Carl J. Johnson

Chairman and Director
II-VI Incorporated
BSEE ’64

In recognition of his technical, entrepreneurial, and management success and his outstanding support of education

When he attended Purdue from 1960 through 1964, Carl Johnson didn’t plan on becoming an entrepreneur. He did, however, develop an interest in solving technical problems.

“The roots of the company that I would eventually co-found actually started at Purdue,” he explains. Upon taking an undergraduate course in laser technology, he was “captured by the idea that you could amplify light.” At Purdue, Johnson had also come to learn the importance of materials limitations in engineering, which in turn limit everything else. Through additional work in university-based laser research, he became more aware that these limitations were creating barriers to progress. “The infrared optical materials commercially available to the laser industry at the time were not capable of standing up to the kilowatt power levels being projected and sought after by fledgling CO2 laser developers,” he says.

The desire to find alternatives sparked the inception of II-VI Incorporated, a manufacturing company that today produces numerous crystalline compounds, including zinc selenide and diamond for infrared laser optics; yttrium aluminum garnet, yttrium lithium fluoride, and yttrium vanadate for solid-state lasers; silicon carbide for high-power electronic and microwave applications; and bismuth telluride for thermoelectric coolers. The company serves a diversified base of clients, including industrial manufacturing companies, military and aerospace organizations, high-power electronics and telecommunications equipment suppliers, and thermoelectric component and system producers. The company’s name, pronounced “two-six,” refers to groups II and VI of the Periodic Table of Elements, identifying the two groups of elements that served as the basis for the materials, devices, and components initially produced by the company.

From its modest beginnings, consisting of himself and co-founder James E. Hawkey “working out of a garage,” as Johnson puts it, the company rose to considerable success.

“Suppliers in the field had to respond to the need for better materials, so we learned how to manufacture high-quality, thoroughly tested optical materials to serve the industry. We realized that laser technology was an important development for general industry, medicine, science, and the military.”

Today, II-VI is a world leader in its field, with over 5,000 employees working in 16 manufacturing plants and 13 sales and engineering centers throughout the world, including the United States, Singapore, China, Vietnam, Germany, Japan, and the Philippines. “It has turned out better than we ever could have thought,” he says.

In 2007, Johnson and his wife, Margot, started the II-VI Foundation. Its mission is to “encourage and enable students to pursue a career in engineering, science, and mathematics.” The foundation targets students from kindergarten through graduate school, providing early-education program support, undergraduate scholarships, and graduate-research funding. Purdue is one of 14 institutions currently receiving research support.

“To put it simply, it’s give-back time,” Johnson says. “Our goal is to target students who are really interested in science and technology, get them into the right channel, and help them stay there.”

Career Highlights

Current Chairman and Director, II-VI Incorporated
1971–2007 Co-founder, President, CEO, Chairman, and Director, II-VI Incorporated
1966–1971 Director of Research and Development, Essex International
1964–1966 Member of Technical Staff, Bell Telephone Laboratories
1969 PhD, University of Illinois
1965 MSEE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1964 BSEE, Purdue University