The sale of 'Tek' is all the talk in Portland

The 61-year-old company that spawned Oregon's technology industry will be acquired by a conglomerate.
Crosscut archive image.
The 61-year-old company that spawned Oregon's technology industry will be acquired by a conglomerate.

When a company has a nickname, it means it's been around a while and locals are proud of the place. Case in point: TEK, both the NYSE symbol and the pet name for Tektronix, the communications-testing equipment company that's been in the Portland area since 1946.

The current talk of the town, and not just among the pocket-protector set, is the $2.8 billion sale of Beaverton-based Tek to Danaher (DHR) of Washington, D.C. Danaher is the maker of those handy Craftsman tools collecting dust in your basement, but the real moneymaking comes from electronic-testing equipment, medical instruments, bar-code readers, and other globally popular goods. Among many other subsidiaries, Danaher owns Fluke of Everett, Wash., which makes handheld electronic test equipment.

Tek deserves a nickname, given his rise from humble beginnings to international player. (Sorry, but there's no way to imagine Tek as a she.) He started with a handful of workers and the then-new gizmo called an oscilloscope, which allows the user to see read-outs that track changes of an electrical signal. Tek's not a garden-variety nerd, either. He's even won a few Emmys, described in a press release that should win an award of its own for Most Obscure Message.

The Oregonian quickly covered Tek's story like a big tent, with reporter Ted Sickinger capturing the important history and scale of the news right off the bat:

Before Phil Knight ever pasted the Nike swoosh on the side of a tennis shoe, before Intel set its sights on Aloha as a chip-manufacturing outpost, before there was any technology industry to speak of in Oregon, there was Tek.

The rise and decline of Tektronix Inc., which announced Monday that Danaher Corp. would purchase it in a deal valued at close to $2.8 billion, is literally the history of the technology industry in Oregon.

Founded in the back of a Portland electronics store in 1946 by World War II veterans Howard Vollum and Jack Murdock, Tek rode the postwar boom in the electronics industry to become a technology powerhouse that once employed 15,000 in Oregon and more than 24,000 worldwide.

How this will play out locally depends on whom you ask. The O's coverage quotes Danaher's CEO as assuring folks that "Tek is still Tek," and that changes will all be for the better. One of the regional upsides noted is that Tek will now be able to share research and distribution with Danaher subsidiary Fluke.

Another outcome might be more spinoffs from Tek, as noted in the Portland Business Journal. This isn't all new; Tek traditionally hasn't hogged all the good ideas his people generated.

One of the best-known of the Oregon-based offshoots is Mentor Graphics, an electronic design automation (EDA) company started by several former Teksters. (Simpleminded summary: If you want to make sure your chips are staying in line and performing well, Mentor's products measure and police such things.)

The chief worry being voiced, of course, is the potential for a major employer to shrink or leave, something happening with increasing frequency in Oregon.

Some locals flatly reject the companies' insistence that Tek and his workers will stay firmly in place and just get better. One commenter responding to the Beaverton Valley Times's article efficiently captured the more dour view:

Well there goes another Oregon company leaving town. Rest assured when Phil Knight passes away, smart people at Nike will look elsewhere for a place to run the company ... Sorry folks, but you don't build a major economy on selling rowhouses, bike shops, or latte stands.  

Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors