Keysight Technologies breaks away from Agilent
The New York Stock Exchange is hosting a coming-out party Monday for Santa Rosa’s Keysight Technologies, the largest company ever headquartered in Sonoma County.
Keysight President and CEO Ron Nersesian will ring the opening bell at the stock exchange on Monday, signaling a new day for 9,500 employees worldwide who officially split off from Agilent Technologies on Saturday to become the world’s largest electronic measurement company.
With nearly $3 billion in annual sales and a market capitalization valued at $5 billion, the new public company began operations Saturday as the world’s leader in electronic measurement device sales for the aerospace, communications and semiconductor industries. Even so, both analysts and the company’s top executive say Keysight’s future depends on its ability to expand its sales, research and product development.
“Our No. 1 challenge is to grow and to shift our focus more toward growth for the future,” Nersesian said in a recent interview at the company’s hilltop headquarters off Fountaingrove Parkway.
Nonetheless, he expressed confidence in the company’s future and in its ability to generate the large amounts of cash needed to fund research, product development and new acquisitions.
Since 2009, he noted, the electronic measurement division produced $2 billion in profits that were used to expand Agilent’s health care division. In a similar way, he said, Keysight now “can turn our resources to grow the electronic measurement business.”
With its newly appointed headquarters, Keysight already is drawing new visitors to Sonoma County. In late September, the company brought in 75 top managers from around the world for a round of meetings. And Nersesian said institutional investors have told him that they want to visit the Santa Rosa campus and “see the beautiful area that we live in.”
“I view it as being a perfect match,” Nersesian said of Keysight and the county.
“It’s a great environment to live in, and it’s a great place for our company to thrive and provide a big innovation center for our employees,” he said. “And I think all the folks that we’ll be bringing to Sonoma County over the years will also enjoy coming here.”
Keysight may be a new company, but it claims a long history in electronic measurement.
For six decades, it was the heart of Silicon Valley pioneer Hewlett-Packard, tracing its roots back to the first innovations developed by Stanford grads Bill Hewlett and David Packard in a Palo Alto garage. The signal analyzers, oscilloscopes and other measurement instruments that HP and other makers produced are an unheralded part of the electronics industry. But they have proved crucial to the development of computers, cellphones and virtually every other device that plugs into a wall or uses a battery.
“Without them, we wouldn’t have Sony,” said Paul Knight, an analyst in New York with Janney Montgomery Scott. “We wouldn’t have Apple. We wouldn’t have wireless. We wouldn’t have flat-screen TVs.”
Hewlett-Packard moved its electronic measurement business to Sonoma County in 1972, when it began developing the 1 million square feet of office and production space that today is Keysight’s Fountaingrove campus.
The company became known as a new kind of employer. Its core values - “the HP Way” - emphasized collaboration, innovation, community involvement and an aversion to layoffs.
In 1999, Hewlett-Packard divided itself in half, a move mirroring the split that would create Keysight 16 years later. HP focused on computers and printers, creating Agilent Technologies to house its test and measurement division and other businesses.
Under both HP and Agilent, the business thrived in Sonoma County. At its peak in 2001, Agilent employed more than 5,000 workers here.
But the company soon became battered by the dot-com bust and by intense competition. In response, Agilent downsized, closed its huge Rohnert Park manufacturing campus and sent thousands of production jobs overseas. The upheaval was a painful chapter for both the company and the county.
A year ago, Agilent announced its plan to split the business and create two companies. Agilent would focus on life sciences and chemical analysis, while a new company would carry on electronic measurement. Agilent officials contended the company stock was undervalued because of the combination of the two very different businesses.
After months of work, Keysight on Aug. 1 became a wholly owned subsidiary of Agilent, an interim step that led to Saturday’s separation.
Under the separation, Agilent shareholders will gain one share of Keysight stock for every two Agilent shares they own. Keysight estimates it will distribute 167 million shares, with preliminary, conditional orders that place the stock’s value at about $30 a share. Public trading starts Monday.