Millman to step down from Chroma

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ROCKINGHAM — The chief executive officer of Chroma Techology Corp. is retiring after 29 years with the innovative employee-owned company that he helped found.

Paul Millman of Brattleboro said Thursday his retirement was announced a year ago, and that the company's current chief financial officer Newell Lessell is set to succeed him.

Millman, 72, said Lessell was hired about four years ago with the idea that he would ultimately lead the employee-owned company that makes high performance optical filters at its Rockingham plant.

Millman, who has been heavily involved with the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and the Vermont Business Roundtable, received the Terry Ehrich Award for Socially Responsible Business in 2016.

Millman said in a telephone interview that he was very optimistic about the future of the company, which he founded along with five other fellow employees at another optical filter manufacturing company from Windham County - Omega Optical of Brattleboro.

Chroma Technology now employs about 150 people, and about a year ago moved into its greatly expanded Rockingham headquarters, after considering a move to downtown Bellows Falls.

The company is growing rapidly, Millman said, at about 10 percent a year; the company had $34.5 million in sales last year, and it has small offices in China, Japan and Germany, as well as Burlington, selling optical filters in the photonics industry.

"The next generation of leadership at Chroma is well suited to take Chroma forward. Newell Lessell was brought on with the idea that he would one day take over the leadership of Chroma. He has a long history in the employee-ownership movement. And it was a great day when former IBM executive Janette Bombardier agreed to join Chroma. There are very few with her experience in high tech manufacturing. We're really lucky that way," Millman said.

Lessell said Friday that Millman would be missed at the company for his expert customer service and statewide leadership on social issues.

"Paul is very passionate, and is 100 percent committed to customer service and customers," he said.

He said Millman had "a strong moral compass" that he and others imbedded in the culture at Chroma. He said Millman believed in an "egalitarian pay structure and a democratic work environment."

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"Paul will be missed," he said.

Lessell said his own connection with Chroma began more than 20 years ago because his business consultancy focused on employee-owned companies.

"We're evolving as a company," Lessell said, transitioning from what he called "a job shop" to a business with increasingly larger customers, and customers outside of the biomedical field.

Millman said the abandoned project to create a new campus for Chroma on The Island - an old industrial area immediately adjacent to the downtown area - was one of his great disappointments in his career, since he thought it would have fulfilled many social missions near and dear to his heart.

He said having the business in the downtown area would have been good for Chroma but also for the town and village.

Millman said he will continue working until the end of April, when Lessell takes over to lead the company along with Bombardier, who will become the chief technology officer.

Chroma, with its starting salary at $40,000 a year for an entrance level employee, has long been a coveted spot to land for people in southeastern Vermont, landing on lists of 'best places to work' because of its generous salary and benefits, as well as profit sharing.

Millman said since the company is employee owned, every employee shares equally in the company's profits, from himself to an entry level employee. He said the company keeps its ratio of top pay to bottom pay on a 5-1 ratio, and he said he was the the company's highest paid employee at $220,000, with the lowest at about $40,000.

The company has been employee owned since it was founded in 1991 by Millman, Wim Auer, Wendy Cross, Dick Stewart, Jay Reichman and Frank Kebbell. The company was first located in the Cotton Mill in Brattleboro, and when it needed to expand, it looked north to Rockingham.

Millman said that Auer, Reichman and Stewart are all currently still working at Chroma.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 556-2147.

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