Silicon Valley’s Go-To Irishman in China

With makers of mobile phones and other consumer technology rushing to beat the competition to market with their newest gadgets, logistics has taken on increased importance for everyone from hardware giants like Apple to start-ups seeking to get their first product into the hands of consumers. PCH International, a company started by Irishman Liam Casey is the company they  to for help.

When supply chain logistics go wrong, it can lead to a delayed launch and even the failure of a product that cost millions of dollars to design and produce. When done right, it goes largely unnoticed.

To ensure the process does not introduce costly delays companies in a variety of industries are increasingly turning to Cork, Ireland-based PCH International. It designs, manufacturers and distributes components for Apple and other well-known producers of smartphones, tablets, eReaders and other electronic devices. By leveraging its contacts with manufacturers in China, PCH says it is able to economically and efficiently take care of everything from the design of a product all the way to delivery.

Sometimes the company makes the entire product and sometimes it makes components that are shipped somewhere for final assembly. In a bid to achieve higher margins, PCH has increasingly focused less on the straight manufacturing and more on providing all aspects of the supply chain.

Irishman Liam Casey, PCH’s chief executive and founder, keeps his list of clients secret. News that Apple is a client only became known when the maker of the iPhone “outed” PCH by publishing its list of suppliers. All that he will say is that the company works with the consumer electronics, telecoms and medical devices industries.

Casey founded PCH in 1996 and for two years worked alone, familiarizing himself with the industry and the opportunities and pitfalls of operating in China. He has lived in Shenzhen, the city in southern China where PCH has its production facilities, for 15 years and has grown his company to 3,000 employees and annual sales of more than $400 million.

“We want (clients) to see there is opportunity in China, but that they don’t have to be heavily involved to take advantage of it,” says Casey, a scheduled speaker at the Dublin Web Summit.

PCH International’s revenue has been on a steady upward trend from $30 million in 2001 to $152 million in 2009 and $413 million in 2010. PCH, which does not release profitability figures, has not yet announced its 2011 earnings.

Casey spent time working in Silicon Valley and his company’s name is in homage to the Pacific Coast Highway, the California coastal highway. While the company is headquartered in Cork, where 80 people work, and production is in Shenzhen, many of the clients are in Silicon Valley. PCH has been expanding its reach over the last few years and now has clients across the globe and ten regional offices.

PCH raised $21 million in 2008 from Norwest Venture Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Focus Ventures Partners.In February last year, Triangle Peak Partners and Cross Creek invested $26 million in PCH. Four months later Northbrook Investments and J. Christopher Burch joined existing investors in another $30 million round of funding, bringing the total raised so far to $77 million.

“Up to 2008 we were bootstrapping it,” says Casey. “We were missing money, it was holding back growth. We were an Ireland-headquartered company with clients in Silicon Valley and production in China. I wasn’t easy to find somebody who wanted to fund that.”

Casey, who has been named Ireland’s international start-up ambassador to China, says PCH now has a plethora of possibilities for future funding. He said he is keeping his options open and has not excluded anything, including a stock market listing.

The focus now is on increasing the visibility of the type of consumer product development and supply chain management that PCH can deliver, from concept to delivery. “The hardest thing in this space is that it is new and you have to create a category that is recognized,” says Casey. “So we hope others enter the space; we just want to make sure we are the best.”

In June PCH bought Lime Lab, a product development company and incubator based in Silicon Valley, to boost its ability to do early-stage design and engineering to build prototypes. Recently, for example, it developed, produced and distributed LARK, a “silent unalarm clock” designed by entrepreneur Julia Hu that turns an iPhone into a sleep-tracking device.

“We have to turn down companies that want to work with us and only work with those we think can scale,” says Casey. “We focus on the founders and their business plans. There must be a roadmap and we must see that the founder and entrepreneur are hungry.”

One of the industries PCH wants to enter is robotics and Casey says PCH may soon do a deal with Intuitive Automata, maker of Autom, a robot that is a weight loss coach.

In the meantime, PCH will keep toiling out of the spotlight making sure its clients' next tech gadgets make it to market in record time.

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