Gimme Five – Steve Willis

Steve Willis, northern European sales director for XP Power, talks to Steve Rogerson in our series of interviews for CIEonline. Willis has worked at XP Power for nearly 20 years and has had various roles within the company. He joined the business in 1994 as an area sales manager for a new component power division of XP and became an industry manager for the communications market in 1999.

In 2004, he became European director for the communications market place. Three years later, he was promoted to deputy managing director, and his responsibilities included managing sales, applications support and engineering services for design and manufacturing. His current position based from Pangbourne is northern Europe sales director, covering the UK and Nordic region.

His hobbies include rugby, and he is still playing at 43 years old. He played for London Irish when he was younger. His other favourite pastime is cooking. He has three children and also fosters children.

1. How much influence does a power supply have on a product’s lifetime?

It is quite significant, in fact. A major part of the whole deal is how a power supply gets selected in the design-in phase. You need the correct information from the customer on the load and the thermal management. The biggest deal is temperature.

The electrolytic capacitors in the power supply affect the lifetime. The wrong supply won’t damage the final equipment but in terms of reliability in the market, say how many years without failing, it comes down to how hot the capacitors get. With electrolytic capacitors, for every ten degrees you run it cooler you double the lifetime of the component. Most of the other components are fairly resistant to temperature, but not the capacitors.

I have seen people who have designed it in wrong or run it in more extreme conditions than they originally specified and then a few years later they start to fail. And it really is down to temperature on these components.

2. You have been with the same company for 20 years. Doesn’t it get a bit boring?

The interesting part of working with XP is they always have growth plans. As time has gone on, I have had various positions. Every three to five years I have a different role. You can manage that in a company that is growing. We have transformed ourselves into a design and manufacturing company. We have two factories – one in China and one in Vietnam. And with this type of growth, you get opportunities.

I have been involved in different areas across Europe. I now support the design teams in the UK and now I have also added the Nordic region. It keeps it interesting; it is good to have change.

3. With three children of your own, why would you want to foster more?

My wife is a child nutter. She was a nanny when I met her. She has always been involved in childcare to some degree. She sat me down one day and said she wanted to foster children. I enjoy the time I spend with our kids, so we decided to go ahead. We went through training and they showed us how horribly abused some of the children can be. We decided to go ahead and we have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It can be very tough because you get to the point where you love the children and then you have to hand them over for adoption. But when you see the faces of the new parents, it is very fulfilling.

We also do emergency placements. We had a four-year-old kid dropped off at our house last night after his parents had been arrested.

My own children also get a lot out of it. It gives them a perspective on life. They are spoilt compared with some of these kids.

4. When playing rugby, what could you do when you were younger that you can’t do now?

You have to use your experience. But after a rugby match now, I have just about recovered by the Wednesday after playing on the Saturday. I am not as quick now. My fitness isn’t as good. With age you get nastier and people don’t want to be bumping into you. But it is a lot tougher now.

This is probably my last year in the first team; it has nearly come to an end. I have had 25 years in the first team apart from the three years I played for London Irish. I will try to go on for as long as I can. I’ll really miss it when I stop. Once I’ve left the first team, I will help mentor guys, pushing them up to the first team.

I suppose it all depends on how long my knees and shoulders last. I’d like to stop before I get some serious injury.

5. How important is it to consider a product’s power supply early in the design cycle?

It is important and when we have the opportunity to work with people who are already customers, we try to introduce new generations of products to them early on to let them think of the power supply in terms of the overall system. But in many cases, we are given a space into which we have to fit the power supply. It is often one of the last elements that people consider. We try to have a broad product offering so we can offer a close fit to the application. If people don’t leave much space, we have products that are denser, but the cost goes up because you need better efficiency. If people think about it earlier, they might have more scope in the cost of the product. A lot of customers are thinking about green credentials and product lifetimes. If you have less heat, you get better life. But there is a tendency for people to say: “Here is our space, fit your power supply in that.”

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