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[singlepic id=73 w=350 float=left]SANTA ROSA -- Ron Nersesian, CEO of the new Keysight Technologies, loves to tear up the roadway in his stick-shift sporty Mercedes. It’s not his favorite or fastest car, but not so flashy to drive to work as the racecar Audi he had.

Mr. Nersesian once clocked way over the speed limit in the open expanses of the Nevada desert, but shhhhh, don’t tell the CHP about his proclivity for speed. What happens in the Nevada desert stays in the Nevada desert.

“I like to drive,” Mr. Nersesian said. I asked him if he knew the speed limit in Nevada (75). “No comment,” he said, chuckling. “I haven’t had a ticket in 14 years.”

That urge to accelerate -- and compulsion for ultimate technology -- serves him well in his role driving one of the North Bay’s biggest technology companies, with nearly $3 billion in worldwide revenue from electronic measurement instruments. The company, spun off from Agilent Technologies on Aug. 1, has some 1,200 employees in its Santa Rosa headquarters and nearly 9,500 globally.

With its roots in Hewlett-Packard, Keysight Technologies has a long tradition as a best place to work, where managers tend to shun hierarchy in favor of a flat organizational structure with project teams. Mr. Nersesian, as with previous leaders in the company, combines accessibility with obvious acumen in the high-tech details of the business.

Mr. Nersesian has another hobby that provides an intriguing glimpse into his leadership style: He is an accomplished photographer with a keen grasp of the latest in digital cameras and related gadgets, loves the Nikon D800 camera, 36.3 megapixels, and the Leica M240, with “a lot of lenses. I really like the quality of the Leica products. I like the shooting experience, the results. I have a suite of Leica,” he said.

A golf buff with a handicap of 10, he has photographed Tiger Woods.

“It’s right brain and left brain,” he said of photography.

Long before Mr. Nersesian became CEO of Keysight, Agilent had a tradition of encouraging employees who enjoy photography to show off their best work on the walls of the company offices. These are not left-brain-only engineers; many are highly expressive artists. Remarkable images adorn walls of nearly every room, including the cafeteria. One large room full of cubicles for workers serving aerospace defense customers has a startling image of two baby birds, their vermillion crops agape and awaiting nourishment from mama bird. Michelle Leong, a company employee in Penang, Malaysia, took the shot, entitled, “Baby bird nest in my garden,” the winning entry in the Aug. 2004 monthly photo contest.

The sprawling, landscaped campus on the Fountaingrove hill overlooking Santa Rosa resembles that of UC Berkeley, and nourishes bright, enterprising workers. It has nearly 1 million square feet of work space. Some employees spend breaks in a burgeoning employee garden, tending vegetables. Giant sunflowers arch toward the sky, unaffected by electronic measurement. Squash and other veggies supply the cafeteria.

Other employees play Ping-Pong or work out in the onsite gym. It’s a cheerful climate, supportive by design of talent and innovation. The company appreciates and cultivates balanced human beings.

Mr. Nersesian’s career with HP goes back to 1984, when he started a 12-year stint on the East Coast, followed by a six-year break. In 2002, he came back as VP of Hewlett-Packard’s oscilloscope and logic analyzers division in Colorado Springs. Thereafter, he worked his way up to run the company’s wireless business unit, became head of Agilent’s electronic measurement group, COO of the whole company then president and CEO of Keysight.

 “I spent almost my whole life here,” Mr. Nersesian said. That tenure gives him credibility in leading a large workforce.

“It’s global for all 10,000 people, you have to have a strategic direction,” Mr. Nersesian said. “We can do something great by being the world’s leader in electronic measurement. We look to be first in markets, first with solutions. That’s a vision people can get behind -- the best in the world. That’s our standard.”

“We’re an organization that creates value,” Mr. Nersesian said. “We take billions of dollars from investors, and we tell them we will give them a return. We have to deliver results, great solutions for our customers, a great return for our investors and a great work environment. Those are three legs of a tripod. If you don’t have all three, you are not going to win.”

He likes to be personable and approachable. “It’s impossible to be in 100 locations at once,” he said. He aims to project that personable leadership to inspire employees wherever they work, and to listen carefully to their concerns.

“The energy we have now with the new executive team is very strong,” he said. “We have people who are known for being very high-performance, fast-acting, credible, high integrity, and have fun doing it. People have to enjoy their days. If they don’t enjoy their days, it’s hard for them to put all their energy and heart into it.”

