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Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 30, 2009 12 years ago

The Quiet Giant

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One of the Gulf Coast's largest companies has succeeded mostly in silence.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

One of the Gulf Coast's largest companies has succeeded mostly in silence.


Even a company with 7,900 employees, $2.3 billion in annual sales and customers in more than 100 countries needs a place to call home.

For publicly traded Roper Industries, that place is Sarasota, on the second floor of an average-Joe office building in a Lakewood Ranch corporate park. The company moved its corporate offices there from suburban Atlanta in 2007, a move local economic development officials lauded as a major triumph for the region.

With revenues and a stock price that have both more than doubled in five years, Roper also represents another high-point for Sarasota-Bradenton: It's a gazelle in an area not known for producing many high-flying publicly traded companies. Indeed, save for Sarasota-based Sun Hydraulics, it's hard to find any consistent local superstars that are traded on the Nasdaq or NYSE.

“We are just thrilled to have them here,” says Joan McGill, program manager with the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. “It shows the outside world that we have some superstars.”

Roper Industries bills itself as a global “diversified industrial” manufacturer and sales company. Competitors in some markets include international conglomerates such as Halliburton and Agilent Technologies.

With $2.306 billion in 2008 revenues, Roper placed 820th on Fortune magazine's list of the top 1,000 revenue-producing companies in 2008 — a jump of 48 spots from its ranking of 868 in 2007.

Locally, Roper was the 11th largest Gulf Coast entity in 2008. It was the second biggest company in the Sarasota-Bradenton market, behind only Sarasota-based commercial debt collection firm Vengroff, Williams & Associates.

And it was one of just four Sarasota-Bradenton area companies to make the top 25 of the Review's Gulf Coast 500, joining Vengroff Williams, Bradenton-based retail chain Beall's and Lakewood Ranch-based Boar's Head.

Roper can also add one more accomplishment to its hefty list of achievements: A quietness that defies its size.

That is, the company is rarely in the news or spotlight for events other than earnings announcements or benign dividend press releases. Company principals, including chief executive Brian Jellison, rarely give interviews, either locally or with the national financial press. Company executives are also rarely seen at local networking events attended by area business folks.

Jellison, through a New York public relations firm, turned down requests to be interviewed for this story. A former General Electric executive, Jellison has also declined several other previous Review interview requests.

But Roper has a compelling story.

George D. Roper founded the company in Rockford, Ill. in 1919, as a manufacturer of gas stoves and gear pumps, according to fundinguniverse.com, a stock research Web site. By World War II, the company had become an industry leader in electric and gas kitchen ranges and power gardening tools.

The company then grew so fast and so much in ensuing decades that it split into two businesses — Roper Corp. and Roper Industries. In 1988, General Electric, which was seeking an acquisition to grow its appliance unit, bought Roper Corp.

Roper Industries, meanwhile, grew both organically and through acquisitions. It moved into a plethora of new industries, from water to radio communications to the technology behind power plants.

The company went public on the NYSE on Feb. 12, 1992.

Then, in 1993 it hit pay dirt: One of its business units struck a deal with Russian natural gas conglomerate Gazprom to run the computer controls for the country's massive pipeline network. It was a seven-year contract worth $350 million, according to fundinguniverse.com.

Roper finished its first year on the NYSE with revenues of $69.6 million and net earnings of $4.9 million. With deals like the one with Gazprom coming from various units, it quickly reached $100 million in revenues and by 2004 it had surpassed $1 billion in annual sales.

The company is now comprised of four main segments, according to a company overview from Reuters. Those segments include:

• Radio frequency technology: This unit, responsible for 30% of the company's 2008 net revenues;

• Industrial technology: This division makes pumps and brought in 30% of the company's 2008 net revenues;

• Energy systems and controls: A division that represented 24% of the company's 2008 net revenues making behind industrial valves and more;

• Scientific and industrial imaging: This unit manufactures digital imaging products for medical and represents 16% of Roper's 2008 net sales.

at a glance


Roper Industries, Inc.
Headquarters: Sarasota
CEO: Brian Jellison
FY 2008 Revenues: $2.306 billion
Stock symbol: ROP
Recent stock price: $48.11
52-week stock-price range: $34.85-$70.48
Price-earnings ratio (trailing 12 months): 16.32
Dividend: 0.08
Market capitalization: $4.36 billion
Source: Google Finance

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