January 7, 2011

Idexx CEO Jonathan Ayers finds good fit

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WESTBROOK - Jonathan Ayers shuffles excitedly through the high-school-like hallways of Idexx Laboratories, a firm that makes animal disease testing equipment in Westbrook.

click image to enlarge

Jonathan Ayers, Idexx CEO, has a science background and has held finance positions.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

"Come here, I want to show you this," says Ayers, Idexx president and CEO. He is dressed in khaki pants, a white collared shirt, an "Idexx" emblazoned red vest.

With a grin, he cracks open a door and enters a brightly lit production room, where computers hum and robots twirl.

Here we make the SNAP tests, he says, referring to one of the company's leading test products.

A minute later, Ayers heads for the door. Follow me, he says, I want to show you something else.

The next stop is a laboratory, where technicians in white coats and protective glasses perform quality-control tests.

Then Ayers is off to another room. Then another.

Ayers' enthusiasm is well-founded. Idexx is doing well -- revenue is rising, and expansion is in the works. What's more, Ayers says the top Idexx job fits him well. It's a post that combines his global business experience with his love of animals and interest in biology.

Ayers grew up in the small, rural town of Wilton, Conn., characterized by rolling, tree-covered hills and centuries-old homes. A single train track cuts through the town, providing a link to New York City, about 50 miles away.

Ayers went to Wilton High School and held a job fixing bikes. Later, he enrolled at Yale University in New Haven, where he graduated with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, a subject he still finds fascinating.

"I was interested in it intellectually. Here are these molecules that create life," he says.

Later, Ayers got an MBA from Harvard Business School.

After school, Ayers worked as a systems engineer in the sales division of IBM. He also held finance jobs, working in the mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance divisions of Morgan Stanley and as a strategy consultant with Bain & Co. in Boston.

Later, Ayers became president of the Asia-Pacific operation of Carrier Corp., a firm that makes refrigeration, air conditioning and refrigeration systems. It was one of the best job Ayers said he ever had. Based in Singapore and responsible for operations in 12 countries, he was involved in high-level negotiations between executives from different countries.

"You have Koreans negotiating with Chinese and Japanese and Australians. These are people who were fighting 50 years ago," Ayers says.

Ayers was later named president of all of Carrier, a multibillion-dollar firm. He left Carrier in 2001 and joined Idexx in 2002, as president and CEO.

During his eight years at Idexx, the company's revenues have grown from $386 million to more than $1 billion and the company has doubled in staff.

Ayers lives in Portland with his wife. The couple have three children pursuing college studies in mathematics, nuclear engineering and biomedical engineering. They have three adopted cats, former strays.

Ayers says he visits his daughters, and they often come back to Maine. In the winter, the family skis at Sunday River and Sugarloaf.

Ayers considers former Idexx CEO David Shaw a mentor. "He taught me the essentials of the business," Ayers says. "He said, focus on innovation and employees."

Ayers says Shaw had another tip: Idexx's primary customers, veterinarians, are "Peace Corps types" -- they do their jobs because they love the work. And they can use help from Idexx running the business side of their practice.

Ayers describes himself as a "principle-based" leader, meaning he sets the direction and the strategy for employees to follow. The company recently unveiled new guiding "Purpose and Principles" for employees, which were developed with staff input.

"With 5,000 people, you can't tell them what do. You must lead through principles and strategy," he says.

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or:



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