Mike Thompson ’76 has worked in the energy and technology sectors, in a variety of positions from the bottom rung of the corporate ladder to the CEO spot his own company, and there’s one important lesson he’s learned that he wants today’s Aggie students to know: “Never doubt your education at Mays,” he told students on a recent visit. He’s worked with plenty of colleagues from Ivy League schools and discovered that his education was as good as theirs. In the end, he says, “You’ll be as successful as you want to be…you’re as well prepared as anybody.”

Today, Thompson is a diversified investor and entrepreneur. He is CEO of ITS, an electronics manufacturing services company based in Alpharetta, Georgia. He also serves as chairman and founder of Real Time Manufacturing (RTM), a software company that provides real-time data collection.

Mike Thompson '76, CEO of ITS and chairman of Real Time Manufacturing, recently spoke to Mays undergraduates about the value of their education and his experiences as a small business owner.
Mike Thompson ’76, CEO of ITS and chairman of Real Time Manufacturing, recently spoke to Mays undergraduates about the value of their education and his experiences as a small business owner. (view more photos)

He didn’t start out with an interest in electronics, he told students. When he left A&M in 1976, he began career in oilfield services. “I tasted the good times of the oil boom for about three years,” he said, “then I lived through the oil bust.” For several years, he continued in the industry, and for a while was responsible for the ignominious task of firing many of his coworkers. He earned an MBA from A&M in 1982 and left the oil industry in 1987. Like many others in that field, he went into electronics as personal computers were beginning to gain popularity.

Thompson said his experience in the electronics industry has been filled with change—and he wasn’t talking about technology innovation. Before he became his own boss, he shifted positions repeatedly as frequent mergers and acquisitions dictated. He’s worked in a variety of locations all over North America, for companies such as Comptronix Corporation, K*Tec Electronics, Sanmina Corporation, Avex Electronics, and NL Industries.

When he left K*Tec, he said he spent time evaluating his options. He didn’t strictly have to work, but at 45, he was too young to want to retire. In the past his motivation had been to provide for his wife and two children. That done, he sought a new motivator. Today, he works and invests to create a better world by providing jobs in the U.S. He didn’t intend to stay on at the helm of ITS, however, two years later he says he thoroughly enjoys the work and the employees that make it worthwhile.

As a small business owner, his driving force for success is his people. Thompson has 100 employees, and says he is dedicated to improving their lives by providing a great job and opportunities for growth. It’s a challenging market, as there are many low-cost electronics manufacturers overseas. His ambition is to create an American niche in that market. The growing backlash to off-shoring because of counterfeiting of technology concerns makes it a great time for creating such a niche.

Thompson says he is proud of the fact that ITS doesn’t have any debt, though he admits a major concern for him as a small business owner is the increasing cost of health care, which makes it hard to stay competitive with many overseas companies who have no such expense.

ITS builds some alternative energy products, such as solar panel battery convertors, though their main product currently is wireless security. Their small size enables them to have a toe in other products as well. “Right now we are quoting to build dumbbells for the Wii,” he told students. They are nimble enough to service large corporate clients, as well as smaller local ones interested in repair, logistics, and upgrades.

Thompson’s had a few final gems of business wisdom to share with students:

  • Know your audience.
  • The one thing you can count on is CHANGE.
  • Trust your intuition. If a scenario seems too good to be true, it is.
  • “Only the paranoid survive.” Never relax, always be proactive.
  • Integrity is everything. Your reputation precedes you in business.
  • Success happens when preparation meets opportunity.