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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 22, 2000
From Tech to Sawtek to Tech
Steve Miller’s Full- Circle Journey
When young, Beresford- native Steve Miller arrived at SDSM& T in 1965, no one could imagine the journey that lied ahead. Driven by his propensity to excel, his solid education, and his technological insight, he has led an incredible life and achieved great career success. Thirty- five years later, Steve returned to SDSM& T to give back to his alma mater by establishing SDSM& T’s first- ever endowed chair, The Steven P. Miller Endowed Chair in Electrical Engineering with a gift of over $ 1.2 million. Here is the inspiring life- story of an entrepreneur living the “ American Dream.”
Steven P. Miller ( EE 69) grew up in Beresford and graduated from high school in 1965. Four years later, he earned his electrical engineering degree and graduated with honors from SDSM& T. Throughout his college years, Steve was active in both academic and student activities. He was a member of Eta Kappa Nu, IEEE, the Singing Engineers and Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. He also participated in varsity golf and intramural football. During his senior year, Steve was also the business manager for the “ Three of Us” folk singing group and coordinated a concert tour of South Dakota high schools to promote SDSM& T.
After graduation, Steve married Kathleen L. Casey of Madison, South Dakota, and was employed by Texas Instruments in the summer of 1969. During his nine- year tenure, he held various engineering positions. In 1973, he became the Manager of the Surface Acoustic Wave ( SAW) Device Engineering and Development Laboratory.
In the mid- 1970s, rudimentary SAW technology was being used in both military and commercial applications. Today, SAW technology has evolved to expand the boundaries of the wireless neighborhood by reducing noise and interference for wireless systems, and increasing speed and precision of voice and data communication. SAW technology plays an important role in every day use of cellular phones, cable TV, wireless Internet access, satellite communications, and military and medical applications.
When Texas Instruments decided not to pursue commercial SAW device business opportunities, Steve and three of his co- workers seized this window of opportunity; they wrote a business plan to raise venture capital financing for a new company to be formed in Texas. After almost two years had passed and two of the original four co- founders had thrown in the towel,
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Steve and a reconstituted management team succeeded in raising enough capital from a private company located in Orlando, Florida, to start the company. As a result, Sawtek was formed in 1978, and Steve and his three co- founders moved to Florida to begin operations.
In the early 1980s, Sawtek sold most of its SAW filter products to defense- oriented companies for a broad range of radar, satellite communication, electronic warfare, missile guidance and surveillance applications. In commercial markets, cable television equipment manufacturers like Scientific Atlanta and General Instruments were the company’s largest customers. A second round of venture capital was raised from six venture capital firms in 1984. This additional capital helped Sawtek to continue to expand its business after winning several major defense contracts.
In the late 1980s, revenues and profitability grew steadily; however, the rapid growth envisioned by the company’s professional investors had not yet occurred, and they became impatient. From 1987 until 1990, the pressure to buy out the venture capitalists intensified and led to a divergence of shareholder interests. In January 1991, Steve and one of the remaining founders borrowed the necessary capital for the buyout and formed an Employee Stock Ownership Plan ( ESOP). The common stock ownership of the company changed significantly as a result of the ESOP becoming the majority shareholder. The decision to couple the employees into the success of Sawtek through an ESOP turned out to be one of the most significant events in the company’s history.
During this same time frame, the market for SAW components was about to explode. With the advent of cellular phone technology, the “ Wireless Revolution” was close at hand, and dozens of companies around the world were attempting to establish early leadership positions in the market. Nearly every phone and base station made in the world required the performance advantages offered by SAW technology and Sawtek. Because of its unique product, Sawtek experienced rapid growth in the early 90’ s and became a leading provider of SAW filters.
In 1995, as delivery lead- times increased to as much as 24 weeks, expanding manufacturing capacity became a major problem. Significant capital was required to meet the capacity demands of the “ wireless” customers, and in 1996, Sawtek completed an Initial Public Offering on the NASDAQ exchange with the ticker symbol of “ SAWS.” Growth in the late 90’ s continued, and follow- on offerings of common stock were completed in 1997 and 2000. Over $ 500 million of capital was raised in these three public offerings.
In 1996, the company established an offshore, high- volume assembly plant in San Jose, Costa Rica. In February 1998, Sawtek acquired Microsensor Systems, Inc. ( MSI). MSI’s products utilize SAW devices in a variety of chemical sensing systems designed for chemical agent, ethylene oxide, fuel dilution and other chemical vapor detection applications. Throughout the past five years, the company has also continued to fund a number of SAW research projects in Russia which have led to the filing of several U. S. patents in the field.
In fiscal year 1999, Sawtek employed approximately 600 employees, achieved revenues of $ 100 million, and net income of 31% of sales with international sales equaling 41% of the total sales.
Most of the 350 employees that work for Sawtek in Orlando have been with the company since before the ESOP was established in 1991. Because the ESOP allows every employee to participate in the ownership of the company, shareholder interests are easily aligned. As a result
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of their hard work and the emergence of the “ Wireless Revolution,” employees have experienced the phenomenal growth of the company. Consequently, over 200 “ millionaire” employee shareholders go to work at Sawtek each day.
Steve Miller served as President of Sawtek since its formation in 1978, Chief Executive Officer since 1986, and Chairman of the Board since 1996. In September 1999, Steve retired, but remains as Chairman. He has turned his focus to a variety of personal interests including his wife, three children and two grandchildren.
By establishing the Steven P. Miller Endowed Chair in Electrical Engineering, Steve hopes that “ future generations attending SDSM& T can benefit from a unique educational experience through exposure to a distinguished university faculty member.”
( I: univrel/ pressrel/ 0600 Miller)
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