The Definition of Experience:
Inside the Contract Electronics Manufacturing Services Industry
By Jim Adameit
One Man's Stand Against The Corporate Machine. An edgy, racy, action-packed business / financial / technology thriller, about the global industry that manufactures and brings us all our smart phones, laptop computers, cloud servers - and virtually any other electronics products you can think of.
This industry is known as Contract Manufacturing, or Electronics Manufacturing Services - which employs hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It could be the largest industry that most people have never heard of. And you’d be surprised what really goes on there.
Think this is boring stuff? In a US $500 billion-dollar global market - with careers, and THAT much money at stake? Think again...
Milton Raynor rubbed his eyes with both forefingers, his coke-bottle thick black frame glasses moving up and down on his face as he did. Both eyes were now dry and burning from over twelve hours of non-stop use. He’d gone back and forth between the two 24” workstation displays in front of him, the C and D sized plotted drawings taped to his cubicle walls, the product specs and bills of materials strewn on his desk, and various electronic component catalogues on his side table. Ordinarily he would have left the office after eight hours, nine hours max. His eyes and his ass usually well tired enough by then to stop for the day.
But these were especially stressful times, and they called for extraordinary efforts. And besides, he had a deadline to meet. A very critical deadline. One that couldn’t be missed. Milt slid his chair back and stood, grabbed the top of his blue ceramic coffee mug with spread fingers, and walked a few hallways over to the break room. Along the way, he tapped his college class ring on the ceramic, making a clinking sound. Purdue University, College of Engineering. A nervous habit he had. It wasn’t unheard of for design engineers to work late and put in extra hours from time to time. But he was on a special mission.
Milt got to the break room closest to his cubicle, put his mug under the Keurig, selected a k-cup of high octane dark Sumatra coffee and got his refill. After a couple of splashes of powdered creamer he squeezed from the canister, which he swished around in his cup now holding it by the handle, he was back in business again. Or almost so. He took a careful sip trying not to burn his tongue, and then started on his way back to his cube. He passed one of the janitors vacuuming the dark industrial carpeting that ran through the design wing.
Each wing had different colored cubicle walls, so if one was lost in the nearly half million square foot building, all you’d have to do is look over at the partition colors to figure out roughly where you were, then follow the ROYGBIV sequence back to where you needed to be. The standing joke was that red was chosen for the engineering area so the blood stains from over-worked engineers wouldn’t show on the walls. Any employees who happened to be color blind, had a particular challenge though.
Milt made it back to his desk just in time to hear his cell phone ring. He carefully put down his coffee, shuffled some papers off of several stacks, tracing the source of the rings to uncover his buried iphone. He pushed the button to connect. His finger nails were bitten back halfway to the cuticle. “Milt?” “Yes, this is he”, as it then occurred to him who the voice was on the other end. Milt pulled his chair over and sat down slowly. “I need a status report from you”, the man said. He didn’t need to identify himself, Milt knew who he was.
“I have your schedule right in front of me. Let’s go over where you are. D-Day is in three weeks. I certainly hope you’re going to tell me you’re on plan and won’t miss that date. But don’t ever lie to me. Bad things happen when people lie to me.” Milt felt his heart pounding, now faster and stronger than usual. He was clear about D-Day, D for delivery… when all his design deliverables were due. Milt took a deep breath, and chose his words carefully. He began to speak, slowly at first, then faster, like he’d taken a bottle full of speed and they’d just kicked in. “I’m at work, and on schedule, I’ll make the deadline”, Milt said, his voice beginning to stutter a little. “Good to hear”, the man said. “You know what arrangements to make when you’re done, right?” “Yes. Yes, I know what to do when I’m done with this project”, Milt said. “Fine then, I’ll let you get back to work. I’ll check on you again soon. Don’t miss your deadline”, then the man ended the call before Milt could say anything else.
He stared at the phone for a few beats, making sure the caller had indeed gone. Milt dropped his phone on his desk and sat in his chair for a few minutes, slowly leaning his head back on an imaginary head rest with his eyes closed, trying to slow down his breathing. He felt his the back of his neck get clammy. He tried to do some self-talk that his therapist taught him, to calm himself down when he was feeling panicked. That alone wasn’t going to do it though. After a few minutes with insufficient results, Milt reached into his middle desk drawer. The one against the left side cubicle wall, pushing random pieces of paper aside to get to the back of the drawer. Then he stopped, and stood up, craning his head all around to see if anyone was nearby.
Satisfied he had no unplanned visitors or other interlopers, Milt sat back down and reached into the desk again. He felt with his left hand for the small metal divider that portioned off the very back part of that drawer. He then pulled the divider forward, which he’d rigged with two springs on swivel pins attached to the drawer, so it’d move back and forth like a small door for easy access, to hide the back compartment. Milt reached in further, and pulled out one of two plastic green Mountain Dew bottles he had hidden back there. He quickly screwed off the lime green cap and poured the equivalent of two shots into his coffee cup. But it wasn’t the yellow green of Mountain Dew. It was the amber brown of Maker’s Mark. He carefully put the cap back on, making sure not to cross thread the cap onto the bottle, and reversed his procedure, stowing the bottle back into its hiding place, until the next time Milt needed it. That might be a few minutes from now, or might be in an hour, but he knew he’d need it again before too long. Meditation and self-talk only did so much.
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Jim Adameit is the author of 'The Definition of Experience', his debut ‘corporate noir’ / technology thriller novel. Jim is a 30+ year veteran of the Contract Manufacturing / Electronic Manufacturing Services (CM/EMS) Industry – an industry sometimes controversial, and always extremely competitive. He’s held global positions in project management, sales and marketing, and manufacturing operations. Jim’s confident those in the CM/EMS industry will easily relate to the business aspects, terminology, and drama - and hopeful that others unfamiliar will find this a fascinating and insightful journey into new world. Think early business thrillers from Joseph Finder - ‘Company Man’, ‘Paranoia’, ‘Power Play’ - meets Michael Crichton’s ‘Disclosure’.
Jim’s been described as “…the Tom Clancy of corporate techno-thrillers – delightfully complex and wildly entertaining.”
He’s now writing his second novel, the sequel to this one, entitled ‘The Definition of a Secret’.
(PS - the electronic device on which you're reading this, was made by a company in this industry!)