Steve Negrini RW: Jennings Technology was founded in 1942. Describe its history.
Negrini: Jo Jennings, our founder, was very interested in radio transmission at a young age. He was considered to be a fanatical ham radio buff. He knew a lot about glass work and had a friend who was a metals worker.
Jo opened Jennings Radio and shortly thereafter created the first vacuum dielectric variable capacitor. These capacitors were used to help tune the frequency needed to operate the radio towers across the country.
The broadcast end market is, to this day, still a large market segment for Jennings Technology.
RW: The company was purchased not long ago.
Negrini: The previous owner, Danaher Corp., sold Jennings Technology to Thomas & Betts Corp. in July 2007. Jennings has a long history of providing highly engineered products under a leading brand, which is a perfect fit for Thomas & Betts.
Thomas & Betts brings both engineering and operational resources to Jennings that will allow us to expand our core product offering into new markets and across new applications that we haven’t tapped into before.
RW: Are vacuum products in any way a growth industry?
Negrini: There are several end markets that offer growth potential for vacuum products, especially in the alternative energy segments. The solar market happens to be a great example. We also sell vacuum products into the air and defense markets, where spending is projected to grow over the next three years. Meanwhile we still see steady demand from the International broadcast industry.
RW: What is the biggest misconception people have about this type of product?
Negrini: I wouldn’t call it a misconception but more of a misunderstanding of what makes a high-quality vacuum capacitor or relay. It is not just how much vacuum you have in the unit, but just as important is the quality of every component and the process used to clean and finish every unit. The recipe we use to finish the surface of our product offers superior RF characteristics as compared to our competitors.
The use of Jennings products in the broadcast market dates back to 1942. We have thousands of capacitors that are still operating for well over 25 years. You can’t get that type of field-tested performance data from any newer, so called “low-cost” producers. Let’s face it, most of the seasoned broadcast engineers don’t look at “low cost,” they look at “total cost” over the life of the project, as they should. That’s where we believe Jennings really shines over our competitors.
RW: Are there new or updated products at Jennings that radio engineers should be aware of?
Negrini: Yes, there are several new designs that you will see in our 2009 catalog. We actually developed a new variable capacitor in 2004, called the Max-Cap, capable of outperforming the life of our closest competitor 2 to 1. We have been slowly rolling this product out over the past several years, but we plan to make a big push on this product in the coming year. You can also expect to see further developments in the low-temperature space, as well as a few other surprises.
RW: How many employees do you have? Was staffing affected by the sale?
Negrini: We have a total of 75 full-time associates, all based in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley.
Our biggest organizational change after the acquisition was to restructure our team by product lines — that is, vacuum capacitors, vacuum relays and vacuum interrupters. This structure allows us to be more focused and more responsive to the specific needs of our individual customers for each product line.
RW: Often we hear that radio is old technology. Why is Jennings interested in radio broadcasting generally and what do you see as the radio industry’s business outlook?
Negrini: The AM and shortwave systems are still being built and used both in the U.S and overseas. There had been a recent focus on the conversion to digital technology, but we still have thousands of installed capacitors that provide us with a significant MRO [maintenance , repair and operations] business. In addition, there are many applications for radio technology in defense and other specialty industries that we do not see going away any time soon.
RW: What else should we know about the company and its recent business changes?
Negrini: We are in the process of rebuilding our sales network. Our strategy is to hire manufacturer representatives in key locations in the U.S. Several territories have already been assigned. This team will focus on getting the Jennings product onto new specifications and driving home our increased sales effort.
We have also renewed and strengthened our agreement with our key U.S. and international distributors who are strong players in the broadcast market. Our team of manufacturer representatives will work with these channel partners to support and grow our broadcast customer base.
Internationally we have several strong distributors, including Richardson, who will support our push to maintain and grow our position as one of the top suppliers in the market.
We have a team of very smart, competitive and energized people who are eager to take Jennings into the future and to build off of our long and proud heritage as a premium supplier to the broadcast industry.
RW: We understand you are a car buff. What’s it like to drive a super stock race car?
Negrini: It’s what “getting shot out of a cannon” must feel like!
I race 1/4-mile drags in an NHRA Super Stock category SS/BS. The car is a 1987 Firebird Trans Am with a small block Chevrolet engine that produces over 750 horsepower. The elapsed time it takes to cover the quarter mile is 9.2 seconds at a speed of 148 MPH. The fun part is the first 1.2 seconds that it takes to travel the first 60 feet with the front wheels hanging 2 feet in the air.
The real fun comes from the preparation, travel, food and camaraderie with fellow racers and families. It’s like being on vacation every minute you spend at the track.