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CEO finds booming demand for products

Some might consider William Hurley’s biggest issue-managing the pace of his firm’s growth-a good one to have to tackle.

Since he started Rochester Precision Optics out of the ashes of an Eastman Kodak Co. operation four years ago, sales have jumped from $2 million in 2006 to $14 million in 2009. Staff numbers have risen as well: Rochester Precision Optics began with 27 employees and now has 110.

The company provides precision-molded and -machined optics to companies that require quick production turnaround. It also has the capacity to produce all of the catalog lenses and lens cell assemblies made by Kodak.

Hurley, the 49-year-old president and CEO, said that when the company formed, its staff knew how to make optics. What was missing was everything needed to run a stand-alone business.

"There was a demand for this type of work, and we got more business than we could handle very quickly," Hurley says.

He admits that the early years have been a juggling act between managing growth and establishing the business, but he is not one to withdraw from a challenge.

"I have always been a competitive person who has a low tolerance for mediocrity," Hurley says.

A New England start
Hurley grew up in the Boston suburbs. With a natural ability in math, he figured a career in engineering would be a good fit.

He spent his teen years working at his stepfather’s welding business and decided that was not the place for him.

"It was too cold, too messy and too dirty," Hurley says. "It made me want to go to school."

Hurley attended the University of Lowell in Lowell, Mass., where he received his bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering in 1983.

After finishing college, he went to work for the former Lockheed Sanders, then a large defense company in New Hampshire. He worked there for 10 years in various positions from quality assurance engineer to program manager of automated test equipment.

Although he valued the experience, Hurley wasn’t comfortable in the large corporate atmosphere.

"Too many meetings, too much bureaucracy in the decision-making process and too many bosses to please," he says.

He left there to join a startup company in southern New Hampshire, Insight Technologies Inc., a private manufacturer of tactical weapon lights and lasers for handguns, shotguns and rifles.

There he found a group of people who shared his enthusiasm for building a highly responsive, customer-focused organization.

"We worked long hours because we enjoyed our work," Hurley says. "We were driven by our vision and rewarded by the praises of our customers and the success of the company."

While there, Hurley earned his MBA from Rivier College in Nashua, N.H., in 1999.

He stayed at Insight for 11 years, holding positions of increasing responsibility, including director of engineering, general manager of optical fabrication, program manager of production laser programs and director of production assurance.

Hurley’s passion for optics began a decade ago while working as a program manager at Insight responsible for developing electro-optical systems.

At the time, the firm had little in-house manufacturing and had to purchase nearly all of its mechanical, electrical and optical components. Of those, the optics had the longest lead time, hindering Insight’s ability to create prototypes quickly and move products into production.

Hurley started traveling to Rochester to source optics, and he got to know many of the local companies and business leaders.

"I quickly discovered that the optics community is filled with intelligent, hard-working people who enjoy their work and enjoy working with one another," he says.

From 2001 to 2002, he opened a small optical fabrication shop at Insight and received formal training from machine builders, both in Rochester and in Germany, and became fascinated with the equipment, manufacturing techniques and tolerances.

Kodak opportunity
In the summer 2005, Hurley received notification from Kodak that it was closing its in-house optical manufacturing operations.

He compiled a group of private investors to buy the assets from Kodak. The deal was helped with financial incentives from the Empire State Development Corp. and County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency.

"I jumped at the opportunity to start Rochester Precision Optics because I knew that Kodak had excellent employees and great technology," Hurley says.

He estimates the firm has spent $16 million in site improvements and equipment for the 64,500-square-foot facility. All equipment from the Kodak division’s Lee Road site was moved to his new facility on John Street in Henrietta.

"Before, this building was an eyesore at the front entrance of a very nice industrial park," Hurley says.  Running a business was his next logical step, Hurley says. He was fortunate to have business role models who mentored him and helped prepare him for the challenge.

One mentor was Don Petersen, director of automated test systems at Lockheed Sanders, who taught Hurley about delegation and assuming a more professional-executive role. Another was Ken Solinsky, Insight’s president and CEO, who taught Hurley to focus on the business details and hold people accountable for their actions.

