CEO, ZTEC Instruments
by Christie Chisholm, New Mexico Business Weekly, April 2010
Christopher Ziomek makes instruments that test other instruments. Beyond that brief explanation, the nature of his job and his business become increasing difficult to convey, at least to people who aren’t technologists. ZTEC Instruments, Ziomek’s 14-year-old company, makes things like modular digital oscilloscopes, function generators and arbitrary waveform generators and sells them to entities in aerospace and defense and high-energy physics. The equipment used in such places obviously requires a great degree of precision and accuracy. ZTEC’s job is to make sure that equipment works.
ZTEC isn’t the largest company of its ilk, says Ziomek, which can be a disadvantage in a field in which brand names and familiarity are everything. So ZTEC makes up for its size (it has 20 employees) in other ways. Its strategy, says Ziomek, is to “provide better tools and integration support, more cutting-edge products, to be faster to market than they are.” In other words, to be a nimble David in a field full of Goliaths. It also means ZTEC needs to understand its customers well enough to not only meet their current needs but predict their future ones. And that’s where Ziomek thrives.
While he started out as an electrical engineer, working in Department of Energy labs in Los Alamos and the Bay Area, what Ziomek finds most exciting now is “business and people development.” Although he does still participate in the engineering side of the company, most of his job consists of setting strategies, understanding and predicting the needs of the marketplace, and meeting with customers. And those customers speak highly of him.
Matthew T. Hunter is the chief research scientist of signal processing and communications at DME Corporation and has been a customer of Ziomek’s for more than five years. His company designs electronics and communications test systems for the military and aerospace market. He buys digital storage oscilloscopes, which digitize and analyze electrical signals. Hunter used to buy the equipment from another company, but when the products he used went obsolete, “ZTEC offered to drop in replacements with improved performance,” he says. He’s been a customer every since. “Chris is dedicated to deliver products that meet customers’ actual needs,” says Hunter, “The products they deliver are of high quality, and from my experience they are the easiest to learn and use.”
Ziomek’s business has prospered, but it’s also been hit by the recession. It’s revenue was about $5 million in 2008, but it dropped to about $2.3 million in 2009 and a couple employees were let go. The drop in sales came from customers deciding not to replenish inventory. But ZTEC is bouncing back, and this year Ziomek says he expects the company to surpass the $5 million mark—plus, it’s hiring again. “Our R&D [research and development] efforts increased during the downturn,” he says, “so we would come out of the recession in a better position than before.”