In Focus with KYZEN

In 1990, two smart entrepreneurs became friends and then business partners and the world of environmentally responsible cleaning technologies hasn’t been the same since. Dr. Mike Bixenman and Kyle Doyel were both involved in solvent-based solutions, but for very different and distinct industrial manufacturing applications.

They discussed their goals, desires and industry observations and quickly discovered a common awareness around the growing demand for environmentally responsible solutions. Though diverse in their areas of specialty, styles and personalities, they discovered a profound common vision. They didn’t just want to start a business, they wanted to create a special, caring, FUN environment where their team, employees, partners and customers felt valued.

And, so together Doyel and Bixenman founded KYZEN. KYZEN’s mission was to be a place where science and care converge. The name was chosen for its Japanese root word — “kaizen” — which means change for the better, or continual improvement and innovation.

In the past 30 years, KYZEN has proven over and over that scientific excellence and innovative solutions can be achieved by caring and persistently curious people. “Scientific excellence is important, but it is not enough all by itself! Mike and I believe placing great value in our people all while having fun is what makes the difference in our industry and in people’s lives.” says Doyel. This really is where science and care converge – and that makes all the difference.

Now, KYZEN is celebrating three decades and a global success story as leader in creating environmentally responsible cleaning solutions and innovations for electronics assembly, metal finishing and advanced packaging.

It was a pleasure to talk to Sherry Stepp from KYZEN at the recent IPC Apex show in San Diego, and find out more about the company’s ethos and future aspirations.

How has the business evolved during those years and in which ways has it stayed true to its founding principles of Science and Care?

Well, the most obvious evolution has had two elements: globalization and electronics miniaturization. As the world has “gotten smaller”, KYZEN has grown and evolved to meet the needs of our customers throughout the world. Of course, miniaturization is written about constantly, but never frequently enough since it drives most design and production challenges, including cleaning. Cleaning soils that are more difficult confined in tighter spaces, and underneath lower standoff devices. This sort of change is constant and has not only driven our technology to new heights of performance but the KYZEN team as well.

The part that has not changed, and probably never will is the simple fact that customers need products that perform as promised for a fair price that are safe and easy to use. It was true 30 years ago, and I expect it will be true 30 years from today.

KYZEN has had an environmentally friendly ethos years before the current high level of eco awareness, how important is this tenet to the development of the business?

Kyle Doyel and Mike Bixenman worked on the premise that cleaning chemistry can be more environmentally friendly from the beginning. The 1987 Montreal Protocol, eventually codified in the US Clean Air Act, required the electronics industry to “embrace” new products and processes to replace the ozone depleting CFCs as cleaning materials. Every KYZEN product ever formulated has met the goal of being as safe for the environment and the user as the technology of the day would allow us to achieve. Of course, the next day, we set out to improve both performance, safety and economics on the next product we began developing~ a never-ending cycle that continues to this very day.

From an employee’s perspective, what makes working at KYZEN so unique?

As co-founder and CEO Kyle Doyel likes to say. “We have FUN!” From my perspective, that makes KYZEN unique. Another aspect of KYZEN’s culture that may not be unique, but is exceptional, is our focus on doing what is right for the customer the first time. When you are focused on doing what is best for the customer, it makes empowering the team easy, and it allows the team to do the right thing, right away! I cannot tell you how much fun that is, and how surprised new customers are when instead of excuses they get action.

You have a staff retention rate. How does KYZEN support its employees and provide the caring environment that makes people stay?

KYZEN has always been about our people. We have managed to attract and retain talented, caring people since the earliest days of the company ~ in fact many of those folks are still involved. It has always been the belief of management that empowered employees that enjoy what they do are the most productive employees. This is the sole foundation of the KYZEN culture. One part of having fun is the ability to grow personally and professionally. KYZEN gives every employee the chance to grow and improve their “C.V.”. Whether that means an expanded role or a totally new one.

One look around KYZEN will show countless people promoted or allowed to expand their roles in way they never thought possible before they joined the team. Then there is always the fact that every employee is treated like family. Even as a global entity, we are still KYZEN, no matter how big we get. I know it is a challenge to keep that family small company feel but when it is important to the leaders of a company; it just flows all the way through.

You’ve just won your 13th Service Excellence Award (SEA) at this year’s Apex 2020 event, what do you feel is the key to your ongoing success in customer service?

We truly value our customers. Not to state the obvious but we wouldn’t be here without them. Every employee at KYZEN takes this mission of CARE to heart. We focus on customer satisfaction from the moment we receive the order, to the production of the product, shipping, technical support and our expert sales team. We genuinely care about their success.

Where do you see the future of the company?

KYZEN is about cleaning and helping our customer’s improve their operations. I see a future of opportunities for new cleaning technologies, in both existing areas of electronics and perhaps new areas that don’t even exist today. KYZEN is constantly listening and learning, trying to understand why things happen ~ or don’t happen. This is where new opportunities for products and services are born, and where KYZEN tries to spend quality time each and every day!

What trends and issues do you foresee affecting the electronics industry in the immediate and more distant future?

Our industry is truly global, and as electronics products become even more critical to our lives and certainly the quality of our lives, the need for high performance cleaning materials and processes will only continue to grow. Since our industry truly does “invent tomorrow today” it is hard to see very clearly into that crystal ball, but there are boundless opportunities for the industry and for those, like KYZEN, that supply critical technology for the industry’s success.