A Chicago company called Littelfuse is powering safety, heating and cooling and remote-control technologies inside some of today’s best-known consumer electronics and driverless hybrid and electric cars — and growing fast, with a 15 percent yearly growth plan. Gordon Hunter is chief executive officer of the 89-year-old manufacturer of electric fuses and fuses. Hunter — who can’t name all the companies Littelfuse contracts with but himself drives a Tesla — spoke with Sandra Guy of the Chicago Sun-Times. A condensed transcript follows.
Question: In what brands are your fuses a key component?
Answer: Littelfuse’s products are an integral part of cars made by Ford Motor Co., BMW and Hyundai Motor Co., as well as the leading electric-car manufacturer. Our fuses and safety systems are also in drones, LED lights, solar and wind-farm electric converters, Samsung TVs, Haier refrigerators, Dyson vacuum cleaners, First Solar solar chargers and Gogoro electric scooters in Taiwan.
Q: Where are the big growth opportunities?
A: To be there at the beginning of the design cycle for electric cars and their charging stations is a huge opportunity. The architecture isn’t standardized yet at charging stations or in the on-board charging inside the vehicle.
GM has just announced that the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, which will go into commercial production at the end of 2016, will have more than 200 miles of range at a price around $30,000 after tax credits.
Our fuses are installed in a vehicle such as that so the driver doesn’t charge up over the recommended current. Also, a driverless car has to have an incredibly reliable electrical system.
Another key area is the smart home — with remote app-controlled thermostats, smoke detectors, security cameras, garage doors and washers and dryers.
Another area is LED lighting, which has grown from zero five years ago to a $15 million business for us today — and growing, as residential buildings, street lights, the auto industry, the whole word become more energy-efficient.
Our fuses also are inside converters at solar and wind-power farms that convert the wind and solar power into AC current so it can be used in a utility’s electrical system or sent directly to a home.
Q: You started a training program that lets employees work in different areas and throughout the world to expand their skills, their networks and their worldview. How does that work?
A: At my first job as an engineer at Ford Motor Co. in England, Ford had a great training program. You could move among technology, manufacturing, logistics, purchasing, marketing, etc. The opportunity to see different business functions was a great benefit for me.
After I finished business school, the next employer in my career, Raychem, had a similar culture.
The more we can get people to work across borders, I think it will make the world a safer and a better place. As a company, our goal is not just to develop products but to develop global working relationships that can help accelerate our working together for a safer world.
Q: What’s your company’s presence in the Chicago area and worldwide?
A: Of the more than 10,000 we’ll employ worldwide, we have more than 620 in the United States; 275 at headquarters; 40 in our technology center in Mount Prospect, twice the size it was two years ago; and 25 engineers in our high-power electrical team in Champaign near the University of Illinois.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I enjoy driving my Tesla.
I like sports. I ski, ride bikes, play soccer and go to the gym early before work. We have a soccer team at Littelfuse, and I play pickup wherever I can. I’ve always been a forward.
My wife Sirpa and I have two daughters. Liisa, 35, works at Facebook and has two children. Katri, 33, works in real estate in Washington, D.C.
I listen to the Beatles, but Sting is my favorite. He’s from the same town as me — Newcastle, a ship-building town in the northeast of England just below the Scottish border.