Intermec Bought for $10 a Share

Intermec Bought for $10 a Share

This month Intermec agreed to be acquired by Honeywell thus joining a long list of businesses in the Auto ID and mobile computing sector who have fallen victim to industry consolidation and ended up being absorbed into other organisations. Companies such as Telxon Hand Held Products Metrologic PSC Symbol and Psion Teklogix have all gone the same way as the industry that for many years was considered a backwater of IT finally gets shaken out.

What we know as Intermec Technologies had been in business since 1966 and was originally known as  “Interface Mechanisms”. The company had a long history of innovation inventing Code 39 in 1974 and numerous innovative hardware devices. It was also unique amongst it competitors in maintaining a broad line of products. Later the large portfolio would prove to be tough to maintain and manage.

 

Intermec’s early market was  identifying goods in manufacturing and warehousing by using those new fangled barcodes. Typical applications included inventory warehousing and work in process tracking. Although the public viewed bar code as an instrument of retail, Intermec ploughed a deep furrow in Industrial applications and with the defense industry in the US. Company president during the early 90’s was Tim Koogle who left Intermec in 1995 to become pre IPO and first CEO of start-up Yahoo!

Intermec museum of early products.

 

In the mid 90′s the company introduced the Janus rugged “mobile computer” which had a non propriety DOS OS and spread spectrum radio. This was to become the first in a long line of highly regarded rugged handhelds based on Windows Mobile.

In the same period it was clear that the company was getting left behind by three competitors. Symbol dominant in handhelds and POS scanning the number two handheld vendor Telxon  and Zebra who were number one in thermal printing. Symbol would acquire Telxon in 2000 to consolidate it’s number 1 spot  in what had become the largest volume market for enterprise handhelds and scanning after all – retail.

Zebra would continue with it’s focus on desktop and increasingly mobile printing.

Being number 2 is tough so in 1997 Intermec acquired Norand who had focused on hand held computers primarily for the Direct Store Delivery market. As well as UBI a Swedish company who developed and sold a range of thermal printers and bar code scanners. Former employees might remember the initial integration was bedevilled by a simple problem…what to call the company? It was eventually decided to use the name “Intermec” but it took a while to figure out and the temporary handle “Stronger Together” stuck around as shorthand for the new entity.

Even today the woes of the business can be traced back to this “merger” of different cultures and business focuses. On paper the mix was sure to  have been a winning formula of products and channels to market. The prospect of one company capable of performing end to end all manner of Auto ID and mobile computing tasks in just about any industry should have been very appealing especially to larger customers.

Unfortunately the company never really figured itself out, was it a mobile company with a thermal printing division or an Auto ID business that dabbled in mobile? The strong and stable management it needed post merger to execute a clear vision ended in stalemate as factions from the merged businesses took turns running the show in the image of their former company – not a new one.

As one wag commented at a company event “it’s a bit like the EU but without the consensus”

The killer market or product strategy never emerged despite numerous re-shuffles and initiatives to partner with industry leaders latch on to RFID or leverage distribution to conjur up some growth. Although the company was selling “solutions” the sales time horizon shifted from next year to this quarter.

 

Even the magnificent office the company built in the early 90′s ended up being too big for the business. 

 

 

A treatise about Intermec would fill a book – this being an excellent summary.  But speak to anyone who worked there and most say the same thing – “what a great group of people” .  For many years the company had a real feeling of teamwork and community amongst the rank and file staff that marked it out against it’s competitors.  A secret sauce that really did help it punch above it’s weight on many occasions.

About Andrew Cahill

Andrew Cahill MobileWorxs MD has 20 years of experience in the use of enterprise mobility solutions and applications to improve the performance of real life business processes. Andrew has worked on some of the largest Enterprise Mobility projects in the UK Eastern Europe the Middle East and Africa. He has user and project experience in helping companies think through and develop mobile strategies to get the most out of a deployment.
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3 Responses to Intermec Bought for $10 a Share

  1. The people, that was the secret formula for Intermec’s success during the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s. There was a real sense of loyalty, professionalism and pride that extended between all the rank and file of the day. When the year 2000 arrived that was replaced by hidden agendas, what’s in it for me attitudes and the total lose of any sense of loyalty in either direction along the corporate ladder. Take care of the customer was replaced by watch your back and take your opportunities when you see them. Instead of building towards the future we began dismantling the ship from the inside. Instead of one unified group heading in the same direction Intermec became a collection of self interest groups vying for control while stripping the hull bare for personal gain. A sad state of affairs indeed. Maybe, just maybe a giant like Honeywell can restore Intermec, save it from it’s self.

  2. John Sweitzer says:

    I had the good fortune to join Intermec in 2003 as they were coming back from near disaster with respect to revenues. The committment of the leadership at the time, to grow the business and trust the employees took the stock fro around $7 to the mid $30′s. However, at that time, the Bod made some choices on new leadership and looked outside the AIDC world thinking they needed to have “outside” views. This started the musical chairs game in Everett of execs, and culminated in a leadership team that could not or would not answer the question “what is Intermec?” Thus, the situation became as Andy described it.

    Many extremely good and smart people left during this change and the result was a stock drop from $40 per share to just above $5. The good news for those faithful and dedicated workers still at Intermec is that Honeywell has significant experience in the AIDC market and they have the depth of financing to weather any storms ahead and create a meaningful series of products. They have an awsome customer list who use and need AIDC solutions and, they bring some very interesting opportunities for potential integration with building and system controls.

    Once they clear out the lack-luster leadership, Honeywell will find out that they got an even better bargain than appears (and $10 per share is a great deal by itself)

  3. Neville Cox says:

    Yes
    Steven R. Tompkins is correct
    It was a great place to work and the people that worked there maid it work.
    Intermec Australia was the same, until the back stabbing began, even before 2000.
    It was all about who can I kick to get my way, to get on top, this all started at the top but it soon filtered down the chain.
    If you didn’t pull the line or didn’t agree you would be out the door as quick as possible and they would use any means possible .

    It is sad to see it go the way it has, but when the wrong people are at the helm what do you expect.

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