Viasystems, 15 Years Later

This fall marks the 15 year anniversary of Viasystems. Who woulda thunk it?

When Hicks, Muse, the investment firm behind the PCB manufacturer, first hit the scene, in fall 1996, it quickly made a statement like no other in our industry, before or since. In quick succession, they snagged AT&T’s board shop in Virginia, Circo Craft, Kalex, Forward Group, ISL, Mommers and Zinocelere, plus several EMS and peripheral businesses. Longtime shop owners stood in line, waiting to be bought out.

When things crashed in 2001, it looked for a while Viasystems couldn’t hold up. Debt was over $1 billion. Bankruptcy beckoned.

But David Sindelar, the company’s original CFO who was named chief executive in July 2001, has turned things around. Such stories aren’t as common as we might hope in the PCB industry, where high capital investment and maintenance costs and severe pricing pressure make life excruciating for even the handful of companies that don’t misstep. It’s an industry that doesn’t easily forgive mistakes.

Now, as he approaches 10 years on the hot seat, Viasystems is profitable and it’s long-term debt is down to $215 million, even after its high profile acquisition of Merix. Sanity has returned; Hicks, Muse’s influence is nowhere to be seen.

It’s a great, albeit unlikely, story.