Viasystems: An Eye on Details

Is Viasystems up to its old tricks?

The PCB fabricator today announced a deal to acquire DDi for $268 million, a move that will push the company back into the industry top 10 for the first time in years.

Keep in mind, 12 years ago, Viasystems was the second largest PCB company in the world, behind Sanmina, with sales of about $1.25 billion. The deal pushes Viasystems past that mark for the first time since 2001. That’s when the market imploded, and telecom was wiped out, taking much of Viasystems’ capital with it.

That disaster made Viasystems something of an industry punchline. Two bankruptcies followed, plus a high-profile takedown of the venture capitalists behind the company, and some expected the entity to collapse like a black hole. But lo and behold, the remaining management wisened up, stopped buying other people’s garbage with other people’s money (Viasystems paid cash for DDi), and concentrated on learning the business. They shuttered money-losing operations in the US and Europe, and broadened their focus to automotive. Oh, and they learned being smaller and profitable is better than being the biggest and bleeding.

What a difference a decade makes.

What this means for Mikel Williams has not yet been revealed. The DDi CEO remade the company, which also suffered badly after a series of management missteps and internal struggles. Profits have improved four years running (revenues took a minor hit in 2011), and the company successfully absorbed smaller rival Coretec without a hitch. One hopes Williams stays in this industry; he’s a star and would be missed.

Also watching this closely will be Shennan Circuits. DDi reportedly outsources some of its larger orders to the China-based board shop. That is certainly about to change.