President and owner
Saturn Flex Systems Inc., Plymouth
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After earning a finance degree at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Yash Sutariya joined Southfield-based Stout Risius Ross as a consultant in the valuation department before transferring to bankruptcy and turnaround management. “Little did I know those skills would come in handy,” he says, explaining that his family-owned company, Saturn Electronics, saw its revenue plummet from $22 million in 2000 to $12 million in 2002. After joining Saturn Electronics as a vice president in the midst of its revenue drop, Sutariya relied on his training to find untapped niches in the design and production of printed circuit boards for the automotive, aerospace, medical, and manufacturing sectors. In 2011, he acquired a related company, Saturn Flex Systems Inc. in Plymouth.
How did you stop the losses at Saturn and reverse course?
There was a three-week period before the holidays (in 2001) when we lost two accounts that made up $9 million in combined revenue. We made the mistake of putting all of our eggs in one basket. We were entirely automotive, and we produced a product in vast quantities that had low to medium technology, meaning it was fairly easy to produce. So most of the business went to China. The printed circuit board market was a $12 billion industry in North America in 2000, and it dropped to $4 billion in 2002. The first thing you do in a turnaround situation is to stabilize the business, and the second thing you do is look for growth opportunities.
Where did the newgrowth come from?
We were like Chevy Chase shooting down the hill in that saucer he sprayed silicone on in the movie Christmas Vacation. You’re just trying to hold on, and you don’t exactly know where things will stop. Once we got things stabilized, we sought out orders that had a lot of technological needs that could be produced in lower volumes. We took the supermarket approach — we were too big in one sector, so we became a master of multiple niches. Now, no one industry accounts for more than 20 percent of (annual) revenue, and no one company accounts for more than 10 percent (of annual revenue). Today we’re in aerospace/defense, industrial controls, commercial electronics, LED lighting, and several other industries. Our clients include the Big Three automakers, Lockheed Martin, Rockwell Corp., Cooper Lighting, Ultra Electronics, and many others. We steadily were able to grow the business so that last year we had $39.9 million in revenue. We now have more than 300 clients, whereas in 2000 we had three clients that accounted for 75 percent of our sales.
What are your biggest challenges today?
Getting people to do things the way I would do them myself. I’m trying to duplicate myself with my team. Not to be arrogant, but I’m 37 years old and I am one of youngest people in the industry. People will do things the same way forever if you let them. But we want to initiate change in better managing production, quality, and customer service. We also want to expand our exports, which today account for 10 percent of our (annual) sales.
How do you market your offerings?
We market from lowest cost to highest return. So we distribute our knowledge base, rather than trying to spend all of our time searching for new clients. We host educational webinars, we do high-level speaking engagements at industry events, and we publish technical articles in trade publications. I was published five times last year in The PCB Magazine (Printer Circuit Boards) and SMT Magazine (Surface Mount Assembly). Once the articles come out, we post them on our website and tag them so we’re high up on Google searches. As a result, our sales reps spend 90 percent of their time servicing new and existing clients, and the other 10 percent of their time is spent on finding new leads.
How do you fold your recent acquisitions into the overall mix?
Two years ago I acquired Saturn Flex Systems Inc. in Plymouth (the company has its headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga., north of Atlanta), and I recently acquired Alpha Circuit Corp. in Elmhurst, Ill., which is outside of Chicago. I must be a glutton for punishment. If Saturn Electronics is the semitrailer, Saturn Flex is the Ferrari in the garage. Saturn Flex takes on projects no one else will, like building circuit boards in tiny modules that are used for human implantable devices. They were nearly out of business when I got them. So I do the same thing: stabilize the business and look for growth opportunities. Alpha will be another turnaround. They have no specialty; they were trying to compete in the general (circuit board) market. Our goal is to get them more specialized.