Isola Executive Vice Chairman and Acting CEO Travis Kelly on the Upcoming Year


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Isola Executive Vice Chairman and Acting CEO Travis Kelly discusses the recent milestones for the company, including the leadership transition. Travis also outlines his agenda for the upcoming year and gives an update on Isola’s new facility in Chandler, Arizona.

Barry Matties: Travis, please give us a little background about who you are and what you’re doing with Isola.

Travis Kelly: I’m the executive vice chairman and acting CEO. The senior leadership team spends most of our time in Chandler, Arizona, at our headquarters, overseeing the entire business operations. Our team’s focus is on driving operational excellence in terms of manufacturing as well as product development and delivering high-quality products to the customer on time.

Matties: There have been a lot of changes in Isola over the last few years. Your predecessor, Jeff Waters, was there for a number of years and recently left. When we talked to him within the first 10 days of his position there, he had a lot of big plans. Can you tell us about the change?

Kelly: Jeff did a nice job over the past couple of years building up new product development at Isola and getting the operations aligned with the overall corporate objectives. He had a great opportunity to be a publicly traded CEO at a relatively large company, so from a personal and professional standpoint, it was the right decision for him, and we wish him the best. Jeff was able to stabilize our platform and reinvigorate our business across our markets. Now, we’re really focused on elevating the business to the next phase. We’re launching high-quality products, driving efficiencies from an operational standpoint, and setting the company up for growth as we launch new products.

Matties: Again, in the last interview we had with Jeff, he talked about the construction of a new flexible factory. Can you give us an update on that?

Kelly: Absolutely. We did sell the Chandler facility, and we are now building a state-of-the-art facility that’s going to be more focused on quick turnarounds. We’ve heard our customers loud and clear—they want shorter runs and volumes, but higher mix—and the Chandler facility was not set up to accommodate customers’ demands. So, our new flexible facility will enable us to deliver our products to customers when they need it. Not only will the facility provide flexibility, but it will also centralize our operations. Isola’s headquarters and the R&D labs will also be in the same facility as opposed to having its current spread out footprint. Everyone is going to be under one roof now, which should help facilitate more collaboration for new product development and quick turnarounds for customers.

Matties: In the recent market shift, what are customers’ feeling towards all the changes going on here?

Kelly: With any company, change is a natural part of its evolution and growth. We think there are a lot of exciting changes happening. However, even with all our changes, the constant for us is our focus on meeting the needs of our customers. In terms of the senior leadership team attrition, you expect to see some transitions as time goes on. We’re always looking to have the right mix of insider industry expertise as well as fresh perspective. One key advantage that our parent company Cerberus Capital Management brings is they have a very large operational team. They are functional industry experts who can come in and assist companies, like Isola, in delivering against their objectives. It’s a nice mix right now at Isola with Cerberus’ partnership as well as the Isola senior leadership team who bring company and industry expertise.

Matties: The title “acting CEO” implies a short period of time. Are you in the search for a permanent CEO or what is the strategy?

Kelly: Yes, there’s a search in progress, but we don’t feel forced into making a decision. We will make sure we have the right person with the right DNA to lead the company in the next phase. But until we find that person, I’m fully committed to Isola, so when I make decisions on a day-to-day basis, it’s for the long-term success of Isola. It’s not, “I need to get through the next 30 days,” because we are not working on a definite timeline.

Matties: Whether you’re the acting CEO for five years or five months, we know this change is coming. And you’re in a state of transition, but company culture is so important. How do you bring culture into a company and know that you’re going to be able to carry it forward?

Kelly: The culture has to be more than one person.

Matties: Somebody sets the tone though.

Kelly: It is really the underlying behaviors that formulate the culture of a company. We are looking to build a company that is foremost customer-focused and also committed to operational excellence. Jeff did a great job of instilling that culture during his tenure, and we will continue to drive that going forward. I’m a firm believer that if it’s a self-sustaining organism, like a company should be; then, realistically, that culture will breed upon itself. Any leader coming in will continue to foster that culture.

Nolan Johnson: Presuming that you could be in this role for a year or more, what do you see as your agenda for your first year as the acting CEO?

Kelly: My agenda is really a three-prong approach. First and foremost, it’s focused on new product development. And it’s not just designing these products in the lab; it’s also understanding how to execute the launch to our customers. It’s about getting products from the development stage to feasibility and production, running that entire value chain, and making sure that every single milestone is met to fulfill our customers’ needs.

Our second focus as a manufacturing company is how to become increasingly efficient; part of it is being cost competitive. As we look across the manufacturing footprint, what do we need to do to be successful in satisfying the customers by delivering quality products while doing it within a less expensive cost structure than what exists today?

The third focus is growth, including pursuing new business opportunities with our products. We are also looking at how to expand the product portfolio by making several key strategic choices as it relates to the commercial environment and where we think we should be as a company over the next five years.

Johnson: Do you feel like Isola is in a place to be getting the right kind of customer feedback on what the product development should be?

Kelly: We have very nice relationships both in terms of the PCB fabricators as well as our OEM marketing department. We can triangulate on a lot of feedback coming from fabricators and OEMs to help us set what the direction should be. It’s more of a collaborative approach, incorporating feedback from both the customers—which are the fabricators and OEMs—as well as what we think our capabilities are, which is important too.

Johnson: Of course, all of this then folds into your new facility and configuration.

Kelly: Exactly.

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