High-tech solutions Featured

9:36am EDT July 22, 2002

For the past nine months Solon-based Keithley Instruments has been riding a tidal wave of investor confidence, strong revenue and industry buzz.

But the rise to public prominence that some might classify as an overnight sensation was, in reality, more a result of some sure-footed planning.

Soon after he took over the top office in 1993, President and CEO Joseph Keithley began steering the company his father founded in 1949 toward the high-growth telecommunications and semiconductor markets. That change meant a move away from the analog measuring devices synonymous with the company's past.

In their place, Keithley instituted a focus on software-based applications, which have turned out to be far more powerful and versatile when it comes to doing business in the ultraconnected 21st century.

Part of the challenge of being successful in these markets is the ability to create products that can keep up with the speed of miniaturization. Keithley has gladly taken on this role as an industry innovator and created a culture in which new products are expected to solve problems that customers are experiencing.

"Our strategy at one level is our ability to focus on companies in specific industries and let their problems flow through us and bring a set of products back to that customer," he explains. "In fact, when we introduce the product, we're pretty sure it does what the customer wants, because he's been an integral part of the whole development process."

Keithley Instruments also casts itself not only as a developer and supplier of high-tech measuring devices, but as a consultant, too. The relationships forged between Keithley Instruments and its customers not only provide a thorough understanding of where a specific market is going, but also give Keithley an advantage over those who may be competing for the same clients.

However, it is not just a focus on research and development that has powered Keithley Instruments' rise within the industry. There are fierce, not to mention deep pocketed, rivals in the measuring device arena, a reality that has forced Keithley to realize the promise of high growth niche markets and the power of recasting existing products to meet customers' specific measuring needs.

"As opposed to say, a biomedical company, who is really creating from basic research something that didn't exist before, we're taking advantage of things that are in the marketplace," he says. "We're incorporating them into our offering."

As far as staying on the innovative edge, Keithley is always hard at work. The company recently unveiled a new Internet strategy that promises to better serve clients, as well as attract new global customers. At the company's Web site (www.keithley.com), visitors can get 24-hour-a-day access to Keithley's database of test application knowledge, as well as view online product demonstrations.

The site also serves as an opportunity for Keithley to target prospects likely to benefit from the company's product offerings.

"We're actually able to demonstrate a very sophisticated piece of equipment with an application engineer here in Cleveland and have the customer be anywhere in the world," explains Keithley, who has a rough time containing his enthusiasm about the power of his new Web application. "We did the first demonstration of this with customers in Holland.

"Now, imagine that opposed to having the salesman go and show the product, the customer is actually able to make the instrument work from his PC in Holland. That's innovation." How to reach: Keithley Instruments, (440) 248-0400

Jim Vickers (jvickers@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor at SBN.