A few weeks back, The Motley Fool's Rich Smith had the chance to speak with Francis Kramer, CEO of
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Rich Smith: The name suggests that II-VI has something to do with an early series of Super Bowls, or perhaps with Roman legions. Disabuse us of this notion -- where does the "two-six" name really come from, and when not playing football or fighting Gauls, what does II-VI do?
Francis Kramer: The name II-VI has its origin in the Periodic Table of Elements. The company was founded in 1971 to grow material for use as infrared laser components using Cadmium (from column II of the Periodic Table of Elements) and Tellurium (from column VI). Even today, we are still growing "II-VI compounds," including Zinc Selenide for infrared applications and Cadmium Zinc Telluride for x- and gamma-ray detection systems.
Smith: You've been COO for more than two decades yourself. And you have just an enormous amount of your own assets tied up in the firm [now more than $8 million worth]. What's the single thing about II-VI that makes you most confident that this company is a great place to invest your own money?
Kramer: I only invest in profitable companies that grow. II-VI has been profitable every year since 1973, and during our 20 years as a public company, we have grown nearly 20% per year. I also invest in what I know, and I know that II-VI is a company committed to excellence in quality with a dedicated and outstanding workforce around the world. We are determined to bring value to our customers and shareholders.
Smith: Your 10-K just came out last month. Leafing through it, I wasn't surprised to learn that your laser optics attract customers such as Northrop
Kramer: Caterpillar and John Deere have numerous production processes that involve lasers. These processes include cutting flat sheets of steel to make parts and welding components. These companies, and thousands of others, have found that lasers are an invaluable piece of their manufacturing process. Caterpillar and John Deere have many laser systems installed in their operations, and they value the optics and components that II-VI provide to help keep these systems running at peak performance.
Smith: The Risk Factors section of your 10-K includes a statement to the effect that: "Sales to customers in countries other than the U.S. accounted for approximately 42% ... of revenues" last year. But given the flagging U.S. dollar, isn't foreign-sourced income more of an advantage to II-VI than a risk?
Kramer: Right now is a good time to be a supplier making non-U.S.-dollar denominated sales. But regardless of the current exchange rates, we must do business where our customers are located, and that takes us to countries like Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and China.
Smith: I suspect most people's knowledge of lasers is limited to what we've seen in Star Wars. Can you give us a short course in Real-Life Lasers 101? What are the most important kinds of lasers in use today, and how do they work?
Kramer: Lasers have grown up from being a "university novelty" in the 1960s to becoming a staple of manufacturing, military, and medical applications around the world. Laser stands for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation." Our products are used in a variety of industrial, medical, and military lasers, enabling processes such as cutting and welding metal, performing laser surgery, and guiding defensive weapon systems.
Smith: What kinds of lasers will we be using a decade from now, and how will they differ from today's technology?
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