Mini-Circuits is probably the best known company in the RF/microwave industry. Nonetheless, remind us of the company’s founding and what motivated Harvey Kaylie to start the company.
First of all, thanks; we take that as a compliment. We know Mini-Circuits is a great company, but it still feels good to see it in print.
Harvey’s motivation for founding Mini-Circuits was fairly simple. He wanted to build a company that had deep relationships with customers and a company that customers truly valued. When he started Mini-Circuits in 1968, Harvey felt there was an opportunity to support customers who were relegated to paying high prices for RF components. At that time, he was working as a design engineer at Airborne Instruments Lab (AIL) in Deer Park, Long Island. He said that he found himself looking at the components being manufactured at the time and thinking, “I can do better than that.”
A few years ago, Harvey actually wrote a book about his life. In it he writes about the decision to leave AIL and start his own business, describing himself as an overachiever. I wouldn’t use that word necessarily, but those of us who knew him understood he was a person who pushed himself and those he worked with to continually rediscover their limits and push past them. He writes, “…I should have been content with my settled job, neatly pigeonholed in a tidy work environment. But I had big dreams, and it helped that we were young.”
He was convinced that he could offer competitive, high quality, high performance RF components at a fraction of the cost of the traditional suppliers and still make a good profit, and he was ultimately proven right.
Describe Mini-Circuits after 50 years — in terms of your markets, products, customers and geographic reach.
In many ways, Mini-Circuits has remained loyal to our markets and customers. The values on which the business was established remain the foundation on which we operate today. That being said, our product offering has evolved and accelerated, especially in the last few years. I have been with Mini-Circuits for 11 years and, in that time, I’ve witnessed our product line expand from 6 GHz to a portfolio that now touches 87 GHz. We have invested in technology and talent that have enabled us to adapt to our customers’ needs as they’ve changed.
Many of those customers have been with us for most of the 50 years we’ve been in business, including some of the big names in aerospace and defense and even some of the pioneers of wireless communications. But our customers also include an entirely new class of companies developing emerging technologies like IoT, imaging and sensors for a wide array of end markets. We focus on cultivating diversity in our markets, customers, products and technologies, and that diversity has created the stability that’s carried us through many business cycles.
The industry was shocked and saddened when Harvey passed away last summer. From your inside view, give us a sense of his values and how they drove the company’s culture.
Harvey was a unique and special person in many ways. He touched the lives of countless people inside and outside the company. The values and the culture he established are part of the fabric of the company and will endure for a long time to come.
Harvey was extremely passionate about the company on a personal level. Next to his family, it was his great love in life, and he expected a high level of personal commitment from his team. He genuinely believed that every member of the organization plays a critical role in the company’s success, and he empowered people to take ownership in continuously improving our products and processes. Those values of ownership and accountability remain as relevant today as ever. We look to our team as the best source of intelligence on opportunities for improvement, and we give them a stake in turning their ideas into action. If you talk to people here, the sense is that they feel their work is noticed and that they have a visible impact on the success of the organization.
Harvey was also quality-obsessed. Part of what made his thinking revolutionary was the idea that quality is actually a driver of cost efficiency. Today, when you walk into any hallway or conference room, our Quality Policy is always in view. Everyone knows it by heart and understands how it applies to their work. We believe that quality goes beyond the performance and reliability of our parts; it extends to the processes and culture that surrounds them.
Perhaps most importantly, Harvey referred to the relationships he formed with employees, customers and suppliers as the “Mini-Circuits family,” and that was how he treated us. He could be as tough as he was kind, and he really cared about the people he worked with. That’s what made him a remarkable leader. That family environment is an integral part of our culture, and I believe it differentiates us from other companies. Our day-to-day interactions feel a lot warmer and more personal than those in most companies our size. In many ways, we maintain the culture of a small company. We support each other, we push each other and we have fun working together.
Will the company remain privately held by the family?
That is our remit. Harvey’s intention was always to build a multi-generational company. In typical “Harvey” fashion, he prepared his family and the company for the day he would no longer be with us. He structured the business so that it will remain a Kaylie-family-owned operation with strong corporate governance and a strong management team to carry on his vision and his value system. That is precisely what we are doing, and we think Harvey would be proud of where we are today.
You joined Mini-Circuits in 2008 and have been president since 2015, so you thoroughly understand the business. Going forward, do you plan any shifts in strategy?
Every business needs to adapt to changes in the market, and Mini-Circuits is no exception. If we relied solely on products that were developed even five years ago, we would have gone the way of the dodo bird, so we create internal pressure on ourselves to continuously change and adapt. Last year alone, we released over 400 new products into our catalog. That’s a record for us, and we see no slow-down in sight. We aim to drive ourselves harder and stronger every year, focusing on improvements in product and process; it’s in our DNA, and that never changes. Everyone at Mini-Circuits breathes this intensity. That’s what makes us such a unique company and such a great place to work.
What markets, products or other areas offer the best business opportunities?
The opportunities we’re seeing at Mini-Circuits will come as no surprise to most of our peers in the RF and microwave industry.
