With Technology that Mitigates Energy During Impacts, SKYDEX Technologies, Inc. is Revolutionizing the Way we Protect our Soldiers During IED Blasts
SKYDEX Technologies employs its patented, twin-hemisphere design in multiple lines of products to protect warriors from harmful impacts and vibration. Its TPU technology has proven far more effective and far more resilient than foam products in a wide array of applications – from convoy decking to high impact boat decking to combative wall surfaces to vehicle and helicopter seating to ballistic helmet pads and body protection. SKYDEX’s innovations are fulfilling the need to absorb greater amounts of destructive energy in smaller spaces, using thinner, lighter materials to carry out on the battlefield. Mike Buchen President and CEO SKYDEX is a recognized industry leader known for innovative product design, altruist initiatives and ever-developing technical abilities; as President and Chief Executive Officer of SKYDEX, Mike Buchen offers a unique blend of operational expertise, business development capabilities in the international military market and serving as a successful corporate leader and visionary. Mike has repeatedly produced increased revenue, EBITDA and margin growth in a dynamic and changing market while harvesting a customer focused and performance-driven work environment. With a reputation for strategic planning, spearheading growth with long term value and competitively positioning a growing business within the marketplace, Mike’s work has been instrumental in providing SKYDEX with globally focused product lines, a humanitarian mission and rarely seen explosive corporate growth. By expanding SKYDEX’s International footprint and delivering dramatic improvements to customer relations, market positioning and financial performance, Mike lead the company through a transformation change to the military market leading to the company’s 300%+ growth in the last 4 years. With a focus on strategic solutions analytics to further business goals, he also shepherded strategic partnerships with organizations to position SKYDEX as a key player amongst the military and government acquisition process and advancement for soldier survivability. Starting as a lumberyard worker with Payless Cashways, Mike progressed through every store level operation position into store management. He was the company’s youngest store manager and youngest District Manager in the company’s history before moving into senior management, first as Merchandising V.P. for the $1B lumberyard Business Unit, then Senior V.P. of Store Operations and then Senior V.P of Merchandising and Distribution. From there he was recruited to become President of Cadillac Plastics Group. While serving as President and Chief Operating Officer of Cadillac Plastics the company was acquired by General Electric Co. Mike holds a Masters in Business Administration from Rockhurst University. Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – September 10, 2012 CEOCFO: Mr. Buchen, SKYDEX is protecting people and things that matter, how do you achieve this goal? Mr. Buchen: SKYDEX holds patents on technology used in products that mitigate energy during impacts, specifically large impacts like those experienced with IED blasts or with combat helmets. We utilize geometric designs and high-grade plastic to manufacture products that are tuned to meet different levels of impacts. By tuning, I mean harder, softer, wider, thicker, and we absorb impacts whether it is blasts, or a very small impact. We tune our geometry to decelerate the impact to the point to where it does not do any damage. CEOCFO: How is this happening elsewhere and what is it that is different about SKYDEX Technology? Mr. Buchen: The only competitive product that was around before we entered the market was foam and the characteristics of foam are it only absorbs one impact. If you think about the tiny air bubbles, or the open shells inside of foam, they collapse on impact. After the first impact, you have a product that does not perform the same for the next impact. We have had SKYDEX in some of our shoe components, like in the heal, which have taken as much as a million impacts and there has been very little degradation. That is the market application, our product takes multiple impacts and it does not collapse like foam does, so durability is the way you could say it. Another thing is we can tune our product for the impact that we are trying to defeat. Foam does not have the ability to be tuned, all foam typically can do is just become thicker to absorb greater impacts. CEOCFO: What are some of the products that incorporate your material? Mr. Buchen: Our primary product is our family of blast mitigating Convoy Deck, which takes the SKYDEX material and puts a non-skid top surface on it for use in military and armored vehicles. When the IED became the weapon of choice in Afghanistan and Iraq, guys were losing their legs because the blast would come up through the floor and then the floor would accelerate at this ungodly rate making the energy from the floor go right into the tibia of the soldiers, shattering the tibia. Our product absorbs 73% of the energy from a typical blast experienced by a soldier, reducing injuries, which means saving lives. We currently have our product in over 18,000 vehicles in the US and probably another three or four thousand globally. We also produce a helmet padding system for combat, military and commercial grade knee and elbow pads, impact mitigating boat decking for high speed watercraft, and a mattresses that is 100% recyclable and cleanable. SKYDEX technology absorbs more energy in less space than any competing product that there is. CEOCFO: How do you decide which products to develop? Mr. Buchen: Our company