San Diego Business Journal

Rodney Lanthorne, the longtime president of Kyocera International Inc., will leave his position March 31 to become vice chairman of the board of directors, the company said Jan. 4. He’ll be replaced by John Rigby, the current president of Kyocera Industrial Ceramics Corp.

The change is scheduled to go into effect April 1 and mark the first time Lanthorne will not be part of the company’s day-to-day operations since 1979, when he joined Kyocera as chief financial officer. San Diego-based Kyocera International is Kyocera Corp.’s North American headquarters and leads seven wholly owned subsidiaries, including Kyocera Wireless Corp., Kyocera America Inc. and Kyocera Solar Inc.

Rigby, 54, will relocate to San Diego from KICC’s corporate home in North Carolina to assume his new role as president of KII. He’ll be replaced by David Williams, who will leave his position as vice president of the Kyocera Cutting Tools Division in North Carolina.

Lanthorne, 64, said he has “mixed feelings” about leaving a position he’s held for 23 years, but said the time is right. “I’ll be celebrating my 65th birthday next month so it seems like an appropriate time to hand off the baton,” said Lanthorne. “But I’ll be staying involved in the company from a strategic standpoint in mentoring the next generation.”

Not A New Idea

He said the succession plan is timed with the start of Kyocera’s new fiscal year and has been in the works for some time. “It’s something we’ve been contemplating for five years now,” said Lanthorne. “One of the core principles of Kyocera is that it likes to promote from within and everyone feels John Rigby is a very good fit for this position.”

Lanthorne has been president of the North American headquarters and holding company of Japan-based Kyocera since 1987 and has been a driving force in its emergence as one of the top 10 mobile phone makers in the world. In 2000, he was instrumental in Kyocera’s acquisition of Qualcomm Inc.’s handset division, a move that created Kyocera Wireless, a leading supplier of wireless devices and accessories.

In 2008, Kyocera expanded its reach in the market with the $468 million purchase of Sanyo’s mobile phone business. At the time, Sanyo was the 10th largest mobile phone maker in the world and Kyocera the ninth largest.

Kyocera is currently in the process of integrating its global handset business and Lanthorne said he “will remain responsible for the next phase of this integration” as vice chairman.

Kyocera was a manufacturer of specialty ceramics when it established its North American corporate headquarters on Balboa Avenue in San Diego in 1971, and Lanthorne helped the company go public in 1976 while working as a CPA for accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand. In 1989, he became one of the first Americans appointed to Kyocera’s board of directors.

Kyocera Veteran

Rigby has been with the company since 1981. He headed its electro-optic components sector before being appointed executive vice president of Kyocera Industrial Ceramics in 1999. He has served as the company’s president since 2001.

Rigby will take over Kyocera’s North American operations at a time when the company is feeling the effects of the recession across all six of its divisions, which manufacture cell phones, solar panels, telecommunications equipment, cutting tools and medical components.

In October, Kyocera Corp. reported $93 million in profit from operations for the first six months of fiscal 2010, an 85.8 percent decline from a year earlier. In fiscal 2009, Kyocera reported global sales of $11.5 billion, a 12 percent decrease.

But Kyocera’s ability to produce a profit in a recession and its exposure in high growth areas such as cell phones and solar panels has kept investors interested. As of Jan. 6, its stock, listed as KYO on the New York Stock Exchange, was trading at $91.20, just below its 52-week high of $93.20.

Doug Desjardins is a freelance writer for the Business Journal.