Interview with BTU International CEO Paul van der Wansem

| About: BTU International, (BTUI)

The Wall Street Transcript recently interviewed Paul J. van der Wansem, CEO of BTU International (NASDAQ:BTUI). Key excerpts follow:

TWST: We'd like to begin with a brief historical sketch of the company and a picture of the things you are doing at the present time.

Mr. van der Wansem: First of all, our company has been in existence since 1950. We are primarily a supplier of capital equipment to both the electronics and alternative energy industries. I will describe those markets in a little more detail later on, but we are a $60 to $70 million business, publicly owned, and traded on NASDAQ under the symbol BTUI. We are in the midst of a transition — and have been for the past two years or so — as we shift from having been totally focused on the electronics business to now being focused on both electronics and alternative energy. Two years ago, we made the decision to devote our resources not only to electronics, but also to alternative energy. Alternative energy, in our case, primarily means solar as well as nuclear fuel sintering. So that's a quick overview of what we are doing.

TWST: How has this transition worked for you so far?

Mr. van der Wansem: It is working well, slowly but surely. We basically decided late last year to hire two new executives specifically to drive the alternative energy business, as we felt that our alternative energy business deserved more attention. So we have senior level executives who focus on business development and marketing, as well as our engineering for alternative energy. And those two new individuals are driving the alternative energy business as almost a standalone entity, at least from a marketing and engineering point of view, and that is helping us tremendously in getting the right focus and attention on the business we are looking to develop.

TWST: Are there any other companies that are comparable to you so far as supplying to these two different industries?

Mr. van der Wansem: There are a number of companies that diversified and are adding new solar-related markets for their equipment business. Historically, many of these equipment companies have been in the semiconductor front-end business to supply equipment to make semiconductors. As you may know, the processes for making photovoltaic solar cells or silicon semiconductors are somewhat similar, although the solar processes are fewer in number and somewhat easier. But as you may know, the number of wafers going through a semiconductor wafer fab is much, much lower than what you see in the photovoltaic cell factory, where the amounts are much, much higher. So although the process steps may be in some cases similar, the speed of the line that processes solar cells is much faster. So the process equipment needs some adjustments or redesign, and there are a number of companies that have gone from the semiconductor type of equipment and now are also adding lines for solar cell manufacturing.

TWST: What are the main items on your strategic agenda as you look out over the next two to three year?

Mr. van der Wansem: First of all, as I mentioned before, we are trying to bring more products to market for the alternative energy sector, specifically in solar. We are devoting a lot of time and effort on that. And we are aiming, this year, to have 30% of our system sales in the alternative energy business. By next year, we again hope to increase that, getting close to the 50-50 split between electronics and alternative energy. Eventually, I could see the energy sector for us as perhaps even larger than electronics. That's how we expect to grow and that's how we also expect to grow the bottom line except for this year. This year, we're still in a phase where we are putting in a lot of investment, but it will be for a good cause that, hopefully, we will be able to show next year when we expect to really get some of the fruits of our hard labor from this year.

TWST: What about possible challenges or problems? What might you worry about?

Mr. van der Wansem: We do worry about things. For example, is China going to continue to develop the way it has developed? They are running a fine balance between evolution and revolution, and to some degree they want to bring up the whole country, including some of the backwaters, to a better level of living standards, and it is a challenge as to how to do it. It's the same thing with being run by basically the Communist Party on one hand and the need to get more democracy into that system over time. So far that has been done well. It remains to be seen whether they can keep on the same track and that's kind of what we need to keep an eye on, because obviously that is one of our larger markets and also part of our production capabilities. Secondly, I think that the opportunity in the alternative energy sector is great for us. We need to make sure that we implement and focus and do that well, and that gets us back to the issue of how we run the company. So two different things, one a little more outside of our control and one more inside of our control.