New CEO at Hutch Tech must find a path to profit

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2012 - 9:03 PM

Longtime insider Richard Penn takes over at the disk-drive maker as co-founder retires.

Disk-drive component maker Hutchinson Technology Inc. has named Richard Penn as president and CEO, following a succession plan triggered by the retirement of the company's co-founder and longtime board chairman.

Penn, 56, has been with the company since 1981 and is senior vice president and president of the disk-drive components division.

He succeeds Wayne Fortun, who will take over as chairman of the board. The moves will take place Oct. 1, and come as co-founder Jeffrey Green, 72, steps down from the board at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Green was a 25-year-old technical writer with the computer maker Univac when he and Jon Geiss decided to launch a company in Geiss' hometown of Hutchinson, Minn., to build heaters for rocket guidance systems, according to the company's website. The two set up shop in a chicken coop.

Hutchinson Technology has hit a challenging patch in recent years, due to a worldwide slowdown in the market for computer disk drives. Last month it posted a wider-than-expected third-quarter loss of $13.9 million, or 59 cents per share. The magnitude of the loss sent the stock tumbling, and analyst Mark Miller of Noble Financial Capital Markets predicted at least a year before a return to profitability.

Hutchinson has been struggling for more than three years as a result of a downturn in its business that began in late 2008 as the global economic crisis hit and was followed in 2011 by floods in Thailand that closed a large portion of its manufacturing space there. Widespread layoffs followed.

Penn, who went to undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Minnesota, has held a variety of management positions at the company, including sales and marketing, operations and as president of the biomeasurement division.

Fortun, 63, described Penn as a "highly skilled executive with in-depth knowledge of our business and a keen understanding of the disk-drive industry."

"I am confident his strategic insight, leadership skills and broad experience will enable him to lead the company as we ramp new programs, grow our market share and achieve our goals for profitability," he said.

Shares closed up 3.8 percent, or 5 cents, at $1.36 in Tuesday's trading. As recently as November 2007, shares traded at more than $27.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335

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  • Hutchinson Technology

    Tuesday August 7, 2012

    Business: Maker of suspension assemblies for computer disk drives. Also makes biomeasurement devices.

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