Tough start for top job at Micro-Coax

Christopher J. Kneizys , president and CEO of Micro-Coax Inc., in Pottstown, shows a Swiss CNC screw machine, which cuts parts for the connectors that the company makes. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)

Christopher J. Kneizys was 31 years old when he took over the helm at Micro-Coax Inc., a cable manufacturer in Pottstown. Almost the first thing he did was lay people off. 

Great start, I said to him during our Leadership Agenda interview, published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer. Kneizys definitely had an uphill road when he became chief executive in 1992. First of all, he was 31. Second of all, in a company that relies on engineering and technology, he followed two presidents who had both been engineers.

"I knew how the business worked, but I knew nothing about engineering or how the products worked," he said, "and so, the first thing is to get the business financially sound. It was marginally profitable, so we had to reduce the headcount."

Kneizys said he had to lay off about 10 percent of the workforce which then numbered about 55. The Cold War was coming to an end and demand from Micro-Coax's military customers plunged. He also cut some people's pay.

Kneizys kept talking about applying "Business 101" to the situation -- meaning analyzing various products, analyzing the various customers and then seeing what made sense to retain and what made sense to abandon. "You go through an analysis. What are we working on. Are we making any money on it and if we aren’t, exit that customer, or exit that business or change the pricing."

Yes, I said, but how did you manage to bring around the workforce considering all the negatives you brought into the job?

"I called it a day at a time," he said.

"The employees had been pitted against each other," he said. "Without getting into the dirty laundry, the management team, there was a fracturing at the top. The operations folks didn’t like office folks and the office folks didn't like the operations folks. So they knew the business was dysfunctional.

"So, I don’t want to say I got a pass, but it was understood that things weren’t right."

Over time, he said, the company began to grow, which helped.

Also, he said, "you don’t always win over everybody. And of course, that’s part of the learning experience. You have to have a thick skin."