Episode 5 of Artists, Engineers, and Entrepreneurs (ae2) is a special one. In this episode, we have a conversation with our own founder, Paul Hiller, about how Hiller Measurements came to be.
Paul is a second-generation business owner who has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. His father had a company in the oil industry, and, following his lead, Paul always knew he was destined to own his own company as well.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in electrical engineering, he worked for the US Naval Weapons Center, Northrop, and later for Applied Technology as a test group supervisor. Soon, companies began a trend toward outsourcing test operations. Paul and his then boss saw the opportunity and started their first company, Production Automation, a branch of Electronic Warfare Associates.
After a couple years, Paul reached a crossroad: a telecom company came to Production Automation for a project with a budget of $100k. His partner recommended bidding $150k. Skeptical, Paul agreed, but told his partner that if the telecom company rejected Production Automation’s $150k bid, he was going to bid $100k on his own. Paul won and his second company, Custom System Integrators (CSI) was born.
“That was the core differentiation – it’s small, fast, with technical depth.” – Jeff Olsen
CSI did well and was selected for several projects, but eventually became overwhelmed by the workload. Paul decided to merge CSI with Test Quality Company to become Symmetrics (later renamed Symtx). Symtx had a lot of success in RF work with contracts from IBM Owego. With this growth, again, they needed more people to work for them, so Symtx opened an office in Austin, TX. A year later, IBM stopped outsourcing their testing and ended their contracts. The original founders of Symtx split, but Paul persevered, focusing exclusively on sales and new business.
As popularity of fiber optics increased, Symtx began to grow quickly and profoundly. The Austin, TX office grew to approximately 100 employees and new offices were opened in Binghamton, NY and Monterey, Mexico, growing the company to approximately 225 employees by the year 2000. Symtx was tripling every year. They were ready to go public and secured a significant investment loan. However, in March 2000, the fiber optic industry suddenly disappeared.
Symtx experienced an incredible downturn, closing offices and eventually having to cut their staff down from 225 employees to just 25. After 9/11, Symtx looked to expand into other industries and began bidding on defense contracts. They won a significant contract with Lockheed Martin for a test system for the Joint Strike Fighter. Thankfully, this earned Symtx credibility and they started winning contract awards from Lockheed Martin’s suppliers as well.
In the mid 2000s, Symtx’s investment partners were looking for a return on their investment and sold the company to AAI Corporation, who was looking to expand into commercial markets. Symtx became a division of AAI, with Paul leading the engineering team.
Finally, in 2010, Hiller Measurements was born. Hiller’s growth has at times been steady and at others, heroic.
Today, Paul has taken on a mentoring role, guiding and encouraging young people who wish to start their own business.
“If it’s important to you, and you really have the gene… [and] you kind of want to be a trailblazer yourself, do it.” – Paul Hiller
ae2 is a web-series from Hiller Measurements is a long-form interview-style program that explores thought leaders at the “business end” of companies, creative works, and research. In each episode, Hiller Measurements’ President Jeff Olsen explores the creative drive, personal motivations, and stories of perseverance of visionaries who are still “in the hunt.”
Through ae2, our aim is to find the business model in the engineering mind, the drive and technique a gifted artist is developing, and the impact for good that outweighs the personal risk taken on by bold business creators. Overall, the goal of our series is to inspire viewers to step out, build, and create.