New Midwest AeA chair looks to boost corridor

March 7, 2005

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

Marty Singer, 53, CEO of Chicago based PCTEL, the Nasdaq-traded maker of software, antennas and test equipment for mobile service providers is adding responsibilities.

Singer is the new chairman of the recently reopened Midwest Council of the American Electronics Association, one of the nation's top technology advocacy groups.

A seasoned entrepreneur and communications industry veteran with a history of revitalizing tech companies, Singer is the first new chairman of the Midwest Council since it reopened in November.

At AeA, Singer aims to turn around the once-prosperous I-88 tech corridor and help smaller tech companies get relief from costly Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

"Illinois has suffered," Singer says. "People used to talk about the I-88 technology corridor. Now you see empty buildings. I think the AeA can help promote the capabilities of Illinois."

Singer's appointment puts him on the AeA's national board. He was in Washington last week lobbying hard for Sarbanes-Oxley relief. Singer praises the intent of the federal law requiring more accounting oversight, but fears the cure is worse than the disease. "The implementation has been incredibly harmful to small technology companies," Singer says.

Small public companies pay 5 percent or 6 percent of revenue to comply, he says. That can cost jobs. "Sarbanes-Oxley can cost $1,300 per employee to implement in a small tech company."

AeA's 2003 Cyberstates report places Illinois seventh in high-tech employment with 238,416 jobs. That could change when AeA updates the numbers in May.

Singer is repatriating manufacturing jobs to Illinois. When PCTEL bought product lines from Andrew Corp., Singer closed factories in Mexico consolidating operations in Illinois. He's adding 45 jobs with no state aid.

At PCTEL Singer inherited a once-high-flying modem maker that offered a new breed product for $24 when competitor's modems cost $240, Singer says. The economic downturn and cost pressure from Asia pushed modem prices to $1.85 when Singer arrived in 2001.

The company lost $55 million on $41 million in revenue. During his first year, Singer boosted revenues to $49 million and turned a profit of $6.5 million.

Turning IP to profits

Singer's turnaround was predicated on gaining commercial value from PCTEL's intellectual property. It was a skill he acquired in the 1990s as a vice president at Motorola. After cutting costs in the modem business, Singer generated $40 million in intellectual property revenues. He used those funds to buy companies supporting wireless mobility.

Previously, Singer was CEO of Safco, a testing equipment provider. He groomed Safco for sale to Agilent Technologies. The company, which had been bought for roughly $30 million, was sold for an estimated $122 million, according to Singer.

Before PCTEL, Safco and Motorola, Singer held positions at Tellabs and AT&T, where he worked in the Bell Labs.

Singer's appointment follows the naming of Ed Longanecker, 32, as AeA Midwest executive director. "Marty is very well-respected locally and nationally," Longanecker said. "He cares about high tech in Illinois."

Maybe Singer can continue his turnaround magic on Illinois tech.

Three Fast Chicagoans

Three locals were named to the Fast Company annual Fast 50 list:

*Pat Spain, CEO of High Beam Research, made the list for founding the company that blends the benefits of free on-line services like Google with paid services like Lexis-Nexis.

*Roberto Herencia, president of Banco Popular North America, was named for expanding the mandate of the bank.

*Ray Lauk, superintendent of Lyons Elementary School District 103, convinced residents to accept property tax increases to improve public schools.

Bits & bytes

BtoB magazine editor Ellis Booker is crowing about Wednesday's NetMarketing breakfast at the Hyatt Regency.

"If Chicago's ad community wants to stay in the game they better show up," Booker says.

It's a good idea. Online advertising is booming. Online ad revenues for 2004 are $9.6 billion, up 32 percent over 2003 according to Booker. Speakers include Dave Friedman, central region president, Avenue A/Razorfish; Dave Cerino, general manager, Orbitz for Business; Kurt Baldassari, director e-commerce, CDW; and Cindy Lieberman, marketing communications director, Zebra Technologies.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.

 

 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners