Specializing in human-machine interface (HMI) control units and systems may conjure images of dystopian futures ruled by Terminators. But, as EAO Corp. President Jim Valentino points out, in reality it’s a much more commonplace concept.
“When you don’t put on your seatbelt and you hear that ‘bing-bing-bing?’” he said. “We’re the ones who make that stop.”
The Shelton-based firm — the North American subsidiary of EAO AG, headquartered in Olten, Switzerland — observed its 40th anniversary on Sept. 27 with an event that included remarks by Valentino and EAO AG CEO Kurt Loosli, as well as the presentation of a “certificate of accomplishment” signed by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy.
EAO Corp. relocated to Shelton from Milford in 2014 as part of a strategic decision to increase its manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. and double its engineering and manufacturing capacity.
The privately held parent company was established in 1947 and has grown to serve a variety of business sectors, including the transportation, machinery, heavy duty, specialty vehicle, lifting and moving, medical and automotive markets worldwide.
“A large part of what we do is provide the ability to turn on and stop a product,” Valentino said. “For example, with an iPhone, we’re the interface technology that allows you to turn it on and off, control the sound and vibrate functions.”
Though he’s relatively new to EAO — Valentino was named president in May, following stints as senior director of sales, North America at Beyonics Technology in Hartford and a number of sales and marketing positions at a range of other firms around the country — he’s hit the ground running and is determined to grow EAO’s North American division.
“It all started when I got a call from a recruiter,” he recounted. “At the time I did not know who EAO was, but during the discussion it piqued my interest.”
A meeting in New York with EAO AG Chief Sales Officer Martin Moore led to a trip to Olten, where he was directly exposed to what he called “their best-in-class products and services, which they develop, design and manufacture themselves.”
Just as important to Valentino was the people: “They’re a very aggressive group who want to stay on top of the newest technologies available,” he said. “The potential for growth and expansion was obvious, and the momentum they have presented an opportunity that I wanted to be a part of.”
EAO’s latest move took place last month, when it signed a distribution agreement with Minnesota company Digi-Key Electronics for global distribution of its configurable panel-mounted HMI products.
“Much like EAO,” Valentino said at the time, “Digi-Key has a strong culture of customer service that offers support and resources that will be instrumental in exposing EAO and our innovative HMI products and solutions to new markets.”
The Shelton operation at 1 Parrott Drive is one of EAO’s four manufacturing facilities, along with locations in Essen, Germany; Guangzhou, China; and Olten. Of its 12 subsidiaries, North America is “probably number 3 or 4 — I’d like us to be a strong second.”
To accomplish that, Valentino expects to increase its Shelton workforce from 30 to 35 this year while focusing on growing revenue, services and its customer base. That will depend largely on providing value-added services and more closely collaborating with customers and distributors alike “to become a central partner who’s tailored to their requirements,” he said.
Key to that growth will be continuing to explore new business sectors, Valentino continued. “EAO has never been about putting all its eggs in one basket. You don’t want to be in a position where one industry accounts for 80 percent of your business.”
Ultimately, he said, “My goal is to quadruple our growth by 2022.”
The Waterbury native, who today lives in Bristol, said that EAO will remain committed to Connecticut. “We love and support the state in a number of ways,” Valentino said. “I’ve worked all over the U.S. and traveled globally. Now I’m back in Connecticut, and you can’t get me to leave.”