PUBLISHED WEEKLY VOLUME 17, NUMBER 5DAILY EDITION: www.rbjdaily.com MAY 11, 2001 An upbeat leader manufactures growth CEO Kenton Fiske directs SenDEC with an optimistic approach and a focus on customer service By JASON CONKLIN cent of our business with By JASON CONKLIN one customer,” Fiske says. enDEC Corp. president and CEO He declined to identify S Kenton Fiske did not set out to start a contract manufacturing business. He was just being neighborly. the customers. Although convenient, the arrangement left his It started when a neighbor asked him to company vulnerable to take a look at a home security system that swings in the marketplace. was not working properly. Reluctantly, “All businesses have a Fiske, then a design engineer at Xerox cycle,” he says. Corp., agreed to help tinker with the sys- By having an array of tem and get it working. customers, a downturn in Once the system was up and running, one industry does not the neighbor told friends about Fiske’s im- mean a corresponding dis- provements to the system and even rec- aster for his f irm, Fiske ommended him to an architect. The ar- Courtesy of SenDEC Corp. explains. chitect subsequently hired Fiske to design ETERNAL OPTIMIST—After a career as an engineer at Xerox “That’s not easy to do,” customized systems for new homes. Corp., Kenton Fiske founded SenDEC Corp. He has led the com- he says. “It’s easier to get Fiske and his partner quit their day jobs pany to double-digit growth and it now employs 78 staffers. more business from one cus- and founded SenDEC in 1978. They tomer you’re working with.” planned to design and build security sys- Its list of customers includes original The move toward a more global econo- tems, not act as a contract manufacturer for equipment manufacturers who produce my, with large corporations looking for a host of other companies, Fiske said. The copiers, computer peripherals, MRI and ways to make their operations as efficient company now employs 78 staffers. other medical equipment, and photographic as possible, has been a key component of “To make ends meet, we’d do contract electronics. SenDEC’s success. manufacturing. That was paying the bills Along with printing and testing circuit “Today companies are outsourcing, and for a while,” Fiske says. boards, SenDEC provides prototyping that’s what’s helped our business,” Fiske The company’s founders continued to services for manufacturers looking for says. “It’s easier (for them) to focus on hone their security designs, winning a con- better and more efficient ways to design their marketing and sales abilities.” tract for a system at the Al Sigl Center for their equipment. Working closely with He sees the company filling a niche for Rehabilitation Agencies Inc. that had more customers’ design teams, SenDEC com- OEM orders of $1 million to $10 million. than 550 sensors linked to a light-up map pletes and ships back prototype assign- Perhaps owing to his own background, displaying where a disturbance had been ments in three to seven days. part of Fiske’s strategy for differentiating detected. “In the beginning, we did about 80 per- his company has involved making engi- “That was a huge job,” Fiske says. “It neering services available to customers. took us a year to install it.” “A lot of subcontractors will build a Meanwhile, the founders continued to Close-up product as long as the (blue)prints are pour capital into the security system busi- there,” he explains. “We will get involved. ness from its contract-manufacturing arm. “We weren’t doing anything (to promote Kenton Fiske “There’s always more than one way to build a product,” Fiske adds. “Sometimes sales) on the contract manufacturing thing, Title: President and CEO, you can be very successful looking at the and it was paying the bills,” Fiske says. SenDEC Corp. opposite way.” In 1982, Joseph Holroyd, Fiske’s found- Age: 59 Frank Mentesana, president and CEO of ing partner, bought out the security sys- Home: Macedon Rochester-based Solutions Plus Systems tems end of the business and Fiske turned Education: B.S., electrical engi- Inc., says those extra services and abilities his full attention to contract manufactur- neering, University of Illinois, 1966 differentiate SenDEC from its competitors. ing. Family: Wife, Barbara; son, Michael, “Ken is not the most cost-effective, but “I’d love to say I planned this,” Fiske says. 33; daughter, Dawn, 27 he has the customer in mind,” he says. Now SenDEC concentrates mainly on Interests: Golf, travel, fishing “What he gives you is full customer serv- assembling and testing circuit boards for Quote: On founding a contract manu- ice and a highly skilled staff. You know customers around the world. facturing company: “I’d love to say he’s honest with you.” “We do a lot of work for other compa- I planned this.” “We’re actually competitors, but we nies,” Fiske says. work together,” Mentesana says. “Ken’s Reprinted with permission of