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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 9 years ago

Radiant rays

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A local engineering and manufacturing business made a conscious effort to focus on strengths and outsource most everything else. The plan is working.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

It might be a stretch to call Heico Corp., a $900 million aerospace, defense and electronics conglomerate, a company with 50 worldwide subsidiaries, nimble and flexible.

But Anish Patel, who runs one of Hollywood-based Heico's business units, can testify to the company's agile entrepreneurial spirit.

In fact, Patel, president of Manatee County-based Radiant Power Corp., says the unusual amount of autonomy given by the parent firm is a key factor in the local company's recent growth surge. Radiant designs and builds high-tech sensor products for the aviation and marine industries. That includes boxes that control emergency lighting for planes and wireless digital cabin controls. The latter set of products is a growing niche in the private jet industry.

The recent growth swell revolves around two separate expansions of what's now a 27,000-square-foot facility near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. The combined projects, one completed last year, one scheduled to begin construction in April, total at least $1.5 million. Radiant, moreover, has grown from 54 employees to 72 in the past two years. It expects to hire another 16 people by 2015. Heico, publicly traded, doesn't release sales for subsidiaries.

Still, the risk-reward factor in that kind of the growth is Patel's to bear, for better or worse. And that's just fine with Patel, a mechanical engineer who joined the company in summer 2010. “Obviously we have to deliver on our commitments,” says Patel. “But once we do that we really get a lot of freedom to make decisions.”

Patel's most recent decision began when he made a clear distinction between the firm's strengths and weaknesses. Those strengths were in final product testing, in addition to research and development. Weaker areas were early stages of product assembly and mounting electronic circuit cards, for which Patel says the company had outdated equipment and old processes. It made more sense, Patel believed, to outsource a chunk of that work to local firms.

That distinction, says Patel, also led to opportunity: In 2009 Heico bought St. Charles, Ill.-based Dukane Seacom, which assembles underwater locator beacons used to find aircraft cockpit voice recorders, flight data recorders and marine ship voyage recorders. The beacons are required on Federal Aviation Administration approved aircraft, and the products are also used on large marine shipping vessels.

By late last year Heico executives sought a new home for that acquired business. They chose Radiant, which is the genesis of the most recent local expansion. For that project, now in the permitting phase, Radiant will build a pair of 20-foot deep tanks where it can test acoustic devices in and out of water. The tanks will be in the back of the company's facility, in the loading dock area.

“It will be a very unique facility for the region,” Patel says. “We couldn't find any other like it.”

The project, says Patel, will cost between $700,000 and $900,000. The previous project, a 6,300-square-foot addition in April 2012, cost about $700,000. The company received state and Manatee County performance-based incentives for each project. That potentially includes up to $80,000 in tax refunds from Florida for the current expansion.

The growth, in employees, space and projects, does present Patel a new challenge in that he has more to oversee than ever before. To answer that, Patel has spent the past year finding managers, from both internal promotions and external candidates, who mesh in three key areas: Culture, chemistry and drive. Says Patel: “We retooled our entire leadership team.”

Wide Reach
Heico, a $900 million aerospace, defense and electronics conglomerate with a headquarters near Fort Lauderdale, has 50 subsidiaries, from parts and supplies companies to distribution and specialty products.

The individual companies are located worldwide. A few are in Tampa or Fort Myers, while others are spread from Texas to Oregon and France to Dubai.

No matter the location or business line, one of the more unique aspects about Hollywood-based Heico is it allows each subsidiary to execute its own strategy. Here are some local examples of Heico's subsidiaries:
• Future Aviation Inc., Fort Myers: Company is part of Heico's repair division. Business has been in operation for more than 25 years and is one of the largest independent regional airline maintenance and repair facilities in the industry, according to Heico;
• Leader Tech Inc., Tampa: Company is in Heico's electronic technologies division. It makes products that work with circuit boards and cables.
• Seal Dynamics/New Product Development Center, Tampa: Company, in Heico's distribution unit, operates an airport component firm. The Tampa facility handles research, while regional Seal Dynamics offices are in Dubai, England, and Singapore. The Seal Dynamics global headquarters is on Long Island, N.Y.

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