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  • Acquisitions Drive High-Speed Growth

Photonics Spectra
Sep 1999
Robert C. Pini

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- Making acquisitions is a key path to faster business growth, according to a new PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of top executives in photonics and other high-tech industries.

Companies in acquisition mode reported revenue growth of 738 percent over the past five years -- a whopping 38 percent faster than those not planning an acquisition. Behind the numbers, the story is even more incredible, as the fastest growth was enjoyed by large companies with an average of 1922 employees.

Even with their larger size, these acquisitive firms expect 25.3 percent revenue growth over the next 12 months. Their productivity topped out 79 percent above high-tech companies with no growth through acquisitions.

Need for speed

Aware of the benefits, photonics firms are pursuing acquisitions for a variety of reasons.

At Avimo Business Development Inc. in Tulsa, Okla., the acquisition arm has been busy for several years. "We were already global traders," said managing director Robert Hogrefe, so the acquisition strategy focused on integration or buying companies that could help Avimo supply new products to new markets.

Hogrefe cautioned that synergy can't be coerced.

"If the decision to acquire is predicated on a certain level of intercompany business, there is a certain amount of risk," he said. For example, "When you force interdivisional transfer pricing, you limit the margins on one group. Funny things happen, and it disturbs people's motivations."

Access to technology also drove acquisitions among the companies that were surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more true than in telecommunications.

Like many of its competitors, telecom equipment maker Ciena Corp. in Linthicum, Md., has been turning to smaller companies that may be able to provide the right technology more quickly.

"Our success has been the result of getting products to market quickly," said Dennis Bilter, marketing director. On the strength of timely acquisitions, Ciena doubled its customer base and entered several new markets. In buying, the company looked for firms with key people and resources, and a good cultural fit.

Earlier this year, Corning Inc. in Corning, N.Y., bought the telecommunications business of two Australian firms. But the companies were not picked up for their technology.

"They gave us an additional channel to [Asian] markets and some degree of additional economies of scale," said communications manager Paul Rogoski.

Sometimes a little selling can help fuel growth. Corning sold off some businesses, like cookware and nontelecommunications optical filters, when it shifted the focus of its business to materials applications with high growth potential.

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