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Renewing Our Founding Values at a 50-Year-Old Startup

Renewing Our Founding Values at a 50-Year-Old Startup

by Ted Heil, President, Mini-Circuits

The Mini-Circuits story is well known to many in the RF and Microwave industry. Some know us for our advertising, some know us as one of the first companies to transform the pricing structure of RF components, and some know us through the personal relationships they had with Harvey Kaylie, our founder and chief executive for the first 50 years of our history.

Harvey was a remarkable businessman and a great engineer. His life and career exemplify what’s possible for an individual and an organization to achieve with the right combination of ability, work ethic and passion. More than any leader I’ve ever worked with, Harvey had an extraordinary intensity of focus on the details in every part of the business he built. He took joy in solving problems and working closely with team members at every level, from the design desk to the production floor to the shipping dock. He even personally designed the shipping boxes we use in our warehouse today! His hands-on approach was no doubt part of his personality, but it was also evidence of a certain “startup” mentality that arose from the company’s humble origins. He poured himself into the company to such a degree that it’s no surprise Mini-Circuits became synonymous with his name. Equaled only by his family, Mini-Circuits was his great love in life and an inseparable part of his identity.

When we lost Harvey last May, it was an emotional time for all of us. At the same time, a lot of people outside the company were asking what the future looked like for Mini-Circuits without the man who’d been its heart and soul for 50 years. From a distance, these concerns were only natural. After all, many family-owned businesses either fail or change ownership after the founder-owner steps down.

A little over one year since Harvey’s passing, however, it’s clear that Mini-Circuits will not share that fate. The company remains strong and vibrant, and Harvey’s legacy lives on in our culture and our continued success. Just in the past year, we’ve achieved record performance in sales and introduced over 400 new products to our portfolio. We’ve made significant advancements in our core technologies, and extended the frequency coverage of our product line up through E-band. We’re attracting and developing a new generation of talent and forging partnerships with other industry leaders to introduce innovative new capabilities for our customers. I think it is fair to say that the team here is extremely motivated, and thanks to the foundation that Harvey laid out for us, the outlook for Mini-Circuits remains as strong as ever.

What makes us different from other founder-owner companies in our industry that have undergone leadership transitions? What, if anything, has changed about the way we do business to bring about the level of productivity we’ve seen in the last few years?

It’s easy to talk about our brilliant, dedicated team and their many contributions to the company’s success. I can point to a number of internal processes we’ve streamlined and enhanced, but I think it’s important to understand that beneath all these improvements are the same values and guiding principles that Harvey established: quality, speed, accountability, and business judgment. We may have modernized our tools and methods for execution, but the same fundamental principles that propelled Mini-Circuits’ growth for the last 50 years account for the success of our business today and will ensure continued success for the next 50 years and beyond.

The guiding principles on which we were founded extend to every aspect of our business. In our new product development process, for example, we have developed relentless discipline in the design, qualification and introduction of new models to our catalog. In the past, we were more opportunistic and reactive, directing new product development efforts and model introductions in response to customer demand. Our approach today is faster and far more efficient, disciplined and structured to anticipate customer needs. Even still, we recognize that we can’t do everything alone to meet the market’s sense of urgency, so more recently, we’ve invested in new partnerships with other great companies and institutions in the RF/microwave field to enable innovation at greater speed.

In addition to speed and urgency, a quality-centric approach to all aspects of our business life remains a core value of our company culture. At Mini-Circuits, we focus on process, procedure, documentation and validation. Our discipline in maintaining and adhering to our quality management system ensures the world-class quality that forms a foundation of trust with our customers. As we’ve evolved, we’ve modernized our processes to create efficiencies by organizing ourselves differently, and by adopting new tools and technologies to facilitate collaboration and communication between different business functions.

These transformations in our products and processes have been essential to our growth, but they don’t necessarily make us unique. What really distinguishes Mini-Circuits from other companies is the extraordinary talent and energy of the people on our team. The creativity and ingenuity they bring to every new problem and the ways they work together to move the organization forward are living proof that our founding values are alive and well, not to mention a source of inspiration to me. As we grow, we want the people who’ve contributed to our success to grow with us, so we’re putting a lot of emphasis on learning and development to ensure our people have the resources and mentorship they need to grow over time, both personally and professionally.

We also acknowledge that we need to do more to attract and retain the brightest young minds to bring new ideas and new energy to the table for the future, particularly within the RF/microwave field.  This need has led us to connect with our community of local, national and global educational institutions. We are in the process of formalizing a University Outreach program that has a twofold objective: to contribute to the future of our industry by attracting talented students to the RF/microwave discipline, regardless of whether they end up working for Mini-Circuits; and to establish a strong pool of future engineers for Mini-Circuits. This initiative is a personal passion for me, and I’ve written in the past about the threat of the talent gap in our industry. A little more than a year ago, we launched our first university project kit.  Since then, we are seeing a great response from the student community, which gives me hope that we are on the right track and making a difference. 

In many ways, for a company that just celebrated its 50 year anniversary, we’ve somehow retained our “startup mentality.” Just like Harvey did many times in his life at Mini-Circuits, we keep reinventing ourselves while always staying true to our core principles and never losing sight of our customers. The market and the scale of our business demand that we function differently in many ways today than we did in the past, and I think our humility in recognizing where we need to change has made us flexible in adapting to changes in the business climate. Throughout our history, our progress as an organization has been defined by how we’ve adapted to change while staying true to the values that make us unique. It may sound paradoxical, but revisiting and renewing those values again and again has actually made us more creative in finding new ways to reinvent ourselves.