[Cialug] Hutchinson Quote

Todd Walton tdwalton at gmail.com
Sat Aug 1 17:13:16 CDT 2009

I heard a lecture last month by the CEO of Hutchinson Technology:

Their core business is making suspension assemblies for hard drives.
Suspension assemblies, according to their website, "precisely position
the recording head above the disk and provide the electrical
connection from the recording head to the disk drive’s circuitry".
They supply 90-some percent of all the suspension assemblies in the

As we pack more and more storage capacity onto hard drives, the bits
are being squeezed into less and less space.  Well, just as really
tiny writing on paper would mean you'd have to put the page very close
to your face to read it, so really tiny magnetic bits require the
read/write head to be really close to the platter.  Their suspension
assemblies are responsible for holding the head very close and no

He said that with how densely they pack bits onto hard drives these
days, the head must hover 9 nanometers from the platter.  So the
springs that hold the head in place must be very very accurate.  To
compare, press your thumb to your desk and then take it away.  The
fingerprint you just left behind is 5000 nanometers high.

To make it a little more real, imagine scaling this head up to the
size of a Boeing 747.  The airplane would be flying at five times the
speed of sound, at an 1/8 of an inch off the ground (plus or minus
1/64 of an inch).  And it must maintain that short distance at that
speed over ocean waves and over mountain ranges.  And it has to count
blades of grass while doing it.

That’s amazing.  That’s quality control.  That's highly skilled PhD
engineers trained in fundamental sciences.

But that's also corporate culture, which is what his talk was actually
about.  When the company got started there were some 20 different
manufacturers across the United States.  Now there is only one,
Hutchinson.  Hutchinson did not acquire any of them.  They all went
out of business because they couldn't compete.  There are only two
such manufacturers in Asia today.  It's a very low margin business,
and the margin only shrinks as time goes on.  Yet still these hard
drive manufacturers choose to buy from Hutchinson and pay the shipping
from the United States to Taiwan or China or South Korea where the
drives are manufactured.

The CEO, Wayne Fortun, built his company's corporate culture
documents, the values and all that, on Objectivist principles.  He
hired the Ayn Rand Institute to help him with the task, and they
conducted training of all the officers and most of the leaders in the
company.  He is personally an Objectivist, but he doesn't expect any
others to be, he doesn't hire based on that, and he knows full well
that many employees disagree with the company values, particularly
being reality-oriented and just, but he asks only that they put on
that hat when they come to work.

And it's been serving the company well.  The guy is very animated and
seems very smart.  I enjoyed the talk.


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