26 Century Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37229
Telephone: (615) 316-5100
Fax: (615) 316-5181
Sales: $1.22 billion (1995)
Stock Exchanges: New York Philadelphia Chicago
SICs: 3612 Power, Distribution, and Specialty Transformers; 3621 Motors and Generators; 3625 Relays and Industrial Controls; 3629 Electrical Industrial Apparatus, Not Elsewhere Classified; 3677 Electronic Coils, Transformers, and Other Inductors
MagneTek, Inc., manufactures and markets electrical equipment products including lighting products, motors and generators, motor controls and drives, power supplies, and transformers. The company is distinguished as the largest U.S. manufacturer of fluorescent lighting ballasts, which are its primary product. The debt-heavy MagneTek was divesting noncore businesses in the mid-1990s following an aggressive acquisition campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
MagneTek was created when Litton Industries, Inc. spun off its Magnetics Group in July 1984. Litton Industries was a diversified conglomerate with an emphasis on high-tech industries. Founded in 1954 by Charles "Tex" Thornton, Litton had expanded rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s by developing its own technologies and by acquiring numerous companies. Among the ventures in which it became involved were various electric equipment businesses. For example, in 1967 Litton purchased Louis Allis, a leading manufacturer of specialty electrical motors, condensers, and generators. Litton assembled several of its electric products companies into the Magnetics Group.
Litton fostered growth and success at many of its subsidiaries by providing investment capital and allowing them to cooperate with other Litton companies. In fact, engineers in Litton's electric products companies achieved a number of notable technological breakthroughs. In the mid-1970s, for example, they developed the first high-efficiency electric motor. Dubbed the E-plus, the device set the energy-saving standard in the industry for the next decade. Despite successes in the Magnetics Group, by the early 1980s Litton was ready to jettison the division as part of its ongoing effort to streamline operations and focus on key industries and technologies. Litton sold its Magnetics Group by way of a leveraged buyout, and MagneTek was incorporated on June 1, 1984 to purchase the assets of the Magnetics Group in July of that year.
At the time of the purchase, the Magnetics Group was generating close to $200 million in annual sales from four primary product lines: integral horsepower motors; drives and controls; lighting ballasts; and small transformers. Integral horsepower motors are used to power commercial mechanisms like heating and air-conditioning systems, mining and petrochemical equipment, and commercial laundry machines. Integral horsepower drives and drive systems are mechanisms used to adjust and control the speed and output of electric motors. They typically drive motors in applications like air conditioning systems, elevators, and machine tools. Lighting ballasts are used in both residential and commercial fluorescent lighting fixtures. The ballast controls the power going to the light bulbs and can have a significant impact on the amount of energy consumed by the lighting fixture. Finally, MagneTek's small transformers were used as power conversion devices in a range of electronic equipment.
MagneTek posted a net loss of $501,000 in 1985 from sales of $195 million. After reorganizing the former Magnetics Group during that first full year of business, however, MagneTek began posting consistently rising profits and sales. Indeed, revenues bolted to $273 million in 1986, $608 million in 1987, and then to more than $900 million in 1988. Those gains were primarily the result of an aggressive acquisition strategy adopted by MagneTek's management team. In February 1986 MagneTek purchased Universal Manufacturing Corp. for $71 million, the first in a string of buyouts. In October the company bought motor manufacturer Century Electric, Inc. for $76 million, and in December of that year MagneTek paid $108 million for Cooper Service, Inc., Cooper Controls, Inc., and Universal Electric Co. Six months later, MagneTek also snared ALS Corp. for about $50 million.
MagneTek's expansion strategy during the late 1980s and into the early 1990s was devised by Frank Perna, Jr., the chief executive hired in 1985 to head MagneTek. Perna was a veteran of the electric products industry. He had earned a master's degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a master's degree in electrical engineering from Wayne State University. Perna spent 17 years with General Motors, after which he served as president of Sun Electric and as head of the Instrumentation Group at the venerable Bell & Howell Co. Prior to joining MagneTek, he was serving as the chief executive of a subsidiary of Whittaker Corp.
Perna had witnessed, first-hand, the evolution of the electrical equipment industry during the late 1970s and 1980s. Among the dominant trends were increasing foreign competition and a rising emphasis on advanced technology, particularly related to energy efficiency. Perna believed that for MagneTek to compete in the widely diverse electric products industry, the company would have to become big enough to overcome barriers such as low-cost foreign manufacturers and high capital requirements for product development and manufacturing. His plan was to purchase other companies and integrate them into a cohesive whole, thus achieving economies of scales related to product development, production, marketing, and distribution. To that end, during the late 1980s and early 1990s MagneTek made the six major acquisitions described above, added numerous product lines, and purchased various manufacturing operations including several in Europe.
By 1990 MagneTek was operating 50 manufacturing and service facilities throughout North America and overseas and employing roughly 15,000 workers. Revenues had risen to $961 million in 1989 before cruising past the $1 billion mark in 1990. Furthermore, the company had managed to post steady profit growth, culminating in a $33 million net income for 1990. MagneTek then ceased its acquisition efforts during the early 1990s, concentrating instead on whipping its existing operations into shape. Sales rose about eight percent in 1991 to $1.13 billion and then to $1.23 billion in 1992. Those sales gains were achieved despite an economic recession that reduced orders from many market segments, particularly those related to defense and new construction.
