The 1960s were the gold-rush era for energetic sales professionals. The American semiconductor industry was still young, chip consumption in Europe low, and customers were not yet accustomed to the new technology. With the chip wave, the concept of authorised dealers for electronics, which originated in the radio spare parts business, arrived in Germany. Erich Fischer, 31 and sales manager at Motorola in Wiesbaden, Germany, recognised the potential in the distribution business and founded his company EBV Elektronik GmbH, based in Düsseldorf, in June 1969.
Right from the start, his strategy set his business apart from others: Fischer consistently counted on direct customer service with technical field service and did not limit himself to small customer accounts. There was a major need for explanation and guidance. EBV was back then already the only distributor able to explain to customers what semiconductors, integrated circuits and transistors were and where they could be used. “Distribution was yesterday. Today is EBV was already applicable as the company‘s motto even back then – though it was not coined by management until 1998. From the large host of about 250 to 300 small and large distributors that shot up faster than mushrooms from the ground, EBV proved to be one of the few that succeeded. Or, as Erich Fischer described it: “Those who don‘t plan for the future don’t have one.“
“Quality is more important than quantity.” - Erich Fischer
His business principles still apply today. They fit on one sheet of paper: only semiconductors, focused line card with the best suppliers, no consignment warehouse, sound technical expertise, only the best employees, only customers who pay promptly. With uncompromising customer service, he turned EBV into one of the world‘s most successful companies in the industry. “Quality is more important than quantity” was Fischer‘s credo. ”And quality can‘t help but lead to quantity.“ He was to be proved right.
With only five employees handling all purchasing and sales themselves, the company opened its doors in the centre of Düsseldorf in October 1969. Motorola helped “kick-start” the company with a franchise agreement for North Rhine-Westphalia, which had just opened up – at that time, agencies were assigned from state to state, which nowadays is unthinkable in the age of global service and sales agreements. During its start-up period, the company was handling about 20 customers.
Yet, in fact, Fischer was pushing hard to get into Bavaria. It was where major customers like Siemens and Grundig were located. Then chance played its part. The Motorola Bavaria representative surprisingly left the business in November 1969, and the chip manufacturer offered Fischer Bavaria in exchange. Munich became the new home of EBV.
EBV‘s early years were marked by surging growth in sales. They were years in which electronics steadily became an integral part of everyday life, and in which demand from industry for semiconductors was correspondingly high. In the company‘s first full year of business, 1970, a staff of ten was already generating sales of nearly four million Marks. As early as 1972, EBV broke through the ten million Mark barrier with a 50 percent leap in sales. And at the end of December that year, the sales team acquired the largest order in EBV‘s history up to that point, totalling over 750,000 Marks. The sales growth in 1973 was then 70 percent. In 1974 EBV surged through the 15 million barrier, finishing the year with sales of 16.4 million Marks.
EBV successfully kept pace with the triumphant advance of the semiconductor, increasing its sales from 16 to 59 million Marks between 1974 and 1979. In 1979 alone, the company saw its sales rise 30 percent against the previous year. Thanks to its concentration on a small number of technology-leading semiconductor manufacturers, EBV had become the top distributor of every manufacturer it represented – not just in Germany, but throughout Europe. It was a remarkable achievement.
Even back then, EBV was able to build on stable customer relationships. A few figures back up that claim: Of the total sales turnover in both 1973 and 1978, well over a third was attributable to the same top ten customers, even though the business had almost tripled in size during that time and the customer base was growing rapidly. In 1978, EBV‘s sales team generated 75 percent of its total turnover with customers they had been serving for five years or more. And EBV‘s business was always highly profitable. Its per capita sales at the time of around one million Marks a year were twice as high as the industry norm. This illustrates how, by contrast, the large numbers of small orders and the wide product range takes its toll on broad-liners.
An end to temporary accommodation: The old villa in Harlaching near Munich which EBV had rented seven years previously was yet again bursting at the seams. So to mark its tenth anniversary, EBV decided to invest in new premises, for the first time moving into a proper office block, in the Munich suburb of Unterhaching, at Oberweg number 6.
The new corporate headquarters covered a thousand square metres, including the central warehouse, order processing department, accounts and management functions; the Bavaria sales office; and the new microprocessor centre.
After a dip in 1981, when a recession saw EBV for the first time suffer a fall in sales (from 73 down to 62 million) and earnings, more highs followed. The boom in personal and home computers and in the automotive industry brought a massive surge in demand. By 1983 EBV‘s sales had reached 86 million Marks, and in 1984 they leapt to a staggering 155 million. A short time later, a crisis in PC sales led to a collapse in chip orders. Yet EBV emerged relatively unscathed, remaining profitable and in 1985 dropping just three percent of its sales, down to just under 150 million. In 1986 EBV suffered its worst year, with a ten percent fall in sales.
However, the opening of the first offices outside Germany starting in 1986 meant that there was only one way for sales to move: upwards. At the company‘s 20th anniversary in 1989, EBV‘s employees were celebrating sales of over 242 million Marks.
Globalisation was gradually spreading. For EBV too – previously an entirely German business – a new era was beginning. In January 1986, EBV opened the first EBV office outside of Germany, close to Brussels Airport. The first franchise partner was Motorola, and indeed EBV was the first distributor ever to be awarded a contract outside of its home country. Shortly afterwards, a sales office was established in the Netherlands.
