Sharp Plans Changes at Irvine Firm : Hycom Is Expected to Grow as Company's New U.S. Sales Arm

Times Staff Writer

Sharp Corp., the Japanese electronics giant, said Wednesday that it has begun an expansion and major refocusing of its Irvine-based Hycom Inc. research firm.

The plan to turn the small operation into Sharp's U.S. sales arm for the printers and other add-on equipment it sells to major computer manufacturers ultimately will add dozens of jobs at Hycom headquarters and, Sharp hopes, boost annual sales in the United States by hundreds of millions of dollars.

To run the new sales operation, Hycom has recruited Gregory J. Peel, former vice president of international sales for Western Digital Corp. in Irvine. As vice president of sales and marketing, Peel will share responsibility for the new operation with two longtime Sharp executives recently transferred to Hycom--Toru (Ted) Kojima, vice president of operations, and Takehiro Hamanaka, corporate director and general manager of marketing.

Until now, Sharp required U.S. customers for its computer peripherals--including printers, color scanners, monitors and information storage devices--to buy directly from Japan. The process created a long pipeline and stunted Sharp's sales to American computer manufacturers, Peel said Thursday.

In most of its worldwide markets, he said, Sharp's sales are derived almost equally from consumers and manufacturers.

But Sharp's sales to computer makers, known as original equipment manufacturer, or OEM, sales, in the United States last year were "negligible" when compared to the $1.5 billion logged by its U.S. consumer electronics unit in New Jersey, according to Peel.

Peel said that initial plans call for Hycom--which now has about 30 employees, to add about a dozen people to the sales staff. Further employment gains, he said, would come with sales growth.

That growth could come rather quickly if Sharp is aggressive in its marketing efforts, industry analysts said.

"Sharp has been increasing its role in the laptop computer market and has been an industry leader in color liquid crystal display technology," said Bill Lempesis, a computer-industry analyst with Dataquest Inc. in San Jose. The company's growing reputation as a portable computer maker, he said, could stand it in good stead in the increasingly competitive OEM market.

Sharp officials said in a prepared statement that the company has built a new factory in Japan solely to provide products for the U.S. OEM market.

Peel said that Hycom is expected to outgrow its current facility in Irvine by late next year but intends to stay in Orange County.

Despite its new emphasis on OEM sales, Hycom's original mission of electronics research and development will not be abandoned, Peel said.

The company started in 1972 as a joint venture with a group of U.S. electronics engineers. Sharp, through its Sharp Microelectronics Technology Inc. subsidiary in Vancouver, Wash., acquired 100% of the company in 1988.

Hycom brought its first commercial product--an internal modem for personal computers--to market earlier this year but has developed display-imaging systems, advanced computer chips and other products for Sharp and numerous other clients over the years, Hycom sales manager Jerry Henricks said.

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