The Faces of Entrepreneurship: Craig Hartzell, Azimuth Inc.
Issue:Winter 2015 : Articles
Craig Hartzell, president and CEO of Azimuth Inc., came to West Virginia in 1985. He was working for a small defense contractor lured to the state by the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd. In 1988 Hartzell started Azimuth, a company that supplies complex electronics, software mechanical engineering and manufacturing for federal agencies including the Department of Defense, FBI and NASA. The company, based in Morgantown, has more than 50 employees.
“The sole reason I started this company was, after living here for several years, I wasn’t leaving,” Hartzell said. “I had a strong desire to work for the military and I wanted to do it from West Virginia. “I’m a disabled U.S. military veteran,” he said. “I served in the 5th Special Forces Group. That was a rough-and-tumble, serious bunch of people that raised me as a very young soldier. I’m an old busted-up paratrooper.
“Serving in a line unit has a life-long effect on a person. Ask any Marine or any Army line-unit guy. It impacts the rest of your life — in most cases in a very positive way, I believe. I’ve worked in some fashion for the military — either in uniform or as a contractor — my entire adult life. That’s what gets me up in the morning.
“There isn’t a person in this company that does not have some sense of obligation and pride and motivation to support the defense of the United States. Sit back, take a breath and think about what we do and who we do it for — there’s a level of motivation there you don’t find in most jobs.
“I’m a rusty engineer. I know enough about engineering to be able to identify extremely competent talent. I am very good at only a few things. One is identifying people who are much smarter than I am. I have the ability to accept that. Our little company is held in high regard by a number of very serious federal customers.
“The Robert C. Byrd Institute has been extremely supportive of us. We’ve handed them a number of challenges, mostly in the area of high-end machining. The major job we succeeded at together was Naval Special Warfare-related work. We designed an integrated bridge, or dashboard, for a 90-foot patrol boat. They went on the boat with us and worked with us as if they were a part of our company. “The boat’s bridge was laid out in a standard fashion — mechanical dials and gauges and a bubble compass and all of that. We did a complete retrofit. We designed an integrated bridge for command, control, communication and navigation. It started with a SolidWorks 3-D drawing. Then we went to blue foam — a full-size mockup. We took it to the customer, who made some adjustments. We put it on the boat and did the form-fit-function. Then we went to RCBI and they trained us on the capability of a sixaxis, highly accurate end mill. We purchased carbonfiber panels and laid out the design. My folks worked down there a good month at CBI. We took that boat from just gauges and whatever to a very sophisticated electronics system.
“One of our more challenging jobs is with West Virginia University and the Personal Rapid Transit System. We’ve re-done a part of it in concert with WVU engineers. The current PRT car — the onboard computer — is a product we designed and manufactured arm-in-arm with WVU. We reduced the physical size and weight of the cars dramatically and replaced 21 circuit boards — 1970-71 technology — with four boards we designed and manufactured. I couldn’t do something like that on my best day but I’m good enough to be able to hire the guys and gals who can."