By 1994 sales had reached 500 million, and in 1995 just under 600 million. The record shows that between 1970 and 1995 EBV grew by an amazing average of 22 percent a year.
After the company‘s acquisition by Raab Karcher and the resultant expansion, sales in 1996 surged to 630 million Marks and the workforce grew to 470. In 1998 – boosted by its “eastward expansion” – EBV topped a billion Marks in sales for the first time. There could hardly have been more pleasing performance figures with which to celebrate the company‘s 30th anniversary in 1999.
A German company trading on the Italian market? EBV launched EBV Italy in Milan in 1992 by - for the first time - purchasing an outside business in order to gain a foothold in Italy, Spain and Switzerland. EBV took over the stock, customer database, bank obligations and 20 Italy-based staff from Kontron Components.
The first year encountered many stumbling blocks. Still, EBV‘s market share grew steadily from month to month. The Italians engaged in a lively contest with their EBV colleagues in France (where the office had opened a year earlier) to achieve the best monthly sales figures.
The beginnings in Spain were just as strenuous. Potential customers confused EBV with a Spanish bank with a similar-sounding name. For non-Spanish people, the Iberian lifestyle and, especially, the office hours took some getting used to: two to three hours‘ siesta during which business life came to a complete stop; lunch around 3 in the afternoon; dinner at 11 at night.
Logistics was the key to success in Italy and Spain. Reliable delivery and top-class logistics service were core elements of EBV‘s business approach even back in 1992. What astounded the Italians was that they could place an order as late as 6 p.m. one day and have UPS deliver it to their door by 9 a.m. the next. And the goods were in perfect condition, in their original packaging. Even local suppliers in Italy and Spain couldn‘t manage that at the time. This was early evidence that for EBV ‘Europe-wide’ does not just mean operating in a few countries with different manufacturers. It means that all customers in every country are provided with the same level of logistical and technical service based on the same fundamental strategy.
And the expansion went on: Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia joined Spain, Italy, Portugal and France as part of the EBV Southern Europe region.
In Eastern Europe, especially, lucrative new markets were emerging. But EBV was not in a position to expand as necessary without outside capital. Many companies were interested in EBV at the time. It was after all a rock-solid business, rated within the industry as being the world‘s best distributor. Fischer‘s preferred partner was a financially strong subsidiary of Veba Electronics: Raab Karcher. As well as achieving a good selling price, his primary concern was to preserve the unity of EBV.
Following the takeover by Raab Karcher, which was officially completed on April 1, 1996, EBV expanded very rapidly. Within 18 months, EBV opened 21 new EBV offices in 15 countries: Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Slovenia, Greece, Hungary, Turkey, Israel, Russia, South Africa, France, Poland and the Czech Republic. Most of the new branches were started from scratch in accustomed EBV style; only in Greece and South Africa EBV acquire existing distributors and attune them to the EBV way of doing things. After three years, sales had doubled to a billion Marks. EBV is now a truly pan-European organisation, with 50 branches in 23 countries, including South Africa and Israel.
The company‘s rapid expansion, with more than 20 offices openings in just two years, is reflected in its books. EBV‘s sales turnover rose 62 percent from 1996 to 1998, breaking through the billion Mark barrier for the first time.
After the turn of the millennium, the dot-com boom gave further impetus to EBV‘s sales growth. Killer applications for mobile phones, for example, had a direct impact on the distribution business, and in the year 2000 EBV sales broke through the two billion barrier – this time in euros. Avnet Electronics Marketing acquired EBV Elektronik in late 2000.
In 2001 and the following years, EBV faced the same downturn as the market but managed it considerably better, gaining significant market share, honing its technical expertise towards customer projects, developing new vertical market models and further optimising its line card by adding key lines. The combination of local presence – over 60 offices everywhere in Europe – with a centralised back office and of technical expertise with a strong commodity business makes EBV robust and future-proof under any but the worst market conditions.
The explosion in sales once again forced EBV to expand. During 2000/2001, the warehouse and headquarters moved yet again – to Poing, east of Munich.
EBV started to develop reference design kits. The first EBV board, named “DragonFire”, was launched onto the market in late 2006. This was not a simple demo version, but a complete, usable reference platform comprising both hardware and software.
Furthermore with “ECOmise it”, EBV was taking on responsibility for protecting the environment and launched a number of initiatives since 2008. With initiatives EBV is continually seeking to raise awareness among its employees of the need to be climate-friendly.
After having established its vertical market segment structure and built it through the EMEA region EBV Elektronik started in 2010 to offer via EBVchips a brand-new additional service in which it collaborates with customers to design its own semiconductors. EBVchips are produced by EBV’s manufacturers and distributed exclusively by EBV. For the first time in the history of the semiconductor industry, one distributor is now providing even small and medium-sized companies with access to specially customised products featuring state-of-the-art technology with the best price/performance ratio!
"EBVchips takes the semiconductor distribution to a whole new level." Slobodan Puljarevic. “With EBVchips, we now represent the interface between many thousands of customers and the manufacturer”, explains Slobodan Puljarevic, President and CEO of EBV Elektronik. “This takes semiconductor distribution to a whole new level.”