Peter Biro may seem like an unlikely leader for Newcon Optik. The CEO spent most of his career as a Bay Street lawyer, and his pet causes have included police corruption, which he fought in court on a pro bono basis, and the Jane Goodall Institute, Global (Worldwide JGI), which he chaired until recently. Newcon Optik, meanwhile, manufactures electro-optical products, like night-vision equipment and laser rangefinders, primarily for military use.
“I don’t know if I was qualified for the position when I took it, and I don’t know if I’m qualified now,” says Biro. “But I came here because of the quality of the relationships.” Newcon Optik was one of Biro’s clients when an opportunity arose to join the company in 2011. He is now the minority shareholder; the company’s founder, Michael Beker, maintains a controlling stake.
But under Biro’s tutelage, the company has grown significantly. Last year, Newcon Optik saw record-setting sales of $30 million, and he claims the business has tripled revenue in the past five years. To get there, Biro focused on narrowing and improving the production scope and increasing the quality of relationships with regulators and the government buyers around the world who make up the firm’s core customer base.
When Newcon Optik was founded 25 years ago, the company provided night-vision gear for the consumer market. Over time, it expanded to additional product areas with military and law enforcement applications. After taking over, Biro decided to focus on becoming a market leader in hand-held laser rangefinders, devices that use lasers to calculate the distance to objects. The product has high profit margins and multiple uses, signalling the potential for increased sales. But focusing on that one item required an overhaul—Biro reoriented the company’s research and development, marketing and networking activities, and focused on improving relationships with end-users. “At a certain point, you have to stop and take a look at where most of the action is and then refine,” he says. Newcon Optik is now winning tenders that once seemed out of its league, beating industry giants in the process.
Building relationships has been a cornerstone of Biro’s strategy at Newcon Optik. He reports a significantly improved working relationship with the export controls division of Global Affairs Canada and with the public works branch that deals with controlled goods. Newcon Optik also works with the Canadian Commercial Corporation, which handles transactions with foreign governments—the company sells to the Canadian government, which then sells the goods to its foreign counterparts. The company has strengthened relationships with Canada’s trade commissioners, embassies and missions around the world—close to 95% of its products are manufactured for export, a number that has remained consistent over time. Clients have included national and local governments, military institutions, public security agencies, law enforcement and police agencies in over 70 countries. has also worked on.
As a maker of a highly regulated product, Newcon Optik has focused on proactively engaging with regulators. “The government of Canada isn’t just our regulator; they’re supposed to be one of our big supporters in terms of promoting exports,” says Biro. “From time to time, I will get called by the director general of export controls at Global Affairs Canada, asking for my feedback regarding a policy issue. That kind of consultation makes things better for a lot of reasons.”
Biro says Newcon Optik is on the verge of exponential growth, and many more opportunities are now within reach for the 40-person company—thanks, in part, to the increased interest in its laser rangefinders. But it’s not enough to build a quality product that complies with the specifications of a given tender, says Biro. “You’re only as good as the quality of the relationships you can build.”