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Globe 100 | Top industrial company

Vicor's power mogul

In a competitive business, this Andover company stands out

'You can't be in the market unless you're capable of innovating,' says Vicor's Patrizio Vinciarelli. "You can't be in the market unless you're capable of innovating," says Vicor's Patrizio Vinciarelli. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff Photo)
By Beth Healy
Globe Staff / May 22, 2011

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Sure, Patrizio Vinciarelli is happy about the success at Vicor Corp. last year. Sales of his Andover company’s fastest-growing product — power systems for sophisticated electronics — doubled.

But he’s hardly satisfied. With an entrepreneur’s impatience, he said, “It’s unfortunate we’ve only been able to build a $250 million business up to now. Because the opportunity is a lot larger than that.’’

Vinciarelli, 64, has been at this since 1981, when he founded Vicor. A native of Rome with a doctorate in physics, he embraces the notion that in this arena, change and adaptation are mandatory. The business of selling power systems for sophisticated computer, aerospace, and defense electronics is highly fractured, he said, with no single company controlling more than a few percent of the multibillion-dollar market.

Vicor’s time seems to have come, with its so-called V.I Chip product — about the size of a small square of chocolate — which doubled in sales not only last year, but the year before as well. The product helped push overall company sales up 27 percent in 2010, while Vicor’s net income surged tenfold, to $33.3 million.

“With the V.I chip, we are on a double path that could be going on for quite some time,’’ said Vinciarelli.

Vicor’s nearby plant in North Andover whirs with activity, producing 10,000 to 12,000 of these chips a day. It’s a highly automated process, with rows of large machines that move printed circuit boards over conveyors, positioning parts, gluing, curing, and robotically finishing and testing. There are about 150 employees working on the product, and a total of 1,080 companywide. Most of the jobs are in Massachusetts, with a couple of hundred around the country and overseas.

It’s a business in which it’s hard to be distinctive. For the most part, power-system makers compete on speed and price, sometimes in a cutthroat, self-destructive way, said Vernon Essi, a semiconductor analyst at Needham & Co. “Power management is still very fragmented,’’ Essi said.

Data centers, large computing companies, and electronics makers are among the sectors where Vicor competes for business. The company aims to help engineers build better products with more electrical power and efficiency, while generating less heat and taking up less space.

“You can’t be in the market unless you’re capable of innovating,’’ Vinciarelli said. And ultimately those innovations result in lower costs, he said.

As chairman and chief executive of Vicor, Vinciarelli controls 81 percent of its voting shares. The company’s shares rose 76 percent last year, to $16.40. Vicor was the top-performing industrial company, and the fifth-best performing company overall, on this year’s Globe 100 list.

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.

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