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Homegrown firm draws industry veteran

Rochester Business Journal
May 2, 2014

CEO Susan Horne led a group of investors that bought Surmotech in November. (Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)

There was no honeymoon period for Susan Horne when she became president and CEO of Surmotech Inc.

Instead of easing into the business, Horne faced a quality audit for a medical certification in her first week on the job.

While it was not one’s ideal introduction to a new position, Horne rose to the challenge, provided the necessary information and successfully led the company through the process.

She then went on to strengthen the business, which had been struggling because of the shaky economic climate that was affecting its customers. Horne and other Surmotech leaders worked to land several new orders in her first few weeks on the job.

While there have been some sleepless nights since she became a first-time business owner, Horne describes the past few months as rewarding.

“This is a very exciting time,” she says. “We are really turning the engine around.”

With its headquarters in Victor, Ontario County, Surmotech is a full-service electronic contract manufacturer.

It provides a range of manufacturing, assembly and test services to the military, medical, industrial, optical and telecommunications industries, as well as to consumer markets. Its capabilities include printed circuit board assembly, electromechanical assembly services and electronic testing.

The company was purchased in November by a group of investors headed by Horne. She replaced Jerry Valentine, who retired.

Valentine was among a group of people working at Sayett Technology Inc., an Eastman Kodak Co. spinoff, who launched Surmotech in 1990. In 1995, he purchased the company assets and became the sole owner.

Horne, 54, has more than 20 years of experience in printed circuit board design and contract manufacturing production.

She started a career in printed electronic circuit board design after attending Eastridge High School in Irondequoit. Early in her career, she worked for Allied Signal Inc.

While working in the field, Horne met Kenton Fiske, the former CEO and co-founder of electronic contract manufacturer SenDEC Corp. in Perinton. She took a job with the company and stayed some 13 years, holding positions of increasing responsibility, including director of operations and plant manager.

She enjoyed the work, especially when it evolved into a more administrative role, assisting the engineering department.

SenDEC was sold in 2011 to Long Island-based API Technologies Corp., a $245 million public company that designs, develops and manufactures radio frequency, microwave and millimeter wave components and systems for use in defense, commercial and aerospace applications.

Buying Surmotech
Some two years after the acquisition, Horne felt it was time for a different direction. She liked the idea of working for a small, homegrown company again, rather than a large public corporation.

Others at API’s local operation felt the same way, and when the opportunity came to purchase Surmotech, the group decided to buy it.

“It was a great time for us,” she says of the decision.

While Horne is in the top spot at Surmotech, the business is run by a five-member leadership team: Jeff Thaler, chief financial officer; John Stryker, director of quality; Vince Andrews, director of operations; and Steven Faulkner, director of supply chain. All but Faulkner were API employees at the time of the decision in 2013; Faulkner had left in 2012.

Horne says each member has been instrumental in helping to make a smooth transition into business leadership.

“I could never have done this without this team of people,” she says.

The team received assistance from the Ontario County Economic Development Office, which approved a $400,000 loan last year to encourage the acquisition, which had a total price of nearly $2.8 million.

The goal of Horne and her colleagues is to provide top customer service, high-qual-ity work and stability and jobs in the Rochester area.

Surmotech has some 35 employees, up from a staff in the low 20s when the group took over. Several personnel from API’s Perinton operation have come over to Sur-motech since the acquisition, Horne says.

The company continues to hire for key positions.

While the business had certain assets—an established infrastructure and talented workforce among them—what was needed was help on the front end, particularly in sales. So far, Horne and her team have worked to expand its customer base across the country and into Canada.

Company leaders see growth opportunities in the areas of optics and homeland security.

Those who know Horne say she has what it takes to lead Surmotech.

Thaler says Horne is a balanced leader, understanding operations while also being customer-focused. He also describes Horne as a direct communicator.

“She is very clear in her direction,” Thaler says. “You know where you stand with Sue.”

In the mornings, Horne enjoys going to the YMCA near her home to exercise. When she gets to the office, she starts the day with an employee meeting.

She spends roughly half of her time on the road, meeting with customers and prospects as well as suppliers and sales representatives.

Friendly and approachable, Horne believes in talking to everyone.

“I will take a meeting with anyone, because it can always lead to meeting with someone else,” Horne says. “It’s best to always be talking to somebody.”

She instills that thinking in other Surmotech employees.

“Everyone here is a salesperson,” Horne says.

Although electronic contract manufacturing is a low-margin business, Surmotech leaders believe it can be a profitable one. The firm stands out with its customer relationships and its pricing competitiveness, Horne and Thaler say.

The long-term goal is to push annual sales past $25 million. The business currently logs some $8 million in annual revenues.

While the focus is on profitability and top-line growth, there is also emphasis on repeat business and creating long-term customer relationships.

“We aren’t looking for the customer who is going to leave us for a nickel,” Horne says.

Her time at SenDec helped prepare Horne to lead a business, she says. It was there she learned about things like cost structure and quoting jobs.

Strong leader
Robert McKenna, president of Leader Tech Inc. of Tampa, Fla., has known Horne for roughly three years. She reported to McKenna while serving as plant manager at API’s Perinton location.

McKenna says many attributes make Horne a good leader but, to put it simply, she is driven to succeed.

“She has a very strategic mindset, along with superior and sound decision-making skills,” McKenna says. “She is extremely dedicated and self-motivated and understands the importance of pleasing the customer.”

In addition to her business acumen, McKenna says, Horne is fun to be around and always exudes a positive attitude.

Stryker also praised Horne’s energy level.

“She is a high-energy person who is upbeat and positive,” he says, adding that Horne’s personality makes her a natural on the sales side of the business.

Horne describes her leadership style as inclusive and says she works to treat everyone at the firm as a valuable part of a team.

She enjoys cooking, particularly Italian dishes, and has cooked for the staff at Surmotech, serving homemade tomato sauce and lasagna as well as playing host for a cookout. The goal is to create a family atmosphere and unity within the company, she says.

Horne lives in Webster with her husband, Terry. She has two daughters, Andrea, 29, and Katie, 27, and two step-sons, Todd, 24, and Trevor, 22. Trevor also works at Surmotech.

In addition to cooking, Horne enjoys watching football in her free time. She is a Buffalo Bills fan and has held season tickets for more than 15 years.

“I love to go the games,” she says. “My husband won’t go with me because I’m a crazy fan. I love to be there, cheering them on.”

Horne is also proud she is celebrating her 10th anniversary as a breast cancer survivor.

She remains focused on Surmotech’s growth.

“2014 is my year,” she says.

Susan Horne
Position: President and CEO, Surmotech Inc.
Age: 54
Education: Eastridge High School
Family: Husband, Terry; daughters Andrea, 29, and Katie, 27; stepsons Todd, 24, and Trevor, 22
Residence: Webster
Interests: Cooking, especially Italian foods, and following the Buffalo Bills
Quote: “We aren’t looking for the customer who is going to leave us for a nickel.”

5/2/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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