It was polio that set Ron Anderson up for a career as a draftsman. Eventually, this path led him to start his own business, UC Components, Inc. — a manufacturer of vented screws and components — from his home garage in Union City, California. He bought a drill press, a spray-mist cooler, and a small compressor on credit and got started. It was 1974.
“My father was originally from Wisconsin and the state sent him for skills training sometime after his polio diagnosis, where he became a draftsman and then moved out west,” says Ron’s son, Rick Anderson. “He always wanted to live on the coast.”
Unfortunately, Ron passed away quite a few years ago but not before UC Components became a family business — and a success. Throughout the years, Ron’s wife and three sons (he also has a daughter) worked in different roles at the company. Rick Anderson is the one who most took to the business and he’s now the co-owner, along with one of his best friends from college, Jeff Renggli.
“In some ways, I feel like I’ve always been partially involved in the business,” shares Anderson. “I remember when my dad moved out of our garage and rented a facility across the Bay in Mountain View. My siblings and I helped him move all of the little boxes of screws and components. I think I was in fourth grade or something like that and even got the day off of school.”
Anderson’s dad began UC Components because he noticed a lack of standardized, specialty vented fasteners for the vacuum industry.
“When he first settled in California in the ‘60s, he worked with Varian Associates, making vacuum tubes for the Distant Early Warning or DEW Line, which aimed to provide early detection of any potential nuclear missile launches from the Soviet Union at the time,” he explains.
Varian also provided some early technology for space flight, added Anderson, but most of it was developed by Lockheed Martin and NASA proper — both of which became early users of vacuum technology and customers of UC Components.
These products evolved to include the ultra-high vacuum, a widely used system in the semiconductor sector that relies on vented components.
“Initially, my dad’s goal was to work for himself part-time and earn enough to take his family on vacation. But he was laid-off twice in the early ‘70s and decided to roll the dice and take the UC Components on full-time.” There were ups and downs, Anderson adds, but he succeeded. And, as Anderson grew up, his interest in the company also grew.
“I suppose, I decided that working at the business was something I might want to do at a fairly early age,” he says. “I mean, I basically grew up using a Sears’ Craftsman drill press. I’d count parts, followed by drilling holes in screws so each one was vented. My brothers and I were paid a nickel per piece and, eventually, I became quite proficient.”
That’s how Anderson got on UC’s payroll, sometimes making up to $25/hour — which as a teenager was impressive, particularly in the ‘80s. When it came time for college, he decided to attend San Jose State University because it meant he could commute from home and continue to do some work for his dad.
“College is where I met Jeff, my current business partner,” he says. “We were advertising majors and, for the most part, we worked summers and then completed our necessary internship working in the marketing department with UC Components.”
Eventually, Anderson and Renggli bought the business from Anderson’s parents, and it’s grown ever since. What started as a niche market for the aerospace and defense sectors has become critical for the electronics and semiconductor industries, including several other broad-spectrum applications.
“We’ve certainly become more profitable over the years, but the hard work…the core work of the company was done by my father,” says Anderson. “This included manual labor and long hours spent building it from the ground up. Essentially, my dad commoditized each product from an early stage, assigning part numbers to each component, ensuring every design had a drawing, and so on. And he never once borrowed a cent to do so.”
Anderson and Renggli also deserve a fair share of the credit. UC Components has developed into mostly a national but also a global company, serving OEMs, end-users, government labs and facilities, universities, and other customers around the world. Customers include Silicon Valley start-ups and big names, such as Apple and Google.
With a team of about 40 employees, they’ve automated as many of the processes as possible and are no longer relying on those Craftsman drill presses. Although the company still does a lot of machining, the original vented-screw product now only makes up about 50% of the business.
“We’ve definitely become a value-add company,” explains Anderson. “For example, we now offer a great deal of incoming inspection on the other side of the manufacturing process. A lot of this involves the subcontracting for coating and plating, as well as the inspection of those operations. We also provide cleaning and clean packaging.”
A few years ago, UC Components also transitioned to ISO 9001, which is one of the most widely recognized quality-management system certifications. This standard means a business must comply with stringent requirements that ensure quality products, which exceed customer expectations.
“This was another step in refining the business, so to speak, to transition from a somewhat machine-shop model to a more balanced, high-quality enterprise,” he says. “And, of course, given our background in advertising, we’ve spent a lot more on marketing to ensure our business is well-recognized.”
The company has also been deemed an essential manufacturer during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We closed for a brief time period but ensured our employees that we’d take care of them, which we did,” he says. “Then, we received notification that we were essential and could remain operational. So, we split shifts and allowed what people could work remotely to do so…and we may leave things this way for now. It’s worked out well.”
A few things Anderson’s learned since taking over the business from his parents: “Patience is important but you also have to have trust and enthusiasm…trust that things will work out and enthusiasm for your team. You always want to encourage your employees and be a cheerleader for them and your business.”
He adds: “There’s always something to be celebrated that makes going to work every day a little more exciting.”