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Wilton

Thriving under open-management

WILTON: Kimball Physics is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources

  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

    Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

    Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

    Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

    Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

    Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

    Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

    Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

    Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

    Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.
  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.
  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.
  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.
  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.
  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.
  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.
  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.
  • Kimball Physics in Wilton is leading the way in design and manufacture of electron sources.

They’re leading the way in designing and manufacturing electron sources for industries as wide-ranging as the medical field and high-performance, next-generation computers. The work they do is helping to improve outcomes in breast cancer surgery. It’s contributing to the expansion of the information age, and it’s assisting with cutting-edge X-ray projects.

“We’re involved in a lot of esoteric physics experiments,” Kimball Physics President Chuck Crawford says. “Business is booming.”

But Crawford says what’s interesting about Kimball Physics has as much to do with how they’re running things as it does with what they make.

Some background

Founded in 1969 in Massachusetts as a Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-off, Crawford, himself a former MIT professor, moved the company to Wilton in the mid-1970s. Crawford’s family moved to Wilton from Temple in 1802, and company headquarters are in a converted barn built in 1762, across the street from the house — now offices and business accommodations for Kimball Physics — Crawford’s mother was born in.

Not like other companies

Kimball Physics, a Delaware Corporation, isn’t like other companies for a number of reasons. First, they aren’t in business to make money, Crawford says. And secondly, it’s a company run by physicists in a country where about only 1 in 4,000 people is a physicist.

Their mission statement reads: “To advance humankind by doing good physics — specifically electron optics and vacuum physics. And all the while growing, being good citizens, making a living and having fun.”

Somewhat ironically, though, making money is just what they’re doing, according to Crawford.

“[In] 10 years, we have grown every year, been quite profitable, paid big bonuses,” he says.

The economic downturn didn’t affect Kimball Physics much either. “We have never laid off an employee — never. We have never downsized,” he says. “Things used to be tight in this business, too, before 2003.”

And while they are a privately held company, to their employees Kimball Physics is an open book.

“We are an open-book management company,” Crawford says, explaining that company balance sheets, income statements are projections are all shared with its workers.

There are currently 71 part-time and full-time employees, including eight paid student interns, plus nine consultants and three outside directors. Some transition in staff has opened up some positions for micro-manufacturing technicians, Crawford says, but the company is always looking for engineers and physicists, too.

For a little more than 10 years, the company has been practicing open-book management, and the company has seen substantial growth in that time, according to Crawford.

“How will a team play, if it doesn’t know the score?” he says, referring to the idea behind open-book management. “The goal is to push responsibility and authority as far down the company as possible. ...Everyone wins together, or everyone loses together. It’s a team.”

For the past several years, Kimball physics has also been offering regular bonuses, which can be cashed in or taken as time off.

What they do

Crawford says Kimball Physics can afford to be generous, because it is the go-to company around the world for electron sources.

“Kimball Physics is really good at building electron sources,” says Crawford.

One area their sources are having a big impact on is breast cancer surgery. They didn’t invent the miniature X-ray sources being used in a new kind of breast cancer surgery, but they are working toward making them better, Crawford says. And the devices are expected to help treat cancer, he explains, including breast, prostate and skin cancers.

There’s a consortium of 12 countries in Europe relying on the company’s help, with an electron device, roughly 2 miles long, being tunneled under the city of Munich, which is allowing for very fast X-ray pulses. “We made a part for it,” Crawford says, a calibration unit. “It’s a one-of-a-kind and we’re continuously making one-of-a-kinds.”

The company started making electron sources for IBM more than 20 years ago. When Japan, now the industry leader, needed an electron source for its electron lithography machines, it too turned to Kimball Physics, Crawford notes.

Kimball Physics’ electron sources are used in making semiconductor chips, which are in computers and all other modern electronic devices.

In the digital age Kimball Physics is poised to continue doing what it does best — designing and making electron sources. But what is perhaps more important to Crawford is that the company’s employees continue to grow as a team, while reaping the rewards of their hard work. “The employees are everything,” he says.

And he’s committed to what he sees as a management technique that’s working: “There are an awful lot of companies like this that go broke, so I think the open-management [leads to] a good company, not the other way around.”

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