We see growth from the recent extensions into the low- to mid-millimeter wave bands brought about by the advent of 5G and new imaging/sensing applications, as well as from continued investments in the aerospace and defense sector. This activity has created additional demand in the test and instrumentation market, which presents many opportunities for Mini-Circuits. We also see extended life in the CATV markets with the development of full-duplex and frequency extension up to 1800 MHz.
At Mini-Circuits, we tend to focus on broadband products that can support multiple markets. We’re expanding our existing surface-mount and connectorized products to higher frequencies and wider bandwidths. We’re also capitalizing on the voids left in the market by some of the traditional competitors in the MMIC space by introducing ultra-wideband amplifiers and passive products up to 50 GHz. We’ve even launched our first waveguide products through a partnership with Virginia Diodes. Another big growth area is our line of solutions for test and measurement applications. Several years ago, we introduced a series of USB-controlled solid-state and electromechanical switching systems for test applications. We’re now pushing these systems to higher frequency, and we expect to see a lot of interest given the recent surge of testing requirements for high frequency applications.
Mini-Circuits is respected for low-cost products and fast delivery. Describe the design and manufacturing philosophies which enable those capabilities.
Harvey set the tone in this area from day one. He focused his attention on the design stage to create highly manufacturable products that can be sold to multiple customers at competitive prices. The design margin and quality focus make our parts highly manufacturable. We produce both low- and high-volume products, from semiconductor (MMIC) and low temperature co-fired ceramic (LTCC) components to hand-assembled, core and wire-wound transformers, yet we follow the same design principles across all our technologies.
Although you engage a network of sales representatives to reach customers, Mini-Circuits pioneered the concept of customers placing small orders directly, handling what a distributor would normally do. How has that approach benefitted both the customer and Mini-Circuits?
We serve over 20,000 customers worldwide. Given that scale, establishing channels both direct to the customer and through our network of sales reps has allowed us to better reach and serve our entire customer base.
At the time when Harvey started this model, traditional distribution channels for RF and microwave components were immature, inconsistent and costly. Back then, there were either small regional distributors who had limited reach or large, monolithic distributors who were less interested in helping engineers get products quickly and at competitive cost. Our approach was designed to achieve wide reach without sacrificing service.
Today, a lot has changed with specialty distributors who focus on small orders and the design engineer. We see these distributors making an impact, and I respect and appreciate what companies like Digi-Key and Mouser are doing. They are raising the bar and challenging everyone to get better at the game. In many ways, these distributors took a page out of Harvey’s book, and they’re excelling at service and speed.
In addition to service and speed, Mini-Circuits continues to differentiate ourselves with the value that we add for the engineer. We are constantly upgrading our website to offer more technical content to help engineers select the right product. The next level of support comes from our reps in the field. We have a great team of reps who are mostly RF engineers, and our internal technical writing staff publishes weekly and monthly product updates to support their efforts and help maintain their knowledge of all our new products. Finally, we are investing heavily in our in-house applications engineering team, which is now the strongest in the company’s history. These young engineers are making a huge difference, both by supporting our customers directly and also by acting as partners to our representatives.
Ultimately, we recognize that we’re selling to engineers who need help selecting the right product and determining how best to use that product to meet their system needs. We give customers multiple points of access to find the parts they need and get them fast, so they can prove their designs and move their projects forward with confidence. Everybody wins.
What’s your outlook for the RF/microwave industry? Are you concerned by any industry or larger trends?
One thing I have learned over my career is that everything changes. There are applications and markets using RF technology today that no one ever dreamed of 10 years ago. I have complete confidence that the need for wireless connectivity and applications for microwave signal processing will only grow.
That said, I do believe that the business has seen a significant measure of commoditization, which should come as no surprise when you consider the proliferation of applications and the demand. This trend will continue and, as a result, more commodity technologies like CMOS for millimeter wave applications will continue to be adopted for high-volume requirements. Even so, there will always remain niches for companies like Mini-Circuits to serve customers in unlimited and unimaginable ways. It’s a great time to be in our space, and we are enjoying it.
Tell us about your background and how you landed at Mini-Circuits.
I am an RF engineer. I started my career at AIL. Coincidentally enough, that was Harvey’s last company before he started Mini-Circuits. I’ve had the benefit of working with great people in several companies, small and large in this industry, and I was lucky to experience the full spectrum of the business from design to sales, supply chain and M&A.
My relationship with Harvey started over a baked potato. Seriously. He invited me to dinner to talk about the trouble he was having finding an engineering manager, and we hit it off. We found we had the same passion for our business, the technology, the customers and our sense of value. We talked for hours and, finally, when it came time to order, the waiter brought out one of those sample display carts with various steaks and other items, and I said, “Wow, that is a big baked potato! Wanna split it?” He laughed, and the rest is history.
What do you do to relax from your demanding role?
Work keeps me pretty busy. We have locations all over the globe and a very flat management structure, so my dance card is pretty full just staying in contact with our team. That being said, I started a project a year-and-a-half ago to build a wooden boat. At this point, it’s about half-way done and taking up my entire garage. I hope I can finish it within the next year — or ten.