the Rochester Business Journal. Photo courtesy of SenDEC Corp. Kenton Fiske: “Today companies are outsourcing, and that’s what’s helped our business. It’s easier (for them) to focus on their mar- keting and sales abilities.” that kind of guy. He’s looking to be part- alized his business made more money on mately 6 percent of the company’s rev- ners with everybody.” service than sales, but he needed a way to enues. With expected orders from an OEM The two companies are working on a remind owners to bring in their machines customer, it may grow to 10 percent of the project for Lucid Inc. to produce compo- for an oil change or a tuneup. A digital total. nents for a ballot-reading device. SenDEC hour meter would be the perfect solution. Fiske says SenDEC experienced 34 per- builds the circuit boards; Solutions Plus as- After seeing demand for the product at cent growth last year. The company post- sembles them into finished systems. a lawn equipment trade show, Fiske agreed ed revenues of more than $9 million. “He really didn’t need to partner with to buy the product line and begin pro- The company expects revenues to in- us,” Mentesana says. “He’s sharing.” ducing the meters. The devices can attach crease by 30 percent this year and some 30 Along with assembling circuit boards to nearly any combustion engine and be percent next year. for other companies, SenDEC is working programmed to alert operators when it is Fiske projects employment to grow to to build a product line of its own—one time for services such as oil changes, muf- more than 100 staffers over the next two Fiske did not initially believe would be fler replacements and lubrication. years, as the company continues to ex- successful. As the line of meter products grew, the pand its range of customers. He recalls that when he was first pre- business moved out of Ley’s basement and Away from the company, Fiske, 59, en- sented with the product he was skeptical into SenDEC’s 23,000-square-foot head- joys the outdoors. of its potential. quarters in Perinton. It moved again ear- He claims to be “the world’s worst golfer,” “I didn’t have the confidence in the prod- lier this year to a 5,000-square-foot fa- whose favorite course is whatever one he uct,” he says. “I had confidence in the in- cility in Macedon, Wayne County. is on, but he plays regularly at Blue Heron dividual.” “(At first) it was great if you could get Hills Country Club in Macedon. That individual was Herb Ley, the own- an order for 500 a year,” Ley says. “One “It’s very, very pretty and just very re- er of a lawnmower dealership and repair customer now wants 200,000 a year.” laxing,” he says. shop in Lansing, Oswego County. Ley re- The meter segment makes up approxi- Fiske also is an enthusiastic fisherman. Reprinted with permission of the Rochester Business Journal. A 42-inch pike hangs on the wall of his visits and contact with business colleagues “In a lot of ways he’s a father figure to off ice—a reminder of his angling suc- overseas. me,” says Ley, explaining that Fiske’s per- cess on a trip to Canada with his son, “Because of the business, we’ve met petually positive outlook has been one of Michael. people from all over the world,” he says. the SenDEC leader’s greatest attributes in Travel itself may be Fiske’s most beloved “We’ve made some good friendships.” and out of the boardroom. recreation. His journeys with his wife, His next trip, scheduled for the fall, is “The guy is positive on the gloomiest, Barbara, have taken him around the globe, to the Scandinavian countries and St. Pe- rainiest day. He can always see the silver from China and Japan to Africa and the tersburg, Russia. lining,” he says. Mediterranean. Back in the Rochester area, Fiske is “I would consider him a mentor,” says Fiske, who grew up in rural Lockport, helping to shape younger generations of Solutions Plus’ Mentesana. “He’s been Ill.—before graduating from the Univer- business leaders. very open and taught me a lot of things.” sity of Illinois in 1966 and coming to work In July he plans to open the doors of his The chief lesson has been to make time at Xerox—says he was struck by the beau- facility to local teachers. The idea is to for family and interests away from the ty of the African countryside and by the give them a look at the business so they business, he says. poverty of its inhabitants. might be able to show students why math “He reminds me that there (are) other “We are so lucky to have been born here,” and English are important skills in the re- things than working 16 hours a day,” he says. al world. Mentesana says. He has been able to witness the growing Other business leaders already credit “Life’s too short,” Fiske says. “You re- sophistication of rural China, through both Fiske with nurturing their development. ally need to enjoy it.” Reprinted with permission of the Rochester Business Journal.
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