April 29, 2010


O.C. Tech Company Celebrates 25 years


When Cristi Cristich started Cristek Interconnects Inc. at the age of 23, her business goal was to have enough money to shop at Nordstrom and drive a fancy car.

That's not exactly an attitude that promises business longevity. However, this year marks Cristek's 25th year in business.

Cristich credits her instincts, great customer service and a willingness to admit she doesn't know everything for building Anaheim-based Cristek into a 120-employee company with such customers as Raytheon and General Dynamics.

Still, Cristich marvels at surviving the early years.

"I wasn't qualified," she said. "Every time I took on a new obligation, I wondered if I'd be able to get enough new business.

"I wonder (now) if I would have taken the risk if I had known the risk."

Cristich started the company after her employer was sold and stopped making a key product needed by former customer Litton Industries. She started Cristek with a $20,000 loan from a friend and a $25,000 purchase order from Litton.

After three years, Cristich realized her company had just one product line and a couple of customers.

"I would have benefited from going to college and learning about such concepts as life cycle of products," she said. "I knew intuitively we needed a broader product line ... but I missed some tools that a college education would have given me. Also, relationships you make in college are valuable."

She started taking company growth seriously and around 1990 joined TEC, now Vistage, which provided advice and experience sharing with a small group of successful business owners.

One of the decisions that helped grow Cristek was to develop its own proprietary electronic connectors. These products and a highly skilled engineering staff won the company contracts for major military and aerospace projects. On a recent visit Cristich held up an elaborate web of connectors, wires and circuit boards that took 60 hours of labor to build. It eventually will be placed in an AMRA missile.

"We went through lean manufacturing training a few years ago, and we found with good people and good processes we could be competitive in a cost effective way here in California," Cristich said.

In the Anaheim plant, which at one time was Clothestime headquarters, is a wall of various measurements of company performance, such as defects per million opportunities to make a mistake, and customer score cards of Cristek performance. The lowest is 97.6% satisfaction.

Like many entrepreneurs, Cristich has taken on personal projects in addition to running the company, from being Orange County and California president of the National Association of Women Business Owners to seeking the Republican nomination for Assembly in 2004.

"I was a terrible candidate," she said, "but I believe I would have been a good member of the state legislature."

One of the important lessons she learned over the years is that "results follow focus. Through certain cycles, the business suffered and I wasn't effective because I was not focused."

As a result, she returned from her unsuccessful Assembly bid, and discovered that Cristek hadn't been as ready to run without her as she had thought.

"I had to make a decision: if I recommitted to the company, I had to be 1,000 percent in, or it was time to sell," she said.

She chose the former. And Cristek is more professional and stronger today despite federal cutbacks in NASA and missile defense projects that led to about 20 layoffs. The company has 120 employees in Anaheim.

Recently, Cristek made another growth move, opening a new factory in Lowell, Mass.

Cristek has leased a 7,000-square-foot building and hired three people to find contracts to build that business. If business grows, the factory could employ 40 to 50 people.

Originally Cristek was going to open a plant in New Hampshire, but got economic incentives from Lowell, an old mill town, and no sales tax on the $1 million it spent on new equipment. Lowell is also closer to a trained workforce and engineers.

Cristich said the expansion out of state is not an abandonment of California but is intended to capture East Coast contracts Cristek couldn't get as a solely West Coast company.

Some of Cristek's biggest customers, such as Raytheon in Waltham, Mass., are on the East Coast.

"Lowell opens new markets," she said. "Some New England companies prefer to do business with local companies. It may even bring additional work to California."

The Lowell facility just got its first $250,000 contract and some of the high-skilled, proprietary work will be done in Anaheim.

It's not the first time Cristek expanded outside California. In 2003, the company was in the process of opening a new facility with 100 jobs in Sierra Vista, Ariz., when Cristich found out that the community had not disclosed an abnormally high number of pediatric cancer cases.

"I wanted to be an ethical employer and I couldn't relocate my (employee) families there," she said recently.

Now after 25 years in business, Cristich said she no longer measures the success of her company by its size. "These past few years (of recession) have reinforced that it is never a bad time to focus on EBIDA (earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization). Customers and employees come first, but reasonable EBIDA means you have options."

For more information contact:

John B. Pollock
Director of Sales & Marketing
Cristek Interconnects, Inc
(714) 696-5206


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