ESI: Drawing on a Deep History to Create a Vision for the Future


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Matties: The thing about being a 70-year-old company is oftentimes the past gets in the way of the future.

Darwin: Yes, it does.

Matties: How do you combat that?

Darwin: Every company has its own culture. When you're dealing with a 70-year-old company culture, it has benefits as well as challenges. One of the benefits is the degree of connectedness that the employees have with one another. For instance, I've only been with the company a little over four years, but I've had people retire from ESI that have belonged to part of my team, who worked for ESI for 40 years; those people have a 40-year history of what works and what doesn't work. That's the positive thing about a culture like that. The challenges associated with the 70 years of history is making certain that we're always contemporary and that we're a learning organization. Ensuring that means part of the executive management's team is making sure that we are on the cutting edge and we are doing the right thing.

Matties: What tactics do you use?

Darwin: It's a challenge, but I think part of it is bringing in new blood, like myself and Chris. Part of it is also recognizing the strengths of the culture and being able to utilize those strengths to project us forward. The ability for a well-honed, very experienced team to execute on new equipment development and new process development is pretty impressive when you see it happen. Recognizing that and being able to leverage that into well-established markets is critical as well. But, of course, being a 70-year-old company, there are lots of systems and lots of history and processes that are ingrained in the culture. I think as a responsible executive we have to go in and challenge ourselves. Does it make sense to do things in the same manner or fashion as we've done historically?

Matties: How does it seem to react to change?

Darwin: I think it depends on where you are in the organization, each team reacts differently. Guys who are on the front line building products like consistency. They like to be able to say, “Okay, here's the forecast. This is what I need to do tomorrow.” Change is a little bit more difficult when you're talking about operations, and rightly so, because I think changing operations introduces disruptive risk. Engineering and product management, though, enjoy the challenge. They want to see change and they want to drive change forward. In general my team, which is product management, engineering, and process development, embrace change. They want to see the change happen.

Matties: What sort of demands do you get from customers that you then have to process and do something with?

Darwin: You asked about challenges of a 70-year-old company. One of the challenges of a company that has a history is that a lot has happened on previous watches, even two generations ago. I think some of the challenges with respect to our forward-looking mission and vision come from some of the legacy issues that we may have had over time. These could be legacy issues that are 15 or 20 years old. One of our challenges is being able to address those legacy issues promptly, but put in place changes or mechanisms or processes that help us correct those historical issues going forward.

Matties: It's not just the equipment that makes this premium. It's the people that make it premium, right? Because what I keep hearing is team, team, team. The result of a great team is a great product.

Darwin: I like to think that you need to have the right team. You need to have the right game plan. Then you need to be able to have the flexibility to adjust your game plan depending on the changes in the environment. Yes, the output of the team may be a product. It may be service. It may be the value proposition that we've provided to the customer. But you're right, at the very core of that is the team, and to make sure you have the right players on the team in the right positions is extremely important.

Matties: From a corporate or higher-level perspective, what's the vision of the company?

Darwin: It's really all about customer solution and customer focus. Even though we have these three separate divisions, our intent is to work towards providing the customer with the best cost-of-ownership solution in their respective markets, whether that's in the micromachining space for the aesthetic purposes or on the component side.

Part of that vision of being able to provide the best cost of ownership or the best solution is actually utilizing some of our own lasers. We made a specific strategy to invest in lasers to build on not only our differentiation, but also our long term supportability of our products. Again, the mission is all about the customer and providing value to the customer from a cost-of-ownership perspective.

Matties: Great, thanks for your time.

Darwin: Thank you.

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