Shedding Light on the Matter: Simon Alum Takes Ownership of Rochester-Based Applied Image, Inc.


Shedding Light on the Matter: Simon Alum Takes Ownership of Rochester-Based Applied Image, Inc.

Glenn Jackling was at home with his family on New Year’s Eve 2022 when he received the news that a deal had been struck: he was now the owner of Applied Image, Inc., a global supplier of precision imaged optical components and calibration standards, located in Rochester, NY. As he contemplated the prospect of embarking upon a new chapter with the company, he was acutely aware of his obligations to Applied Image’s customers, employees, and Rochester community and a desire to hold himself personally accountable to them.

His roots in Rochester extend to growing up in Hilton, NY followed by his undergraduate work at Monroe Community College and the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he majored in Mechanical Engineering and later received his Master’s degree in Applied and Mathematical Statistics. After graduating, he went on to work for the Rochester-based corporation Eastman-Kodak. During his thirteen-year tenure there, he realized how much he enjoyed the business aspect of his projects and assignments. As a result, he pursued an Executive MBA at Simon Business School at the University of Rochester, which Eastman-Kodak sponsored. 

“While pursuing my MBA through the Executive Education program at Simon, I was able to get complementary work assignments. I was part of the strategic planning team for a half-billion-dollar business unit inside what was then Consumer Imaging [at Eastman-Kodak] at the time, so it was a very positive experience,” says Jackling. “I left Kodak in 1998, and pretty much everything I’ve done since then has been enabled by my Simon education.”

He joined a small public company, CPAC, Inc., to work in corporate business development, where he was asked to take on a role as a division president. Later on, he took on executive and consulting stints in the area, with many of Rochester’s companies in a transition period marked by financial distress, under-marketing, and stagnant sales, or instability in executive leadership in the early 2000s and 2010s. “I was able to step into executive and leadership roles in an industry-agnostic way, quickly evaluate the situation, put a plan together to right the ship, and create a new trajectory for the business to drive profitable growth.” 

Rochester’s economy is defined by science and technology, education, and research and has provided fertile ground for enterprising companies such as Applied Image. Founded in 1978, Applied Image is among 150 member-companies that comprise the dense network of the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster. This upstate New York enterprise is an essential sector of the photonics imaging industry ecosystem. It includes the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics and the Rochester Institute of Technology’s presence in imaging science, photographic science, and microelectronic engineering.

Since its founding, Applied Image has become an industry leader in what was then the nascent field of photonics. By using light sources such as LEDs and laser diodes, photonics technology can be found in almost every conceivable application where light must be created. Its prevalence includes the technology in everyday devices like cell phone cameras, bar code scanners,  printers, and custom applications where precision and accuracy are critical. as The latest examples include the specially-designed calibration targets for the camera systems on two of the Mars Rover missions and the International Space Station, all of which Applied Image provided for NASA. “In almost any industry you look at, you can point to photonics applications.”

Applied Image recruited Jackling for a year-long project, and as it was winding down, its founder became aware of Jackling’s technical background. In 2014 he asked Jackling whether he would be interested in filling the role of CEO and President since the incumbent president was set to retire. “Not only that, but I also initially served as an ‘Undercover Boss’,” says Jackling, referring to the popular television show where an executive of a company infiltrates its ranks to observe its operations firsthand. “He had me spend the first three months working in every position within the business before anybody knew what I was doing here. That worked out extremely well from an onboarding standpoint, and I model that for many of our new hires and have them spend time in production before they take on a staff role.”

His stint as an ‘Undercover Boss’ proved enlightening. “All good to great companies began the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality. Here, we didn’t have a good ERP system, so there was very little discipline in terms of formal scheduling, job order costing, and the use of data to make decisions. One of the first things we did when I got here was buy a control system to track jobs.. We also went through getting our quality system certified and accreditation for our laboratory. Those three things brought structure and formality to the way we conducted ourselves and certainly established more credibility in the market.” 

Jackling understood that capturing manufacturing and process data and implementing rigorous analytical measures would be crucial in positioning Applied Image for future opportunities. “Monitoring the cash flow in and out of the business is pretty much where things started. Jobs would come and go, but we didn’t understand how profitable any given job was since we had no way of tracking them.” 

Implementing measures like this provided Jackling with the information to determine project outcomes, allowing him to shape efficient processes. “From the Simon perspective, my organizational architecture was balanced out on the ‘three legs of my stool’, supported by clear measures, incentives, and having decision-making authority in the right place.”

In 2021, the founder and former owner of Applied Image began exploring options of selling the company. Although private equity firms and other potential buyers expressed tremendous interest, none could assure him of being able to close the deal by his goal at the end of 2021. 

Yet it seemed as if certain forces were at work when a local mezzanine financing company in Rochester reached out to Jackling in October for his help with capital investment in a newly-launched fund. “I talked to the owner and said I’d do everything I could to get to a closing before the end of the year,” says Jackling. “The saving grace was that I had been running the business for the past seven years, so the due diligence was pretty straightforward.” Then, in a mad dash that lasted only a little over two months, ownership of Applied Image, which had remained constant under its founder for the past 43 years, was transferred to Jackling, the CEO and President, on December 31, 2021.

With the entire industry positioned at the cusp of a photonics technology revolution, Jackling has ambitious plans for Applied Image. “We have investors that want to see the business grow. So, we’re starting to think outside the box in that regard.”

While Applied Image can potentially impact technologies from the nano-level to the macro-level that aid the exploration of the universe, Jackling remains acutely aware of how the Rochester community is affected. “I’ve made Applied Image home. We have 33 employees whose families depend on the decisions that I make every day. I take that responsibility very seriously.” 

He encourages Simon students to get as much and broad experience as possible in their coursework. “You don’t know what will serve you best down the road. So, don’t cast your net too narrow because opportunities could come from any experience.  Simon gave me the courage and confidence to use what I have learned.” He adds, “Finding someone who checks all the boxes is different than finding someone right for the job.  We value people who come with a curious mind and who can articulate how they can help us.”