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New Agilent spinoff named Keysight Technologies


It may seem like a simple name: Keysight Technologies. It couldn't be that hard to come up with. Right?

Wrong.

There were 4,500 contenders when Agilent Technologies executives began the hair-splitting process of choosing a new name for its electronic measurement division, which will be spun off into a new company later this year.

On Tuesday, Agilent announced it had selected a name for the company, which will be based in Santa Rosa.

Keysight Technologies.

The new name had to convey a message. It had to be easy to pronounce. And it had to be a name that wouldn't cause unintended embarrassment when translated into another language.

So that long list of creative ideas was hacked down quickly after the many monikers were checked for website availability, possible trademark violations, and the potential of unflattering translations in dozens of other languages. A pile of about 30 survivors remained.

"Picking a standard, off-the-shelf word is almost impossible," said Ron Nersesian, the Agilent executive who will become CEO of the new company. "The first thing was to really figure out what do we stand for as a company, and to really understand what our values are."

So Nersesian tasked Mike Gasparian, vice president of marketing for the electronics measurement division of Agilent, with assembling an international name-vetting team within Agilent and finding an expert to help tag the budding company, which traces its roots to Hewlett-Packard.

"The internal naming team was multi-regional, cross-functional, cross-level and multi-generational," Nersesian said. "I wanted to make sure we had people who were relatively new employees as well as people who were very seasoned represented."

A day or two after Agilent announced the spinoff in late September, Gasparian got on the phone with Laurel Sutton, principal at Catchword, a naming company in Oakland that he'd found through his research. Sutton drove up to Santa Rosa and the naming team debriefed her on the company and what it wanted to convey.

"I would definitely describe it as a wild ride, three months of insanity," Gasparian said.

They began with six or seven possible directions for the name, and for each of those areas the Catchword team came up with hundreds of possibilities.

"There were a number of names we kicked around that would have been related to our early days, our history with Hewlett-Packard," Gasparian said. "The older employees really thought that was cool. The younger people, they didn't know anything about it. Like the street that Hewlett-Packard started on. They didn't know anything about the street."

Then came the tedious process of elimination. The Agilent employees around the globe logged onto their computers at a designated time, and then the monikers got their global critique.

Gasparian found that the lawyer in the Belgium area was more conservative than the lawyer in Russia, so he played referee between the two.

Then came a name that the team really liked, but the Internet domain name was taken.

"We hired a private investigator to find out who the person was, and whether it would be available for purchase," Gasparian said. "It turned out to be a religious evangelist who was writing a book, and the book wasn't published yet, but that was going to be the domain."

And there was the name that had a meaning in Japanese with an inappropriate sexual connotation.

"We really dodged a bullet with dropping that one off the list," Gasparian said. "You just run into all sorts of things you wouldn't anticipate."

Finally, the team had a list of about a dozen names which it presented to Nersesian, who had the final say. None of them worked.

"Talk about a hollow feeling in the stomach," Gasparian said. "The first list had 10 or 15 names on it, and he came back instantly to his iPhone like, 'I don't like any of these.'"

So the team went back to the drawing board, literally. They decided that rather than coming up with just words, they would present mock-ups of billboards and logos to go with the names.

"It's really hard to just take a bunch of letters and put them together, and have somebody identify with them right away," Gasparian said.

In the end, the word "Keysight" conveyed what executives wanted: the sense that the company has the ability to see what others cannot, and that it unlocks insights for its customers, Nersesian said. Its tagline, "Unlocking measurement insights for 75 years," commemorates its history with Hewlett-Packard, from which Keysight originated.

The logo, designed by Landor Associates in San Francisco, is a stylized waveform, which is the shape and form of a common electrical signal, said Jeff Weber, Agilent spokesman. The symbol represents the company's undivided focus on electronic measurement once it separates from Agilent, Weber said.

Keysight Technologies will begin operating as a company within Agilent on Aug. 1, and will separate from Agilent in November. The company, which will have 9,500 workers in 30 countries, employs 1,175 people in Sonoma County.

In the meantime, business cards will bear both names. Signs will be changed in August, Nersesian said.

"It's really an exciting time here. The employees are very jazzed," Nersesian said. "Myself and all the employees are excited about taking Keysight to the next level."

The company's website is www.keysight.com.