How Chuck Mattera grew II-VI into a multibillion-dollar business

 

One of CEO Chuck Mattera’s business philosophies is to be bold — and bold certainly describes II-VI Inc.’s acquisition of optical module and component vendor Finisar Corp.

Rather than doing 20 more acquisitions for $50-million or $100-million companies, buying a company that’s the same size as II-VI — with 2018 revenue of $1.3 billion — allows the manufacturer to accelerate synergies and continue to grow. However, Mattera admits that taking on $2 billion worth of debt is daunting.

“It’s a staggering and steep slope to climb. But at the end of the day, all the good things about the world, they came about by unreasonable people dedicated to doing something that other people had dismissed as being impossible to do,” Mattera says.

And as someone who lives to work, Mattera is ready for the challenge, including connecting with the new employees. He already has 12,500 employees at II-VI, and that number will double with the acquisition.

“I want to be where the people are. I want to listen. I want to understand and I want to be understood,” he says. “That requires an intimacy that’s difficult to have, unless you’re out engaging with people and communicating with them.”

For example, in August, Mattera spent the weekend in California getting to know Finisar employees beyond the executive team. He also spoke with executives in Sweden, Italy and China.

“It’s a constant rallying cry — reminding people and reinforcing our objectives, what is our purpose, how determined, how loyal, how patient we have to be with both the market and with each other,” Mattera says.

The company’s performance has to shine because investors have a lot of choices, and II-VI is asking people to have confidence in it.

“We have to be able to generate value for all the stakeholders. That’s the investors, but not only. The customers, but not only. The employees, but not only. The communities that we operate in, but not only,” he says.

The ability to seize opportunities with patient capital and hard work has helped the Saxonburg-headquartered company grow into a billion-dollar business with applications in materials processing, communications, aerospace and defense, life sciences, semiconductor capital equipment, automotive and consumer electronics.

“Three years ago, we had three customers that bought more than $10 million from us. Today, we have 26 that bought more than $10 million from us,” says Mattera, who sees the $3.2 billion acquisition of Finisar as the next step in that evolution.

See the opportunity, shoulder the risk

Mattera is II-VI’s third CEO in its 48-year history. In fact, the founder’s wife once said he’s the perfect combination of founder Carl Johnson and Francis Kramer, the first and second CEOs — highly technical and highly operational.

Mattera was first introduced to the company as a board member in 2000 because of his experience with semiconductor lasers. He joined II-VI as a vice president four years later, after a 20-year career that began in a division of AT&T Bell Laboratories.

II-VI had about $150 million in sales. Its core business was making optics for carbon dioxide lasers that were increasingly deployed in factories to cut steel. However, when Mattera asked whether the development of fiber lasers was an opportunity, threat or both, he couldn’t get a clear answer.

Johnson and Kramer charged Mattera with finding out.

“I came back and said, ‘It may be a threat, but for sure it’s an opportunity,’” he says. “So, the board encouraged me to take responsibility for describing and defining a path to diversify II-VI.”

That meant stepping up II-VI’s acquisition strategy for materials technologies, which can take decades to mature, to increase the company’s global reach, deepen its technology and intellectual property portfolio, and broaden the product roadmap and customer base.

“If you want to keep the engine humming, every once in a while, you need to buy a company that’s already run out the risk and put things in place,” Mattera says.