Siemon treats the cabling industry like family

Ron Karjian

Other than at&t, how many current telecommunications-related companies can you name that were around near the turn of the century, the twentieth century, that is? John A. Siemon, engineering vice president of the Siemon Co. (Watertown, CT), can name at least one. "I`ve taken part in the continued stewardship of a family business that is now in its ninety-fifth year," says Siemon. "Sustaining this legacy and the values that go along with it have provided the greatest motivation in my career and the greatest challenge."

Siemon has helped sustain the family business by continually creating new telecommunications products. He now holds 45 U.S. patents, mainly for connecting hardware, cabling components, and test equipment, which "enable faster, more reliable access to people and information," says Siemon, who is co-chairman of the tia`s TR-41.8.1 working group, chairman of the U.S. Advisory Group to iso/iec jtc-1/SC-25/WG-3, past chairman of the tia PN-2948 Connecting Hardware Task Group for the development of tsb-40 and tsb-40A, and a former chapter editor of eia/tia-568, tia/eia-568a, and iso/iec-11801. "To me, the telecommunications industry is about access. By providing improved access to the information people need, our industry can improve the quality of life for everyone."

Cooperation essential

He also believes the "global acceptance of structured cabling and corresponding inter-national standardization is the single most significant change in the industry over the past five years. Considering the extreme differences that exist from country to country over something as basic as electrical power, it`s a major accomplishment that standard telecommu-nications interfaces and performance requirements have taken hold throughout the world for both twisted-pair and optical-fiber cable."

The Siemon Co.`s first product in 1903 ostensibly was a good distance from the cabling industry. It was a compound and process for manufacturing carving knife handles. Then in 1906, John Siemon`s great-grandfather, Carl, who founded the company, created resin compound that consisted of clay from the Connecticut River basin. When Carl Siemon discovered that the compound possessed good dielectric properties and could endure extreme heat and boiling water, he contracted with at&t to manufacture three-pole connecting blocks, representing the company`s first telecommunications-cabling component.

"To demonstrate the durability of his product compared with another product already on the market, my great-grandfather met with a buyer from at&t at the P.T. Barnum Hotel in Bridgeport, CT, and he proceeded to drop both products on the floor. The other product broke and the Siemon product didn`t." Ever since, the company`s core business has been in manufacturing passive telecommunications components for both copper and fiber cabling.

John Siemon hasn`t worked strictly in the family business. After earning a bachelor`s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of New Hampshire and a master`s degree in engineering and applied science from Yale University, he joined Teradyne Connection Systems as development and product engineer before moving on to his namesake company as an engineering manager 13 years ago.

Don`t get ahead of yourself

Siemon says that even though "the past five years have been a great ride for the cabling industry, we must proceed carefully now that we are on the verge of adopting next-generation requirements for twisted-pair and optical-fiber cabling. Potential potholes on the road ahead include failure to maintain the `superset` concept, so that future twisted-pair systems are fully compatible with existing applications and components. Another important precaution is that we undertake to challenge ourselves to push next-generation requirements to the edge of the envelope. This goal should help to avoid the treadmill effect of introducing a new category or fiber solution every two to three years. Also, in concentrating our efforts on next-generation requirements, we must be careful not to undermine the continued viability of 62.5-micron fiber and Category 5 cabling for existing and future applications."

More specifically, says Siemon, "there are substantial risks in creating demand for a system that has not yet been standardized. The industry must continue to pull together to ratify Category 6 requirements and test methods without cutting corners." That philosophy will become all the more critical as the burgeoning cabling industry moves into the twenty-first century and Siemon`s family business closes in on its first century of operation.

Siemon has authored several articles on telecommunications connector transmission properties for use in premises cabling and computers. He`s also chairman of bicsi`s Engineering and Methods Committee, which has written the tdmm, lan Design Manual, and Cabling Installation Manual. "My college advisor told me that I would be working for an industry, not for a company," says Siemon. "The individuals that dedicate a significant amount of their professional and personal time to standards development embody this philosophy."

Siemon practices that philosophy every day and has turned it into his own simple formula for happiness: Personal life plus professional life equal dedication to the welfare of his family business and the entire industry. Married seven years, with two young sons, Siemon enjoys active sports such as skiing, bicycling, and hockey when he finds the time to separate his family life from the business.

He shares the company`s leadership role with brothers Hank, sales vice president; C.K., vice president of reseller services; and Carl, president and chief executive, the fourth successive Carl Siemon in the company`s history to hold that position. "We`re all fortunate to have complementary skills; it certainly gives new meaning to the expression `family planning,` " quips John Siemon.

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