does not start a new military project until we talk with the end users. We spend a lot of our time with the troops, listening to their concerns about how they do their jobs and what they need to do their jobs safer. SKYDEX’s workforce has eleven veterans who have a network of friends and contacts to help us engage in conversation. We will identify two to three problems that we think we can help solve and then go back to our test laboratory and develop a solution for them. The lab will create several prototypes, which will be field tested with the troops, to generate the final product. We base our product development on direct feedback from those that will use the product. We have a similar process for commercial applications. SKYDEX gets so many new ideas for our technology from people who experience our products. We love hearing their ideas and then vetting them with our engineering staff. The technology has so many different uses, it comes down to where is the market opportunity and can we be competitive. CEOCFO: SKYDEX recently announced the Convoy Deck Max; would you tell us about this product? Mr. Buchen: Historically, SKYDEX had only one product that we called Convoy Deck, which was designed to withstand blast threats that were being experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time. Since then, we know that the IED blast levels have increased and the vehicles that our military uses in theater will need to protect against these greater threats. SKYDEX Convoy Deck Max uses a new technology that we developed called e-max. The e-max technology is capable of absorbing a greater amount of energy in less space than our current technology. We can also add layers of the technology together to create different thicknesses of the decking that increase the energy absorbing abilities. Our next line of Convoy Deck will be targeted towards absorbing similar levels of energy as our current product but will be less expensive. We want to expand our market to include uses where the threat may not be a large IED or directional explosive, rather possible uses with security forces or domestic forces. CEOCFO: Where is your manufacturing done? Mr. Buchen: We contract manufacture everything. Nike makes our plastic in St. Louis, Missouri, we have a plant we work with in Rhode Island who does all of the shaping and forming and cutting, and we have a company in Indiana that does some welding for us. These are all partners of SKYDEX. We do not have suppliers. In the early days, I can remember the COO and I having to empty our IRA accounts to make payroll for twelve folks, we had to do that two times. It was the same way for the suppliers. We would go out ninety days with the suppliers and they hung on with us. They believed in our story and our vision, so we adopted the term Friends of SKYDEX and it still sticks because if something happened to one of them, you are darn right we are going to help them out if we can. CEOCFO: Is there a portion of your business that is international? Mr. Buchen: Yes, we currently do business in twenty-two different countries on some level. We have a dealer in Bolivia that sells ten thousand dollars a year on the lower end and we have larger opportunities as big as blast decking for vehicles for the entire Turkish army. We are beginning a huge initiative in the Middle East due to all the tensions with Syria, Israel, Egypt, and Iran. CEOCFO: Recently, you were named Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in your region. Will you tell us about the award? Mr. Buchen: For the past 25 plus years, Ernst and Young has held an Entrepreneur of the Year award. We submitted a package for the Mountain Desert Region in the Government and Security category this year and won the regional. The award recognizes outstanding entrepreneurs who demonstrate excellence and extraordinary success with their businesses and communities. Ernst and Young does a great job of researching each business and does personal interviews with each candidate. They ask a bunch of question about your personal background, your personal beliefs, the business, and they are trying to figure out what makes the entrepreneur spirit inside of you tick. The regional winners, which we just finished, go to the selection of one national winner in Palm Springs in November. It is very exciting. CEOCFO: Where did you get the idea for SKYDEX and what in your background brought you to this point? Mr. Buchen: My background is in product and sales. I learned from working the backrooms and rolling up my selves to get jobs completed. The hard work and rewards is what drove me in those days and it is what drew me to SKYDEX. When I joined SKYDEX, I saw that they had a technology that has so many great applications, ones that are capable of saving lives. As I began looking at possible markets, I kept looking at how well our technology absorbs energy and what the applications could be. With the world situations in Iraq and Afghanistan at that time, it became clear to me that the military would be a great market to get into. One of my passions is to help and honor our service members who risk so much to protect our freedoms. I thought if I could just save one life or limb of our troops, it would be worth all the efforts. Once we got our foot in the door with our military boat decking, the other applications opportunities just fell into place for us because our product did what we said it would do – protect troops against impact forces. I really cannot think of a business where you can come to work every day and know that what you do has a chance to save someone’s life. Certainly, you have the police, firefighters and military personnel who put it on the line every day, but for a technology company like ours, it is unique.