MagneTek had started out as a private venture. The leveraged buyout was funded heavily by two investment partnerships, Magtek Partners and Champlain Associates, which provided seed money for MagneTek's start-up and acquisition drive. The partnerships were created by colleagues of the infamous Michael Milken at investment firm Drexel Burnham Lambert. In 1989 the owners of MagneTek decided to take the venture public to help pay down the company's debt and to provide more growth capital. MagneTek made its initial public stock offering in July 1989 at a price of $12 per share. Unfortunately, the stock price languished during the early 1990s and provided little opportunity for the company to benefit greatly from subsequent stock sales.
Part of the reason that MagneTek's stock stagnated was that investors were concerned about the Milken-related investment groups, which still owned about one-third of the company by the early 1990s. More importantly, Wall Street was concerned about the massive liabilities that MagneTek had assumed when it was created and during its buyout blitz of the late 1980s. Indeed, by the end of the 1980s MagneTek was staggering under a hefty debt load that was eating into profits and cash flow. The stock sale had helped to reduce that debt, and MagneTek went a long way toward improving its equity position between 1990 and 1992. But weak sales gains during the recession pressured the company and began to take a toll. Although sales rose to a peak of $1.5 million in 1993, profits slipped for the first time in the company's short history in 1992 and stood still in 1993.
Although MagneTek's financial performance waned, the company claimed victories in other arenas. For example, in 1992 MagneTek introduced an ultra-efficient light bulb designed to operate for 20,000 hours (compared to about 750 hours for the typical incandescent light bulb). The new bulb, dubbed the E-Lamp and priced at $10 to $20, operated without a filament. Instead, a signal generated by an electronic circuit excited a phosphor coating inside the bulb that produced a glow similar in intensity to a traditional filament bulb. The breakthrough device reflected MagneTek's marketing strategy of emphasizing energy-efficient products. "We've been pursuing this energy-engineered strategy for three and one-half years," Perna said in the June 8, 1992 Los Angeles Business Journal. "And I think it was finally recognized as a good strategy," he added.
Despite some engineering and marketing successes, MagneTek's balance sheet at the end of 1993 demanded that the company adopt a new strategy. Perna exited his post and was replaced as chief executive by Andrew G. Galef. The 60-year-old Galef had served as chairman of the company since its inception and had broad experience in investment and management consulting. Galef steered MagneTek on a new course. Rather than try to compete in the increasingly diverse electrical equipment industry, the company would eliminate non-core business and focus on product segments in which it was most competitive: ballasts, transformers, motors, and generators. Importantly, the move would allow MagneTek to sell off many of the assets that it had accrued during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The company hoped to use that cash to reduce its $530-million debt burden.
By the end of 1993 the sprawling MagneTek organization had grown to encompass 79 production and support facilities in North America, Europe, Japan, and the Far East. Early in 1994 MagneTek announced a restructuring plan that entailed the divestment of six business groups that accounted for roughly 30 percent of the company's annual revenues. Those groups encompassed certain non-core product lines related to electrical services, utility and power products, component transformers and converters, and controls. Among the businesses sold, for example, was the Louis Allis subsidiary, which by 1994 had become a relatively meager part of MagneTek's holdings. (Louis Allis was sold to managers at the subsidiary, making it independent for the first time since Litton bought it in 1967.) Also part of the restructuring was a move of the company headquarters from Los Angeles to Nashville, Tennessee.
MagneTek completed its restructuring and divestment plan by mid-1995. The effort reduced the number of production and support facilities by more than half, to 38, and generated about $200 million in cash. Similarly, MagneTek's 42 business units were consolidated into three groups: lighting products, motors and controls, and power electronics. Company revenues dipped to $1.13 billion in 1994 but rose to $1.2 billion in 1995, and net income recovered to $21.5 million. Meanwhile, MagneTek sustained its energy-engineering strategy, as evidenced by its introduction of the E-plus III in 1995. That motor, a successor to the E-plus motor that Litton had introduced in the 1970s, set a new standard for efficiency in the industry.
Principal Subsidiaries: MagneTek Century Electronics, Inc.; MagneTek Controls, Inc.; MagneTek Defense Systems; MagneTek Electric Inc.; MagneTek National Electric Coil, Inc.; MagneTek Europe, N.V.
Deady, Tim, "Restructuring Plan to Create Slimmer MagneTek," Los Angeles Business Journal, January 17, 1994, p. 28.
Kirchen, Rich, "MagneTek Future Upbeat As It Awaits New Owner," Business Journal-Milwaukee, July 1, 1995, p. 7.
"MagneTek, Inc.," Machine Design, November 26, 1992, p. 119.
Mullins, Robert, "From 'Round Error' to "The Whole Enchilada'," Business Journal-Milwaukee, August 27, 1994, p. A2.
Murray, Robert, "MagneTek Announces Fiscal 1994 Results," Business Wire, August 22, 1994.
------, "MagneTek Announces Restructuring Plan," Business Wire, January 6, 1994.
------, "Ronald W. Mathewson Named President of MagneTek's Lighting Group," Business Wire, May 18, 1994.
Stoll, Otto G., "Perna Elected Chief Executive Officer of MangeTek," Business Wire, September 17, 1990.
Vrana, Debora, and Todd White, "MagneTek Stock Jumps on News of Product Sales Rise," Los Angeles Business Journal, January 18, 1993, p. 31.
White, Todd, "MagneTek Lights Up Over Electronic Lamp," Los Angeles Business Journal, June 8, 1992, p. 5.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 15. St. James Press, 1996.