Keysight built a new hallway in the Fountaingrove headquarters that shows off the company history, a display of quality and a standard of excellence, with wall murals as well as old and current instruments. “People said, ‘Why are we spending all that money on the corporate thing?’ I explained, we are going to bring in multi-billion-dollar companies and tell them that they should invest their future with us,” he said.

Visitors will include customers, vendors and investors. “You have someone who has billions of dollars, and you are saying, here, invest in our company. They want to make sure you are a high-quality organization,” Mr. Nersesian said.

In the last week of August, Mr. Nersesian, along with CFO Neil Dougherty, took a road show through six cities and held 17 meetings with 21 investment firms. “Back to back,” he said, “insane.” Toronto to Philadelphia to Delaware, Baltimore to Boston.  

He told the Keysight story, an essential task, as it’s a new company with a strong, compelling history in the HP way. Keysight needs buy-in and support from analysts and investors. For shareholders, the company’s face is Mr. Nersesian, the CFO and a few others on the investor relations team.

Many savvy investors size up a company first by analyzing metrics; then they look at management. Without potent leaders, numbers fizzle. “Numbers have to be good, and they have to believe in the management,” Mr. Nersesian said.

Nothing quite replaces the one-on-one grilling of a CEO. “They ask what you think, what your philosophy is,” he said. “I like doing it. I have a lot of pride in Agilent and Keysight. I love telling the story. I love our employees.”

Over the past 30 years, Hewlett-Packard and Agilent have plowed much of their profits into printers and acquiring life sciences businesses. “Those have been worthwhile endeavors that have created great businesses,” he said. “But now it’s time to focus on the electronic measurement business.”

The electronic measurement business was skewed toward profits, he said. Since the 2009 downturn in life sciences, that component of Agilent generated about $2 billion in profits. Electronic measurements also generated about $2 billion. “We spent $4 billion on acquisitions since the downturn,” he said, with “$3.9 billion for life sciences” and the relatively tiny remainder, $100 million, on electronic measurement acquisitions.

Electronic measurement that enhances the entire wireless communication ecosystem will see strong demand in the years ahead, and this part of Keysight is destined to rocket forward. “The market is being revolutionized,” Mr. Nersesian said. “There are many, many products and solutions.”

A second big growth area is Internet traffic control moving from hardware to software. “It’s the Internet of things,” he said. “Everything is connected together -- handsets, cell towers.” Wireless systems need back-haul systems to connect towers, especially with fiber-optics, he noted.

“We help design high-speed transmission interfaces, base stations, cell towers,” he said. Each technology wave presents new challenges and measurement opportunity -- 3G to 4G to 5G phones, for instance. “Every time they do that, they need new capability,” he said, “new hardware, new software. We’re constantly moving with this technology as it changes. The world changes at a rapid pace. The rapid pace is good for us.”

He has been an early adopter of new technology “since I was a little kid,” Mr. Nersesian said. He owns five or six cell phones at the same time. “Sony, Motorola, Nokia, all the Apples,” he said, laughing. “But I have SIM chips that I move across. I always have the latest and greatest devices. I’m passionate about it.”

Employees in the company joke with him about his gizmo addiction, asking him which cell phone he has on any particular day. A bit of a workaholic, he looks at his first emails at about 6:30 a.m., the last ones around 10:30 p.m. “When I’m up, it’s very rare that an hour goes by that I’m not working,” he said.

“His passion is very noticeable by employees,” said Jeff Weber, Keysight’s head of communications and public affairs. “It inspires people,” and makes for a great workplace.

Agilent shareholders will receive separate Keysight Technologies shares as a dividend on Monday, Nov. 3.

Mr. Nersesian is eager to push forward faster even as he leads the company through a massive transition for both employees and shareholders.

“I want to grow it,” he said, “take it to a level it’s never been to before.

“My roots, my interests, my instincts are right here,” said Mr. Nersesian. He seems genuinely excited about the road ahead.

“Fast forward to the future,” Mr. Nersesian said, with him at the wheel, and fresh opportunities in electronic measurement will be Keysight’s top priority. He will refocus the entire business, 100 percent on electronic measurement. As a separate company, Keysight can reorient to balance profit with growth. “We can take those funds and reinvest back in the business,” he said. “I want to make a mark for the company.”

New directors to steer Keysight at the board level are being selected right now.

Mr. Nersesian cannot wait to stomp on the pedal, kick Keysight into overdrive and break a few speed limits in electronic measurement.