David Camp leaving as Key's CEO

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WALLA WALLA -- David M. Camp, the president and chief executive officer of Key Technology Inc., has resigned his post after six years -- five of which were among the highest-revenue years in the company's history, the manufacturing firm announced.

"It has been an honor and privilege to have served with the dedicated and talented people of Key Technology, and I am proud of the accomplishments that have been achieved during the past six years," Camp said in a prepared statement. "The management team at Key is top-notch and enthusiastic, and I am proud to have led the effort in bringing such a great team together."

Camp was not immediately available for further comment this morning.

According to the announcement, he has resigned from all of his positions with the company and the board of directors. A reason was not detailed though officials said he will pursue other business interests. Camp will also continue to consult with the company over the next year as John J. "Jack" Ehren transitions in as the manufacturing firm's new president and CEO.

Ehren has been with Key since 2008, when he joined the team as senior vice president and chief financial officer. Since December 2011 he has served as executive vice president chief operating officer/chief financial officer. He was also the company's general manager of SYMETIX, the company's pharmaceutical division in 2009 and assumed duties of the senior vice president of global operations for a significant portion of 2010.

"I am excited to have the opportunity to lead Key as we pursue our vision of technology leadership and excellence," Ehren said in the announcement. "The company has a talented and committed work force and a blue-chip customer base, and I look forward to the challenge of continuing its tradition of excellence and returning to levels of profitability and cash flows that reward our shareholders for their continuing support."

Key Technology, a designer and manufacturer of process automation systems for food processing, industrial and pharmaceutical markets, was the 10th-largest employer in Walla Walla County in 2011 with nearly 470 employees, according to information from the Port of Walla Walla. The company's stock was trading mid-morning today at $12.51 per share. One year ago, the stock sold for $19 per share. The prices fell to $10.60 last October, rose in November and December, dropped slightly and have remained relatively flat.

Camp was recruited to the company in 2006 as a successor to Kirk Morton. He came to Key at 56 with more than 25 years experience in the technology and manufacturing industries, ranging from small businesses to large corporations, spanning process control, capital equipment and service businesses.

In 2011, he earned $274,997 as his base salary and $14,107 in "other compensation." His base salary during his tenure at Key fluctuated slightly, though hovered around the $275,000 mark. But during other years with the company he had earned significantly more -- up to nearly $900,000 one year -- due largely to restricted stock awards.

Board Chairman Chuck Stonecipher said in the announcement Camp "successfully repositioned the company to better serve our customers."

More than half of Key's current optical products were developed under Camp's leadership, Stonecipher said.

"We appreciate his many accomplishments," Stonecipher said. "We are pleased that he has agreed to make himself available to Key and its management team for consultation on strategic and business development issues. We wish him well as he pursues other business interests and know that his next endeavor will be highly successful."

Under Camp's leadership the company had some of its best sales years and also some of its most difficult cuts due to the recession.

Key Technology reached its first $100 million sales year in 2007. The company celebrated by surprising employees with a parade -- complete with Walla Walla High School marching band -- through the plant. From a lift hoisted in the air Camp toasted the employees with sparkling cider then set up a receiving line, handing out gift bags with chocolate, a Thomas Jefferson $1 coin and a $100 bill for everyone. Similar celebrations were planned for the company's other plants in Redmond, Ore., China, Australia, Mexico and the Netherlands.

That same year Key was named the Governor's Trader of the Year in a recognition from Gov. Chris Gregoire. It marked the first time in the award's 40-year history that it was won by an Eastern Washington company, putting Key in a class with Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks and Costco as a substantial international trader.

Two years later the company was named a winner of the 2009 Progressive Manufacturing 100 Award. The honor recognized Key as a best-in-class manufacturer by Managing Automation Media. But it also came with two major rounds of layoffs for the company in the face of a tough economic climate. The first round of cuts was about 40 positions. Another 7 percent of employees were laid off later that year. That percentage had previously been equal to 40 employees during the first reduction.

Also during Camp's tenure, the company completed the purchase of its Avery Street complex from the Port of Walla Walla in a deal that eventually became contentious after a private citizen alerted the Port that the roughly $6.5 million sales price of the building had been miscalculated. The Port had undercharged Key via an equation designed to establish the price by a little more than $370,000. The discrepancy led to a two-year disagreement that was eventually resolved in arbitration with Key paying the Port the difference for the 172,600-square-foot building.

Key continued to build its global headquarters with the opening last spring of its new customer visitor center. The 31,500-square-foot Innovation and Solutions Center was a more than $1.5 million transformation of a former Poplar Street furniture store into a staging area for the company's sorting, conveying and processing systems. It brought together the company's most "customer facing" employees under one roof a sidewalk away from the Avery headquarters where customers from around the globe can come and see the equipment at work.

Ehren joined the company in early 2008. He brought more than 15 years of financial experience. Before his hire at Key he had been vice president of global operations for Beaverton, Ore.,-based Planar Systems Inc., a firm specializing in specialty display technology for hospitals, space and military programs, shopping centers, government agencies and more. As COO/CFO in 2011, Ehren earned $230,006 as a base salary and $10,834 in "other compensation."

In the transition announcement Camp touted Ehren's leadership. "His vision for Key's future and his passion for the company and its constituencies make him an ideal choice going forward," Camp said. "He is unequivocally committed to Key shareholders, customers and employees. I am very pleased that the board has elected to transition leadership of Key to a person of Jack's capabilities and character."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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