A GOOD PLACE TO WORK

As Tullahoma aerospace firm Micro Craft celebrates its fifth year as an employee-owned company, it also welcomes a new president and CEO, Winchester native Kenneth Sullivan, who returns to the company after a 16-year absence.

Founded in 1958, Micro Craft was started by Charles Folk.

“He was doing work for NASA Langley, so it kind of evolved from that into a family-owned business,” said Sullivan. And it remained a family-owned business until 1999, when it was sold to an investment group headed by Kohlberg & Co.

At the time of the sale, Sullivan had been working for Micro Craft for eight years, but he left the company within a year of the changeover.

“They came in and tried to run the company like a conglomerate and tried to manage it without the relationships.”

Micro Craft, located at 207 Big Springs Ave. in Tullahoma, celebrated five years of being employee-owned on March 31 with a reception. From left are President and CEO Kenneth Sullivan; John Darden, quality manager; CFO Patricia Taylor; Wayne Scott, secretary of the board; and Kevin LeMay, chairman of the board. --Staff Photo by Chris Barstad

“Their goal was to maximize the profit and sell us off in pieces,” explained board chairman Kevin LeMay, who has been with the company for 17 years. “They bought several of our competitors at the same time and as soon as they were able to sell us, that’s what they did.”

In November 2003, Kohlberg found a buyer in aerospace defense company Alliant Techsystems (ATK). Eager to explore hypersonic propulsion applications for military armaments, ATK purchased both Micro Craft and New York-based General Applied Science Laboratory.

The two companies were then involved in federal research projects involving hypersonic propulsion and, as the lead contractor in a $150 million NASA contract to construct three X-43 experimental scramjet aircraft, Micro Craft was on the leading edge of hypersonics.

But then, in a series of budget cuts, the government decided to cancel the hypersonics program. And without hypersonics, LeMay said, “We did not align with ATK’s core business and so they were looking to divest us. It was decided that we would have a better chance to be competitive after we renewed our small business status.”

So in 2011, under then CEO Jim Herron, about 40 former Micro Craft employees agreed to contribute to a $3 million buyout that involved exchanging company stock options and employee pension plan benefits for ownership of the company.  READ MORE