Many have asked me why I got into electronics, why I started a company, and who mentored and inspired me. Have you ever asked a man that question? Probably not. You take it for granted that almost any man can start and run a company. Do you ask who inspired them? Who were their mentors? I have spent 20 years answering this question when I first meet someone and I thought, one day, when I’m not asked this, then I know women have made their mark. That day isn’t here yet, so I will go ahead and answer the question.
There are a handful of people who have made an impression on me, and gave me guidance or inspiration over the years, but the one in particular—without him I wouldn’t be here today—is my dad.
I grew up in Decatur, a small, blue-collar Midwest town in central Illinois. Employment opportunities included Caterpillar, Firestone, and General Electric. We also had two major agriculture manufacturers: Staley’s and Archer Daniels Midland, as well as a handful of other prominent manufacturers including Borg Warner and The Mueller Co.
I have great memories of Decatur and growing up. Decatur has a beautiful lake where we spent many a day skiing. When I was growing up, everyone in the town had a job. My dad spent 17 years at General Electric, building stereo phonographs. Remember those? They had a turntable on top, AM/FM radio and speakers. I compare this concept to the current 3-in-1 printers of today–multifunction all in one. When I was in seventh grade, my dad gave each of us kids our own personal stereo system. This was a state-of-the-art system at the time, and he was so proud to put these under the Christmas tree that year.
My dad was always interested in electronics. When I was a child, probably around the age of 6, he gave me and my sisters transistor radios that no longer worked. I know what you’re thinking—why would he give us broken radios? Yet, we thought it was great. He gave us a few tools, and we would sit on the back porch for hours, taking them apart, screw by screw. I have to admit, it was interesting to see how all the parts came apart, but it was even better when we could put them all back together correctly. This was my first experience with a production line.
Over the years, my dad made sure all his kids had the latest, next generation technology item. We had portable cassette players, boom boxes, and yes, even 8-track players in our cars. All because my dad made sure we did.
I think it was a natural call for me to enter the electronics industry. It was just in my blood. I vividly remember visiting my dad at the General Electric plant, where he showed me his workbench and talked about what he did all day. The facility was gigantic, and people rode bicycles to deliver documents from one department to the next. I remember how proud he was to be working there all those years. He had just completed his 17th year when General Electric announced the Decatur plant was shutting down with no warning and little to no extended resources for their employees. This was an extremely difficult time for many families that year—mine included.
All this must have made an impression on me because when I got into the electronics industry, I felt right at home. My dad taught me the love of manufacturing, how to embrace new technology and to enjoy what I do. I have come to realize that you either love this industry or you hate it. It’s in your blood or it’s not. When I interview applicants, I am always looking for that little spark, that small indication that they will love this industry and that they will love bringing products to life. It’s these individuals that will become long term employees.
To this day, I think of how important General Electric was to my dad and to our family. When I look at my employees, I see the same. I see families counting on CAMtek for their livelihood. Today I still see many life-long employees who remind me of my dad. And today, I see that there are many women in that group, working to put bread on their table.
My dad passed away a few years before I started CAMtek. I have always thought that if he were still alive, he would have had his own workbench out on the production floor, probably helping to troubleshoot or maybe he’d be showing off his soldering skills. He would have been proud of his daughter. He just wanted me to succeed. I think CAMtek would have been his home away from home and he would be asking me, “What’s next?”
Marie Curie said, “We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe we are gifted for something and that thing must be attained.”
Christine Davis is one of the leading women in electronics today. She started and successfully ran CAMtek for 20 years before selling to Zentech. She is currently an Executive VP and the General Manager of Zentech Bloomington.