Edward White worked with Hurley some eight years ago when White was general manager for Kodak’s optical products. The two remained friends and collaborated with others on a product for Insight.

It makes perfect sense for Hurley to lead an optics firm because he has extensive operational experience and creativity in solving problems, White says. Hurley works well with everyone involved in running a business, including customers, suppliers and partners.

"That combination has facilitated his success," White says.

Richard Laudisi, vice president of corporate controls and construction operations at LeChase Construction Services LLC, first met Hurley when Hurley was scouting for a local site for the company. LeChase completed work on the building.

Laudisi was impressed with Hurley’s vision for the company, starting with its location.

"He knew what he wanted and, when he found it, made the decision to move forward," Laudisi says. "That leadership quality drew me to conclude this operation was going to be a success."

Laudisi and Hurley have remained friends. "Bill is just a good guy," Laudisi says. "He’s rock-solid."

Hurley says his company’s success is due largely to its focus on quality and customer service. The firm sells optics worldwide and competes with low-cost suppliers to capture new business.

"Many of our competitors receive subsidies from their governments and have significantly lower payrolls and overhead costs," he says, adding that the company tries to streamline its processes to reduce costs.

Rochester Precision Optics has grown through acquisition. In December 2006 it acquired Tricon Machine LLC, a precision machine shop in Henrietta that focused on close-tolerance machining requirements for optics and other firms. Hurley says the move increased his company’s machining capabilities.

Also in 2006, Hurley started CDGM Glass Co. USA, a three-person firm in Winton Place that has exclusive rights to distribute optical glass made by CDGM Glass Co. Ltd. in Chengdu, China.

His job
The best part of his job is hearing customers describe how pleased they are with the company, Hurley says. Because he likes to spend as much time as possible with customers, he ends up traveling more than he would like-often one or two weeks a month.

A typical day starts with exercise and a light breakfast. Then he likes to spend roughly an hour each morning without interruption to gather his thoughts and establish priorities for the day.

The rest of his day is spent responding to e-mail, getting departmental updates and working on high-priority tasks. Evenings often are filled with entertaining customers or attending networking events.

Hurley finds dealing with personnel issues the worst part of the job, so he tries to be direct in his communication.

"I work hard to let my employees know what I expect and to hold them accountable to accomplish their tasks," Hurley says. "I like to surround myself with competent people whom I trust, so I don’t have to get too involved in the day-to-day operations."

Off the job
When he’s not working, Hurley’s interests generally involve outdoor activities. He enjoys boating, fishing, hunting, golf, skiing, hockey, scuba and swimming.

But he also loves to cook, trying new recipes for soups, appetizers and entrees. The interest began in his youth when Hurley enrolled in a free cooking class in an effort to compete in the kitchen with his sisters. Someday he would like to enroll in formal cooking classes.

He enjoys time with his family and spends summers on the coast of Maine, where relatives have beachfront summer homes.

Hurley and his wife, Carolyn, live in Webster and have two children. William, 21, is an optics student at the University of Rochester who spends his off time working at his dad’s company. Daughter Allison, 18, is in high school.

Rochester Precision Optics will continue to consider acquisition candidates, Hurley says. The firm also is looking for more employees, including optical technicians and managers. Hurley anticipates adding 10 employees in 2010.

"We’ve done a pretty good job anticipating business and preparing for it," he says.

William Hurley
Position: President and CEO, Rochester Precision Optics LLC
Age: 49
Education: B.S., industrial engineering, University of Lowell, Lowell, Mass, 1983; MBA, Rivier College, Nashua, N.H., 1999
Family: Wife Carolyn; son William, 21; and daughter Allison, 18
Residence: Webster
Outside activities: boating, fishing, hunting, golfing, skiing, hockey, scuba diving, swimming and cooking
Quote: "I have always been a competitive person who has a low tolerance for mediocrity."

2/12/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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