There is never a dull moment.’’ Elaborate…
We’re here at PCB West, and of course, I sell all the boosts for PCB West. I will tell you that the first year that we did PCB West, we had a CAD showdown where competitive software companies were dueling. The room where all the computers were stored was locked, but we did have… Someone attempted to break into the room and the security guard we had, I think his name was Nardo, tackled the individual attempting to steal the computers. The joke was, and it wasn’t someone involved in the competition but that became the joke, ‘’Oh, you’re so desperate to win, you’re going to break in.’’ It’s never a dull moment.
What can you say about women at PCB West?
I think this probably holds true for all trade shows. The first year that I went to a trade show, which was before PCB West, certainly there were far fewer women. Frankly, oftentimes at a trade show, the women that you would see would be what you would call models, or other expressions have been used but they were basically women who really didn’t know the industry and they were just standing in the booth, looking attractive, which certainly there’s nothing wrong with that. I would say that it has certainly changed. There are more women in the industry. There are more women engineers. There have always been a fair number of women in sales, but there’s more women engineers, chemists, all that sort of thing.
The proliferation of using a model as opposed to someone who works for your company and actually knows the product and can speak intelligently about it, certainly I think that has shifted dramatically. Particularly in the design side, you would have some women who were designers, but when you get into say a printed circuit board shop, typically or when I first started, it was almost completely men. You didn’t even have any female chemists, but that has changed, and I think more women are getting involved. You have the STEM. You have robotics. Young girls now, hey, it’s cool. It’s cool to be in technology. I think that’s really exciting to see, young women getting involved in it.
Where do you see PCB West in 10 years?
We hope to grow the show itself in size, increase the sessions that we’re offering. I see where … PCB West began strictly as a show for design. It was PCB design-centric, and then it moved to encompass manufacturing the bare boards, and now it’s moved on to the EMS side, loading components on to the board. I think we’re really going to expand to encompass the entire PCB supply chain. Of course, the hope is to grow it, is to make it larger and potentially to have shows in different locations. People are always asking, when are you going to do PCB West? Heck, I had someone asked me last night, how about PCB India, PCB Bangalore? I’m like, well, okay, we’ll think about it. We’ll put it on the list.
What is the potential for women in tech?
I think the one thing I want to say is I know that some women might feel intimidated by an industry that typically is populated by more men than women, but I would say this. I really have not encountered difficulty in my career doing what I wanted to do and moving ahead. I guess I always feel like if you work hard and you get to know your co-workers, and you have the enthusiasm and you’re energetic and you like what you do, I really feel that the sky is the limit. Again, I have never felt that if I really wanted to do something that I wouldn’t be able to do that. Most of the people in this industry, 99.9% of them are wonderful, open, friendly people just like in any industry. I would say if women are interested, there’s tremendous potential in this industry, and I think there’s nothing that you can’t accomplish. My English degree has had held me in good stead because then I can write and I can articulate things clearly. I’m not leaving. That would be my parting words. I’m going to be here as long as I can be here.