But for a stubbed toe, Donald Eberly might be designing oil rigs for a living instead of running Qualimetrics Inc. (#210), of Highlands, Calif., a $7.4-million-a-year maker and distributor of geophysical instruments and other weatherand water-measurement devices.
"I was studying to be a petroleum engineer at Penn State [University]," recalls Eberly, 48, "thinking I'd go to work for my uncle. On my first summer job with his company, though, I smashed my toe on a gas well and got fired. That really pissed me off. Since my roommate was taking a degree in meteorology, I thought, what the hell, I'll become a meteorologist."
His own degree in hand, Eberly spent 10 years with Pacific Gas & Flectric Co. before helping found Weather Measure Co., a meteorological instrument company he sold four years later to his next boss, Systron Donner Inc. In 1977, on $15,000 capitalization, he co-launched Qualimetrics. Today, 50% of his business is industrial, the other half divided fairly equally among universities and governments -- state, local, and foreign.
"We got a big boost in the late '70s from environmental protection policies," notes Eberly, explaining that compliance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations often required industry to come up with the kind of detailed meteorological data his hardware supplies. "That business has decreased significantly since two years ago, when the EPA lost its guts and began relaxing pollutionmonitoring standards." But while government budget slashing has hurt in one area, he adds, it has also created opportunities in another -- by requiring agencies like the National Weather Service to cut payrolls and move toward replacing personnel with automated tracking stations. A fully automated meteorological outpost can cost as much as $250,000 installed, "and there aren't too many companies in a position to capitalize on this market," he says.
Eberly also has high hopes for -- and designs on a healthy share of -- a potential $250-million market in automated airport weather stations. These stations, not yet in widespread use, continuously feed up-to-the-minute weather information to pilots plotting their final landing approaches. The Federal Aviation Administration plans to award contracts for 800 such units to only two suppliers in this field -- and Qualimetrics is one of them.
"My phone is ringing all the time now with offers for joint ventures," Eberly says. "The problem is, I can't quite figure out what the others can bring to the party."