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Joseph Burke does not necessarily agree with the saying, “You make your own luck.”
“I think if you’re fortunate, people will help you,” says Burke, CEO of Vanteon Corp.
That was the case back in 2003 when Burke and David Wagner took ownership of the company.
Vanteon is an electronic systems design and engineering company. The business, at CrossKeys Office Park in Perinton, employs 38 people, as well as more than 20 contract workers. Industry segments that use Vanteon’s services include avionics, communications, digital imaging, medical devices and transportation.
Dealing with the dot.com crash and a pile of debt more than a decade ago, the partners were fortunate to have help from outside sources, including their bank. That help included forgiving millions of dollars in company debt and keeping the firm afloat.
While Vanteon is not the size it once was—it peaked at 425 workers and more than $50 million in sales—the business is growing, and Burke expects a year-over-year sales increase in 2014.
Burke declines to disclose financials, other than to say the company has sales of less than $10 million annually. He is predicting a 25 percent increase in sales this year.
Though the business faced challenges—from downsizing and cutting its workforce to dealing with loss of business in economic downturns—Burke never doubted the company would survive.
“We had a good business here and saw a chance to make it work,” he says.
Wagner and Burke are lead owners and there are several minority owners, including some employees.
Burke grew up in Elmira, Chemung County. After high school he decided to enroll in a local community college, where he admits to not spending much time studying.
So he left school and took a full-time job in a factory.
It was the best thing for him at the time, Burke says, because he learned how important a college degree would be to his business success.
With a new mindset, he went to Erie Community College, where he majored in accounting. He graduated with an associate’s degree in 1969, went on to Rochester Institute of Technology—again in accounting—and graduated two years later.
Burke says he chose the major because it was more specialized than a general business major.
After school he went to work as a CPA with KPMG Peat Marwick LLP. He would go on to jobs of increasing responsibility at firms in the aerospace, communications and printing industries. Those jobs included working at Flightline Electronics Inc., Harris Corp.’s RF Communications and Monroe Graphics Inc.
Burke picked up knowledge along the way.
“I’ve learned something anyplace I’ve ever been,” he says.
At RF Communications, for example, he worked with a supervisor who taught him the value of being conservative and saving for a rainy day. At Flightline, he was impressed with the company leader’s direct style when working with employees.
Burke came to Vanteon in 1999 as director of finance when the company was starting the process of going public. It was one thing that drew him to the job.
Vanteon had been founded as Millennium Computer Corp. in 1985. It was named to Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the country in 1995 and 1996.
In 1997, Millennium was purchased by Houston-based Corestaff Inc., which renamed itself Metamor Worldwide Inc. in 1998. The Pittsford division was called Metamor Software Solutions.
In 1999, former Chairman and CEO Jonathan Sacks led a buyout of MSS. The business reported sales of $40 million that year and employed some 400 people nationwide, including roughly 150 local staffers.
Shortly after that, MSS purchased San Diego-based System Design Group. Sacks retired in 2001, and Wagner assumed operational responsibility as president and chief operating officer of Vanteon.
Burke, meanwhile, progressed through the roles of chief financial officer and chief operating officer. He became CEO in January 2009. Wagner remains president and chief operating officer.
Vanteon provides early-stage design, system component, software development and testing services. It also maintains a quality assurance organization. The business had been focused on designing printed circuit boards, but that has started shifting to more software work, such as working on smartphone applications.
Its top competitors are often their customers’ engineering departments, Burke says. That is because when there is an economic downturn, a company often looks
to its own staff to pick up some of the work normally outsourced.
With the economy rebounding, companies are becoming more comfortable investing in outsourced work again, partly because it keeps them from having to add staff and facilities.
Vanteon rewards its project managers for repeat work from customers, which provides an incentive to maintain relationships with customers after the initial sale.
Burke said he thinks Vanteon has the right people to move forward. It has re-established the chief technology officer position, which was left unfilled a couple of years ago.
Chris Houseworth, president of Ithaca-based BSU Inc., an electronics contract manufacturer, has known Burke for roughly five years but has been a supplier to Vanteon for more than 15 years.
Houseworth says Burke—a business associate and a friend—has helped make Vanteon a successful engineering firm.
“We have always been impressed with his choice of employees that we work with on a day-to-day basis and the caliber of the customers he brings to the table,” Houseworth says. “He couldn’t accomplish this without being an excellent leader and knowledgeable in his field.
“To continue to grow and make a small company like Vanteon successful says a lot for Joe’s abilities.”
Burke gets to the office around 8 a.m., and although he has four standard meetings each week, the majority of his time is focused on whatever needs to get done at the moment.
He prefers the flexible schedule.
“I’d much rather have people come right in and talk to me, rather than hold off on things for a while,” Burke says. “It makes it easier to stay on top of things.”
The constant change is one of the things he most enjoys about the job.
“No day, no project, no customer is the same,” he says.
One of his focuses is bringing in new clients. Customers are now in the Atlanta area and extend to Alabama, as well as up the East Coast. The firm does business with some local firms, including one large client he declined to disclose.
Burke describes his style as hands-off.
“You get the right people in the right spots, then let them do their thing,” he says.
Vanteon CFO Daniel Henry has known Burke since 1992, working with him at other businesses over the years and rejoining him at Vanteon 14 years ago.
He calls Burke a mentor with a strong business acumen.
“I feel that his strength in leadership comes from his commitment to those around him,” Henry says. “Vanteon’s business is very much people-oriented, and he believes in building relationships at all levels of the organization, both within Vanteon and with our clients and vendors. It’s that extra effort that endears him to many, and then his leadership abilities just naturally take hold.”
Burke is proud of the company’s reputation. Vanteon recently was listed among the Best Companies to Work For in New York State, a list released by the New York State Society for Human Resource Management.
To be included on the list, companies had to fulfill specific registration eligibility requirements and then participate in a two-part survey of employee satisfaction and engagement, as well as submit documentation on workplace policies and practices.
Patrick DiLaura, chief talent officer at Klein Steel Inc., has known Burke nearly 15 years. The two first met through business dealings and later became friends. DiLaura has been on Vanteon’s board of directors for roughly six years.
He describes Burke as trustworthy and good-hearted.
“He’s someone you like quickly and establish a rapport with quickly,” DiLaura says.
He also spoke of Burke’s dedication to Vanteon. At a time when others may have closed the company’s doors, Burke was determined to keep it going.
“It was a move that required a lot of courage,” DiLaura says. “Rochester needs more success stories like this.”
Off the job
Burke lives in Fairport with his wife, Nancy. He has a daughter, Michelle, 38, who lives on the West Coast.
When not working, Burke enjoys participating in high-performance driving schools at racetracks. He also serves as an instructor.
“It teaches you how to look much farther down the road and anticipate anything that may be coming up,” he says.
Another hobby is cooking on his Big Green Egg, a ceramic charcoal cooker. The Burkes also recently purchased a residence in Florida and are looking forward to spending some time there.
At Vanteon, Burke says, his current challenge and focus is bringing in new business.
“We’ve done well keeping our current clients happy,” he says. “Now we need more new customers.”
Position: CEO, Vanteon Corp.
Education: A.S. in accounting, Erie Community College, Williamsville, 1969; B.S. in accounting, Rochester Institute of Technology, 1971
Family: Wife Nancy; daughter Michelle, 38
Activities: High-speed driving on racetracks, cooking
Quote: “We’ve done well keeping our current clients happy. Now we need more new customers.”
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