Company retrofits computers to withstand harshest conditions

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Inside an unassuming building in a Waukesha industrial park, computers are strapped to a vibration table, thrown into dust storms, assaulted by noise and baked in a high-temperature oven.

Such extreme tests are routine for Dedicated Computing LLC, a company that “ruggedizes” off-the-shelf computers for use in military vehicles, flight simulation equipment, CT scanning machines and other products.

Dedicated has weathered the economy’s recent challenges ? it didn’t lose any customers and revenue remained flat in 2008, said Don Schlidt, who became chief executive officer in June 2008.

Schlidt and his management team are aiming to grow the privately owned company faster.

“We’ve got a more than $100 million business in a $5 billion marketplace that doesn’t seem to be going offshore ? that’s a great opportunity,” Schlidt said.

Dedicated is already the biggest player in the embedded computer industry, Schlidt said. Divisions of larger companies such as Arrow Electronics, Dell and Hewlett-Packard do the same thing, but none has broader technical capabilities or more resources than Dedicated, he said.

“We’re well-positioned to grow market share as well as be on the leading edge of new designs as they come to market,” Schlidt said.

Many of the company’s competitors are distributors. Dedicated comes up with custom solutions for customers, said Bill Krugler, Dedicated’s chairman and a managing director at Mason Wells, a Milwaukee private equity firm that in 2006 took a majority stake in the company.

One in six of Dedicated’s more than 200 employees is an engineer, Schlidt said. The company has to keep on top of Intel’s technical roadmap because it uses so many Intel products. Employees also must be familiar with the Linux and Microsoft operating systems, and know how to drive banks of computer monitors and other equipment, said Jay Bayne, a consultant to Dedicated and owner of Meta Command Systems Inc., Mequon.

Schlidt is well-suited to oversee Dedicated’s growth because he’s focused on customers and markets and has a track record of growing companies that were larger than Dedicated.

“He’s been where we want to go as a company,” Krugler said.

Dedicated is the fifth business Schlidt has run. The Milwaukee native moved here from Denver, where he ran Arrow’s electronic component design and distribution business.

Since Schlidt arrived in June 2008 he has:

?Built a new senior management team and aligned the next layer of leaders around it while flattening the organization. “There were eight layers between me and a manufacturing person,” Schlidt said.

?Defined three key market segments: health care, military and industrial/security markets and aligned the company to support customers in those areas. “We had a kind of generalized approach to business. Now if there’s anything that doesn’t fit in those areas, we don’t do it,” Schlidt said.

“I’ve spent a year traveling around and customers are saying ‘If you do what you say you can do, you’re going to differentiate yourself,’ ” Schlidt said. “This company has those capabilities, we’ve just got to execute.”

(c) 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.