Educated consumers

Consider the case of Keithley Instruments.

Despite Wall Street’s negative punishment of Keithley — more a result of pessimism in the semiconductor industry than of Keithley’s performance — the Solon-based semiconductor manufacturer experienced net sales of $150 million last year in a fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2001.

That’s a mere 1 percent drop from its 2000 results, when sales grew 50 percent.

So how did Joe Keithley, the company’s CEO, manage to achieve that level of success while his customers in the semiconductors, telecommunications and optoelectronics cried the blues?

The answer comes in Keithley’s letter to shareholders in the company’s 2001 annual report.

“Our research and education customers posted order growth of 4 percent over 2000, a level of performance that helped offset an overall order decline of 20 percent from 2000,” Keithley wrote. “Clearly, our research customers are very important to us. In addition to helping balance our customer portfolio, they give us early notice of new technologies and first-hand insights into how they can be applied.”

How crucial is this market to Keithley’s success?

“This allows us to be in on the ground floor when new products based on these technologies move from the lab into development and then on into production,” he says. “Also, having our products in use in university research labs builds comfort and familiarity with Keithley technology, so the students of today often become our customers of tomorrow.”

And you wonder why SBN has honored Keithley twice over the past three years — once with a cover story (April 2000) and as a Visionary with a 2000 Innovation in Business award.

Dustin S. Klein