Oliver Mihm, who was appointed the company’s regional president for EMEA in 2015, is responsible for the company’s European operations and has been with the company since 2000, when he joined as a design engineer.
Looking back on 2018 things have certainly gone well for the company.
"Going back to 2011 we made a number of significant investments in our European operations and those investments have now started to pay off," he says.
"In Europe, last year, we saw growth in excess of 50 per cent and, for me, what has been most pleasing has been the fact that much of that growth has been derived from existing customers.
"That’s an important achievement as it demonstrates that our customers trust us and that our value proposition resonates with them. We’re seeing significant partnership engagement."
According to Mihm last year was an important one for the business.
"We have seen continued engagement with customers from across our four key segments: aerospace, defence, communications and life sciences, but that engagement is deepening. We are working in highly complex and regulated markets such as life science and aerospace and companies in those sectors are developing a more sophisticated approach when it comes to their partners.
"Take healthcare; over the past two years we have noticed that as companies become more mature so their work with third parties has evolved. They are looking at how to outsource non-core activities so that they are able to focus their resources more effectively on those core activities that help to differentiate them from their competitors.
"That change in approach means that more companies are seeking more from their partnerships with the likes of Plexus. As a result we are finding ourselves in discussions with executive teams at a much earlier stage and those discussions now focus on how to deepen and broaden our engagement.
"We take an architectural approach when we take on a client’s project. Once that’s understood we are able to make a detailed assessment of their requirements and can then make a firm commitment as to what can be delivered and in what specific time-frame."
The evolving engagement with customers is coming from two angles, according to Mihm.
"We talk about a deeper relationship with our customers and that involves Plexus engaging with them when it comes to developing their own technical road-maps, but it’s also from a capability perspective too.
"One of the biggest trends with regards to this is the realisation among companies that they need to better mitigate risk and we are seeing a big push in terms of dialogue and the need to reassure customers. For example, in terms of data security, having a savvy IT team or having a culture that ensures that even the individual is trained and made aware of risk."
Since 2016 global macro-economic issues have loomed large and have influenced companies in terms of how they operate, where their manufacturing footprint should be and how they should look to better manage their supply chain.
"Issues like Brexit and trade disagreements between the US and China have all accelerated that process," according to Mihm. "High level political and economic issues are raising concerns and are sowing a degree of confusion.
"Take Brexit, for example, our customers are concerned about how they will fulfil orders placed in the UK and Europe and what the costs of trade will mean for their operations.
"Plexus is in a stronger position than most as we have operations in both the UK and Europe – Plexus established a German subsidiary in 2011, has continued to invest in its UK facilities and has a manufacturing operation in Romania – so most of our customers are confident of working with us."
Plexus has also invested in its ‘go-to-market’ and customer facing teams and is looking to invest further in its physical infrastructure to meet the increased demand it’s seeing, with significant additional capabilities being developed in the Far East.
Mihm makes a wider point regarding Brexit in that in the company’s discussions with customers there appears to be little rigour when it comes to planning their operations post March 29, when the UK officially leaves the European Union.
"There is a not insignificant risk that there will be problems with goods crossing borders or with the movement of goods getting snarled up in bureaucratic red tape," he suggests.
"While we have reached out to our customers to better understand how they will look to ensure the security of supply, I think we have been surprised at the lack of urgency and a failure to engage more fully."
Of course some sectors are better prepared than others. Mihm points to the aerospace and defence sectors.
"I think there’s a degree of apathy when it comes to Brexit and a feeling that we’ll muddle through, even a sense that the issues being raised are being sensationalised."
Mihm says that Plexus is well placed, whatever happens post-Brexit, and the company continues to invest heavily in its facilities and capabilities.
"We’ve noticed a trend in which our partnership with regulated businesses is growing significantly and our engagement on the engineering front has seen demand take off - product and manufacturing services are driving growth."
One of the biggest challenges for Plexus remains finding high quality talent, as he explains.
"Whether in the UK, Germany or Romania it’s a challenge and not just in finding engineering or technical experience but when it comes to the leadership and management skills required to deliver our services.
"One of our key objectives when it comes to recruitment is better brand recognition of Plexus. While we have university affiliations, a number of apprenticeship programmes and sponsor numerous competitions our brand recognition remains low and needs to be improved. Last year we attended electronica – for only the second time – to raise awareness and the company’s profile."
2019 and beyond
Looking to the future Mihm is optimistic.
"For Plexus Europe remains a high growth market and the sectors we are addressing are rooted in strong growth, which we expect to continue.
"Risks associated with the supply chain, whether economic or political, will remain significant, but for a business like ours we are well placed and able to provide the flexibility that customers need.
"Mid to low volume highly complex products are what we are good at, along with repeatability and assured quality, and that will be something we will continue to invest in."
Oliver Mihm is regional president, EMEA for Plexus. Having joined the company in 2000 as a design engineer, he progressed through the company taking a number of leadership roles. He served as senior vice president of global engineering solutions and was given oversight of the industrial and commercial sector in 2014. In 2015 he was promoted to his current role, with responsibility for providing strategic leadership within the EMEA region.