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Indium thrives in a volatile economic climate

By NORMAN POLTENSON

Date:

CLINTON — “We need to be physically close to our customers,” says Gregory Peter Evans, the president and CEO of the Indium Corporation, headquartered in Clinton. “Our business is highly competitive, and it’s critical that we have short lead times.”

Indium supplies materials to the global electronics-assembly, semiconductor-fabrication and packaging, solar-photovoltaic, thin-film, and thermal-management industries. Its products include lead-free solders; fluxes; preforms; sputtering targets (coat a solid surface with metal atoms); indium, Registered tradegallium, and germanium compounds; and NanoFoil, a patented product that delivers heat energy for advanced-joining applications. To meet its customers’ demands, the company has 11 manufacturing locations worldwide, including facilities in the U.S, Europe, and Asia.

“We are a technology company serving a technology industry,” Evans says. “The demand from our customers and the pressure of our competitors is relentless … We need to listen carefully to our customers for clues as to where the technological roadmap leads in order to remain ahead of the development curve.”

Indium must be listening to its customers because its sales have grown steadily. A decade ago, The Business Journal estimated the company’s annual revenue at about $100 million. Today, we estimate that the company generates about $225 million. Even during the economic turmoil of the past five years, total employment has grown from 530 to 617, a 16.4 percent increase. During the same period, employment in Central New York has increased from 350 to 378.

Of the 11 facilities, five are in the U.S.: two in Utica, one in Clinton, one in Rome, and one in Chicago. Indium opened its first Asian factory in Singapore in 1995. Other plants are located in China, South Korea, and the U.K. The U.S. facilities combined equal about 300,000 square feet with another 85,000 square feet located overseas. The property is both owned and leased.

“Research & development is critical to the success of our company,” says Richard (Rick) Short, the director of marketing communications. “We have 30 employees assigned to R&D with at least 50 people in the company who hold advanced degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) … But we’re more than [a group of] lab coats … We integrate our research people into teams dealing with process, equipment, and materials within a particular market, such as semi-conductors … They are part of the manufacturing operation.” Indium holds more than 50 patents.

Short notes that Indium has no fixed formula for investing in R&D. “We use our customers’ needs and competitors’ [actions] as benchmarks. Evans adds that “… we invest [in R&D] based on opportunities developed by our marketing, sales, and tech team. As opportunities increase, so does our R&D.”

“Indium’s growth has been largely organic,” says Evans. “Our acquisitions have been to purchase product lines that expand or complement our operations. [The company] is not highly acquisitive, preferring to be a strategic buyer. We are convinced that we are better off growing organically.” Indium’s sales growth has come mostly from overseas. “We easily export two-thirds of our products … That’s where the customers and growth are today.”

Recruiting at the executive level can be a challenge at Indium. “We need people with particular skills, who work well with a team and fit into the company culture,” says Evans.

“New hires must be ready to relocate their families to a rural setting and be prepared to travel,” adds Short. “The company culture embraces living with constant change and having a natural curiosity. Uncertainty [at Indium] is a way of life. We need people who can thrive in a changing environment. We have [sometimes] even hired our customers [because they have this attribute]. Our best success comes with hiring candidates from the area or who want to move back to the area. We are also successful with those who grew up in an area similar to the Mohawk Valley.”

The Clinton headquarters includes two companies — the Indium Corporation and the Germanium Corporation. The Germanium operation resides in 20,000 square feet at the Lincoln Ave. location in Utica. It includes both manufacturing and process development. Purified germanium is a semiconductor, with an appearance similar to silicon. It is used mostly for fiber-optic systems, infrared optics, as polymerization catalysts, and for electronic and solar applications. The Germanium Corp. manufactures the core of optical fiber, a part of the business that is growing rapidly. The stock of both companies is owned by the William Macartney family of Florida.

The executive team at Indium is comprised of Macartney as chairman of the board, Evans as president and CEO, Leslie Schenk as CFO, Ross Berntson as vice-president of sales and marketing and technical support, Wayne Hosey as vice president of operations, and Dr. Ning-Cheng Lee as chief technical officer and vice president of product development.

Indium has embraced social media as a marketing and outreach tool. “We are recognized for our pioneering … work with video, blogging, and the common social-media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn,” says Short. “We utilize each channel separately … as each has a different audience and role. For example, … our award-winning activities in blogging are directed at a very technical audience and our goal is to earn technological respect … We have more than 70 technical blogs and translate them into six languages in addition to English. Our activities on Facebook, however, are directed at the communities in which we live and operate, and our goal is to share our activities with our neighbors, friends, and families.”

“Indium deals with a number of area professionals,” says Evans. “In the area of banking, we work with Adirondack Bank, HSBC, and J.P. Morgan Chase. Our accounting is handled by PriceWaterhouse Coopers. For legal work we turn to Kiernan & Kiernan (Utica), Martin & Rayhill (Utica) for human resources, Harris Beach for intellectual-property protection, and Bond Schoeneck & King for regulatory compliance.

The Indium Corporation was founded on March 13, 1934 as a collaboration among Dr. William S. Murray, the Oneida Community Ltd., and the Anaconda Mining Company. Murray, a Colgate University graduate who was both inventive and entrepreneurial, tried to utilize indium (an element discovered in 1863) to prevent silverware from tarnishing. He was not successful in his efforts but went on to discover other applications for indium. Macartney acquired the company in the 1960s.

Evans graduated Whitesboro High School and attended Mohawk Valley Community College, where he earned a degree in engineering science. He received his bachelor’s degree from Clarkson College of Technology (now Clarkson University) in chemical engineering and his M.B.A. from RPI. Evans, now 53, joined Indium 32 years ago as a fresh-out-of-college chemical engineer, where he worked in the customer-service department and then in the new-product-development department. He became president in 1996. Evans lives in Clinton with his wife Denyse. The couple has two children, Nicole and Christopher.

Citing the company’s guiding philosophy called “The Indium Way,” Evans says “Indium has succeeded over the decades … because of our market focus, … materials expertise, … and process excellence … All are necessary for our success. But the one common denominator is our [company] culture, built on respect, appreciation, and achievement … This challenging climate, which bedevils all corporations, serves to make us stronger … It’s The Indium Way that continually separates us from the competition … The Indium team puts it all together with good old-fashioned hard work and brains.

“We have to grow to secure the future,” concludes Evans. “Indium Corporation is an agile company that can respond quickly to a changing environment, but it is also a company that thinks long-term, thinks strategically. That’s an advantage in being privately [held]. The owner set the culture before I joined the company, and it still guides us today.”

 

Contact Poltenson at npoltenson@cnybj.com

 

 

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