The past year has been a wild ride for Joseph Keithley.
His company, Solon-based Keithley Instruments, finally began reaping the rewards of sweeping internal changes made within the organization over the past several years. The results have been impressive, with strong revenue figures, a skyrocketing stock price and an impressive resume that includes the likes of Motorola and Nokia.
Keithley took over as CEO of the 54-year-old company in 1993, after his father, Joseph F. Keithley, stepped down. Over the next several years, the younger Keithley reorganized and rejuvenated the high-tech measuring device manufacturer, concentrating on high growth markets like telecommunications and the semiconductor industry and selling off unprofitable parts of the business. The results speak for themselves.
Keithley Instruments has consistently reached more than $100 million in revenue the past several years. Meanwhile, sales are up 50 percent over what they were 12 months ago, a fact Keithley attributes to the companys ability to keep up with the incredible growth rate of the technology industry.
The industries we focus on are the ones that are growing fast and companies that are growing fast in those industries, he says. And, I dont see other companies organizing themselves to do that and then modifying their new product process, their new manufacturing process to enable that to occur.
Add to that recognition by Ernst & Young LLP as Entrepreneur Of The Year in the Technology category, and Keithleys success has not been overshadowed by much.
Although Keithley Instruments may be thought of primarily as a manufacturing firm, its research and development arm is what, in Keithleys eyes, has been the driver of his companys success.
Weve taken a fundamental measuring capability, and instead of doing a product push, weve been really creative at the market, he explains.
That means being able to react quickly to customer demand, especially in a world in which cellular phones and laptop computers shrink in size with every passing day, requiring new, more precise measuring devices to test them. Being able to deliver quickly on those customer needs is what Keithley sees as his firms edge.
They are rich with new product ideas for us, and every new product idea we get back from them, we feed back to them through the product, he explains. It is rewarding because we are solving problems, and these are guys who are going nuts because of the demand for their product. I think thats just generated enthusiasm, energy and a lot of more goodwill in working with the customers.
For Keithley, that has meant implementing a fast-track product development program not only to meet customer demand, but also to beat the competition to the punch. In the past five years, Keithley Instruments has introduced several new products designed specifically for certain target audiences. It has required a substantial investment in new technical staff and equipment, but Keithley says being an industry innovator is one of the most satisfying parts of his job.
I really enjoy working with the young people and sorting out the customer problems and profiling the opportunities, he says. I really enjoy making the customer visits and seeing how our products are used and how application support is used. So, those are two aspects of what gives me great pleasure.
Keithleys work over the past several years has not been lost on Wall Street. During the past year, shares of Keithley Instruments reached a 52-week high in mid-March of $74 a share, a stellar rise from its 52-week low of less than $7 a share. As far as the companys recent rise to being regarded as one of Northeast Ohios most high-profile companies, Keithley admits it is the first time since he took the helm of the company that hes felt comfortable being recognized as one of the regions leading entrepreneurs.
The work that weve been doing the last several years is finally at a point where someone else would take notice, he says. Before that, I wouldnt have had the temerity to stand up and say, Hey, look at me. How to reach: Keithley Instruments, (440) 248-0400
Jim Vickers (email@example.com) is an associate editor at SBN Cleveland.