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Michael Pavia: Keeping his focus on imaging

It was more than a decade ago when members of the local optics community traveled to a trade event in San Diego and spent some free time riding the Pacific Ocean on boats that raced in the America’s Cup. 

The group toured the Abracadabra and Stars & Stripes sailboats before shoving for open waters, traveling upwards of 12 knots an hour, recalls Tom Battley, executive director of the New York Photonics & Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster. 

And while Battley and other Rochester executives enjoyed the brief break from business, one of their traveling companions, Michael Pavia, still had his mind on work. 

“We’re all enjoying this sunny day and great ride and there’s Mike at the back of the boat on his BlackBerry,” Battley recalls. 

While Pavia was having a good time, he was also thinking about the company he was launching—what is now Sydor Technologies LLC, Battley says.

“He has focused energy and enthusiasm, and that has been what has helped him succeed,” Battley says of Pavia. 

Sydor Technologies manufactures ultrafast imaging systems, diagnostics and measurement systems.

The company’s high-speed imaging equipment is capable of taking a picture in less than a billionth of a second and extracting data from any impact or high-energy event: a missile hitting a tank, a bullet hitting a bulletproof vest, thermonuclear explosions or even molecular reactions.  

Sydor Technologies does business with many government agencies, including the U.S. departments of Defense, Energy and Justice, as well as commercial customers, law enforcement agencies and research institutions. 

The firm has expanded its business overseas and now sells more than 200 products in 33 countries around the world. 

It has been 13 years since Pavia and business partner, James Sydor, chairman of Sydor Optics Inc., launched Sydor Technologies, and the firm is in growth mode. 

The business logged sales of $8 million in 2016 and Pavia, its 51-year-old president and CEO, is projecting revenue in 2017 to hit $15 million. The company has a total of 38 employees in Rochester and the United Kingdom. 

While the business is thriving, Pavia—who last year was named Small Business Council of Rochester Business Person of the Year in the small firm category—does not feel that much different from the day the venture began. 

“I feel like I’m doing the same thing as I did at the start,” Pavia says, adding, “there’s a lot of momentum now.”

Start on Long Island

Pavia grew up on Long Island. He received a bachelor of science degree in optical engineering from the University of Rochester in 1987. 

He went back to Long Island after graduation but missed Western New York and returned after a year. 

He worked for a few local optics firms over the years, as well as UR’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, before going to Eastman Kodak Co. 

He spent some 10 years at Kodak, lastly helping lead a billion dollar space division—now Harris Corp. Space & Intelligence Systems—before deciding to partner with Sydor and start the business, then called Sydor Instruments LLC. 

The business started in 2004 on a patent license from UR. Researchers there invented and prototyped the system; Pavia and his team then commercialized the technology. 

The gamble paid off, he says. 

Sydor has been one of fastest growing companies in the Rochester Top 100—landing at number 23 in 2016—and has appeared in the top 25 percent of Inc. magazine’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies nationwide.

Surrounding himself with smart, talented people has helped his success, Pavia says. 

“I attribute some of my success to being in the right place at the right time,” he says. “If you hang around the right people, the right things will happen.”

James Sydor has known Pavia for nearly 30 years. Initially Sydor’s firm made optics for companies where Pavia worked. 

Sydor describes Pavia as driven and motivated, a person who loves business. 

“He loves to build on a concept to make it a reality,” Sydor says, noting Pavia’s enthusiasm is infectious for his entire team. “He not only thinks of the next project, he is thinking on the next seven projects.”

Sydor says there is a good chemistry between the two business partners, noting they like and trust each other. 

“We seem to always be on the same page when it comes to business and future opportunities,” Sydor says. “Since we started the business together we have never had a disagreement. That says a lot.”

Pavia calls Sydor a mentor and someone he can go to for advice. 

Among the challenges of running a business is finding that work-life balance, Pavia says. 

“I work long hours, and the support of my family is very important to me,” he says. 

He often begins work before getting to the office, starting with international business, since some locations are five hours ahead of Rochester. Work with customers on the West Coast is often done later in the day and into the evening due to the time difference there. 

Pavia also travels frequently, both abroad and to the West Coast. 

Other challenges include staying on top of technology and adapting to changes in the global community, which is important to the company since 60 percent of customers are located outside of the United States. 

Diversity—in products and geography—has helped the business succeed, Pavia says.

Growth and acquisitions

Acquisitions have also helped the business.

The firm was able to double its revenues with the 2014 purchase of Sabre Ballistics, a British company that serves the ballistics market. 

The deal doubled Sydor Technology’s annual sales and gave it the ability to supply customers with a range of imaging products used in making protective armor and military tanks safer and in helping police determine how a bullet was fired at a crime scene.

The two companies previously had a partnership agreement in which Sydor was Sabre’s applications and sales partner in the United States. When the British company’s owners decided it was time to retire, Pavia has said, acquiring the company was a natural move for Sydor Technologies.

Looking ahead, Pavia expects to make several more acquisitions that will boost Sydor’s capabilities. 

One of the firm’s strategic goals is hitting $50 million in sales within the next seven years. Pavia plans to accomplish that through product launches and acquisitions. 

Pavia describes his leadership style as empowering and delegating. He looks to hire the most capable employees and then let them do their job. 

“I believe they can build anything,” he says. 

The firm’s most important asset is its intellectual property. 

“The most valuable asset walks in the door in the morning and goes home at the end of the day,” Pavia says. 

So he works hard to make the business a place where employees want to be and feel they are a vital part. There are regular celebrations, including birthdays, and annual bonuses.

Outside the office, Pavia teaches technical entrepreneurship part time at UR’s Simon Business School, noting the university has had a major impact on his life. 

Pavia lives in Fairport with his wife, Stephanie. The couple has two daughters: Jaimee, 25, and Carly, 20. 

In his free time, Pavia enjoys traveling with his family and has visited many places around the world, from Florida to Austria.  

He frequents the Florida Keys to deep-sea fish with Sydor. The two are also classic car enthusiasts; Pavia enjoys driving his Porsche 911 Turbo during the warmer months. 

On the job, Pavia still has the laser focus he has had since the firm’s creation. 

He is proud that the business has successfully taken university research and developed it into a successful product that is sold around the world, and the money generated comes back to the Rochester area. 

“I think we’re a good example of what the future of Rochester holds,” Pavia says. “And I’m very proud of that.” 

 
Michael Pavia
Title: President and CEO, Sydor Technologies LLC
Age: 51
Education:  B.S. degree in optical engineering from the University of Rochester, 1987
Residence: Fairport
Family: Wife, Stephanie; daughters, Jaimee, 25 and Carly, 20
Hobbies: Traveling, deep-sea fishing, classic car enthusiast
Quote: I attribute some of my success to being in the right place at the right time. If you hang around the right people, the right things will happen.
 

3/3/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net

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