Sky Isn’t Limit For Parini

March 15, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Anyone thinking that 72-year-old Joseph A. Parini is retired and off somewhere enjoying the weather is only about half correct.

Yes, the former CEO of West Michigan-based aerospace defense contractors Lear Siegler and Rospatch is indeed enjoying the weather. But no, Parini is definitely not retired. Not yet, anyway.

For the past six years, Parini has quietly “retired” his way into another type of business venture. He is president and CEO of Grand Rapids-based International Met Systems Inc., which builds and provides technology for weather testing units used by weather services throughout the world.

“People ask me if I really go to work at my age,” Parini said. “I tell them ‘No, I go to have fun.’

“When you start a business, you run it. Then, it begins to run you.

“But it’s not really work for me. If you can’t get up in the morning without a little bit of passion, you might be in the wrong business or doing the wrong thing. But I love what I am doing. I don’t need to be off to Florida or somewhere doing nothing. I have lived all over the country and I love being right here in West Michigan.”

International Met Systems is one of the world’s leading producers of upper-air meteorological systems that measure atmospheric conditions from ground level to 100,000 feet. The information is vital for weather forecasts, climatological research and the study of global warming.

“What we supply is upper-air instrumentation for meteorological purposes,” Parini said. “We supply the systems that do the measurements of national weather services and other weather services as well.

“We supply the ground systems and will be supplying the radiosonde instruments which go under balloons that are launched at ground service stations.”

The balloons rise approximately 1,000 feet per minute up to 32 kilometers — or 100,000 feet — carrying the radiosonde devices into the upper atmosphere. The radiosondes send four different types of meteorological readings — temperature, air pressure, humidity and wind speeds — back down to the ground stations for tracking purposes.

When the balloons burst, the radiosondes float back down to earth — or sea — with parachutes, after the radiosondes telemeter the information back down to the ground stations used for tracking weather patterns.

That information is subsequently disbursed and used by national weather services, and is disseminated to other agencies such as radio and television stations for forecasting weather.

Outside of the United States, International Met Systems also has contracts in Norway, India and South America. The company works closely with organizations such as World Weather Watch and agencies such as the World Meteorological Organization, which is affiliated with the United Nations.

“Weather is basically a government-run entity, but we do sell individual systems to universities for research,” Parini said.

InterMet is currently in the process of upgrading the entire upper air network for the United States by replacing the ground stations at more than 100 sites. The upper air stations in Michigan are located in Alpena and near Detroit.

“There are 102 stations in the United States where balloons are site launched twice a day with radiosondes,” Parini said. “That’s how weather forecasts are made in the United States.”

The InterMet ground systems — The Advanced GPS/RDF Sounding System, 1680/403 MHz Weather Sounding System and IMS-2000 Telemetry Receiver System — link up with global positioning satellite systems and receive information sent by the radiosondes. The ground stations look like large radar units.

Parini had been U.S. CEO of Israeli defense contractor Elbit in Boston prior to his “retirement” in 1997. That’s when he began InterMet operations.

After serving as CEO for Lear Siegler throughout the 1970s, Parini served as CEO for Rospatch from 1981-1990, when the company was broken up and sold off in pieces. He then became CEO of Elbit — a $500 million Israeli-held defense company with U.S. operations — until 1996 when it was divided into three different companies. Parini still serves on the board of directors for Elbit and Wolverine World Wide.

“About six or seven years ago, I had to make a decision and felt retirement wasn’t for me,” Parini said. “I just wanted to stay intellectually stimulated. I met with engineers working on Navy programs and started this business.

“It was serendipity. Through my previous company, I knew about this technology and it intrigued me. Most of my life, I was involved in avionics building systems that deliver weapons before this opportunity hit me.

“The marketplace at the time was really dominated by two people, and I thought that the engineers we have — along with me coming out of avionics — we could put a new approach to this whole business.”

InterMet employs 15 in West Michigan and has a manufacturing facility in South Africa that employs 20. Parini said that much of the manufacturing for the ground stations is outsourced and the final assembly is completed at the Grand Rapids facility, located at 4460 40th St. SE. The company also has manufacturing and engineering resources in France, South Africa and other parts of the United States.

“For all of our products, and even in the future, we will find somebody to manufacture it for us to our design,” Parini said. “We try to minimize soldering irons, and there are a lot of resources that we can go out and use even in this area, and we do.”

Parini said that InterMet’s annual sales are somewhere between the $5 million and $6 million range, but he expects those numbers to rise — like the balloons from the ground stations — when its version of disposable radiosondes hits the market.

“To this point, we’ve been primarily focused on ground systems, but most of the money in these systems is spent on the disposable radiosondes that are attached to the balloons and measure the weather,” Parini said. “We have not been in that business to date, but expect to enter that arena this year.

“Currently, we buy other people’s radiosondes for our systems, but when we offer our own version, which will be better and at a lower cost, then it will increase the bottom line significantly.”

It will create InterMet’s version of one-stop shopping for weather watchers.

And with more than 100 stations in the U.S. alone, each required to launch two radiosondes per day, that equates to 200 launches per day at just under $100 per launch. Parini said that it all adds up to an even healthier bottom line for InterMet.

Even so, anyone thinking that the sky is the limit for Parini and his International Met Systems company is only about half correct.

“Actually, outer space is the limit right now, because we go up to the edge of space,” he said.    

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