It’s hard not to think of the late Bradley Edward Meyers as an outsized, almost mythical figure in Hollywood film. Think Edward Bloom, Albert Finney’s character in the movie Big Fish. Or one of Jimmy Stewart’s three leading roles in Frank Capra pictures.
Meyers, who was born in 1941, dropped out of college and worked a series of odd jobs before he combined his discrepant interests in SCUBA diving and explosives to start SeaMesh Corporation from his Seattle home in 1972.
This truly unexampled underwater demolition company cleared barnacles and other stubborn marine life and leavings from the hulls of large ships by using an explosive lattice-like net that, when detonated, produced high-pressure waves that stripped ships clean. Meyers charged $3,000 for the service, which could be performed while the ship was anchored in water. The more traditional mode of cleaning ships cost $15,000 and required several days in dry dock.
The idea worked … for a while.
After one cleansing detonation, a ship’s hull was so seriously damaged ($93,000 worth of toilets stored on board were destroyed, as well as electric generator sets), Meyers’ career in underwater demolition abruptly ceased.
Meyers, a fan of the motivational speaker and author Earl Nightingale, wasn’t discouraged. He turned his interests toward telescopes, astronomy, and eventually lasers and night vision technology.
By the early 1980s, SeaMesh Corporation was renamed B.E. Meyers & Co., and Meyers produced some of the first night vision and long-range surveillance systems to be sold commercially in the United States.
“A lot of that money went toward counter-narcotics and narcotics surveillance equipment, which night vision fell right into,” said Matthew Meyers, Bradley’s son, who spent nine years in the Army and is the president and CEO of B.E. Meyers & Co. “My dad became the guy for night vision technology.”
In later years, B.E. Meyers & Co. produced high-powered infrared and visible lasers for weapons used by the U.S. Department of Defense during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the company became a leading supplier of laser technology during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Anyone who has ever seen video footage of soldiers moving room to room through a building at night with weapons aimed, green lasers dancing across various surfaces, helping to illuminate precarious war zones knows the work of B.E. Meyers & Co.
Today, the Redmond company is a leader in advanced photonics, and employs approximately 85 people.
Bradley Meyers died last year at age 75. Matthew, 39, discussed his father’s legacy, his own experience using B.E. Meyers & Co. products as a soldier in the Army, and the future of his family’s business.
Q: Your father did a lot of different things for work before he started B. E. Meyers & Co. and settled on developing advanced lasers. Is that correct?
A: Yes. He had over 50 jobs — grave digger, truck driver, traveling salesman. He went to college for a semester, hated it, dropped out, and started selling orange juice and encyclopedias door-to-door. He had a home astronomy business. People would come over to our house at about 8 p.m. He would feed them dinner, sell them (telescopes), show them the stars, and they would fall asleep on our front lawn. My dad said it gave him the rest of the day to tinker and do whatever else.
Q: He didn’t go to college, but I can’t imagine being able to make advanced lasers without learning science and technology. How did he do it?
A: He would read technical manuals. He would just go figure it out. My dad would always ask, “Why is that happening?” as opposed to just saying, “Look at that. Isn’t that interesting?”
Q: It was only within the last 30 years or so that your father’s career and business took off, correct?
A: It was a long time before (my dad made) a profit. My mom was a stewardess at United Airlines, and she was the main breadwinner in the family for years.
He started tinkering with night vision (technology). He built the Dark Invader, which came out in 1981 or 1982, right after Star Wars, so he had the whole brand association. Dark Invader was so close to Darth Vader. It’s stupid, but it worked.
He was on the road selling Dark Invader to police departments across the country. Local law enforcement agencies were receiving money for the war on drugs and a lot of narcotics surveillance, which night vision fell right into. My dad was the guy to call, and that’s kind of when things started picking up. Then he started doing the integration for long-range surveillance and infrared illuminators. B. E. Meyers & Co. really went from a night vision company to hitting on this burgeoning military laser market.
As my mom said, “The company was an overnight success, 30 years in the making.”
Q: When you were a soldier in the military, were you using your father’s products?
A: Absolutely. In Afghanistan, our gun truck was nicknamed Spaceball One because there were B.E. Meyers lasers coming out of it from everywhere.
I saw what really worked well. I saw what I wanted to do differently, and what I thought we weren’t doing well. My dad would take me to every engineering test (as a kid), so I was always around (the products). But the combat applications piece was totally new.
On Haifa Street in Baghdad, we had just taken fire, and I remember using my lasers to illuminate the inside of a building that was all blacked out. When I came here, I had that knowledge, which was extremely beneficial. But then I was faced with the whole, “How do lasers work?” The technical side of things was a steep learning curve. I’m not an engineer, but I’m still learning every day.
Q: How did you happen to start working for the family business?
A: After my last deployment, my body had just kind of gone to absolute hell. I discovered I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — two cystic masses that spread through my torso and almost into my lungs. I recovered, but I wasn’t in shape to be in the Army anymore.
I started working here in 2010. I was the weapons product manager for a while, then the director of marketing, (then) business development, (then) sales, and then kind of (moved into) an interim president role.
Dad and I worked together. It was like any family business. Sometimes it was harmonious; sometimes it was not. My dad and I were kind of the unstoppable force and the immovable object, and that could cause major problems. But at the end of the day, we both wanted the same thing — move the company forward and develop new things.
Before he died, my dad basically told me, “You know, you do a lot of things I don’t agree with (and in ways) I wouldn’t do them, but they are working better than anything that I’ve ever tried.” That was the greatest thing he ever could have said to me.
Q: What does the future look like for B.E. Meyers & Co.?
A: I’m interested in where we are going as an advanced laser company at our core. That doesn’t always equate to strapping something on a weapons system. Rather, what can we do with the skills we have?
We are looking at the future in terms of mapping, sensing, and measuring. Whether it’s LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) or some other multisensor fusion capability, how do we take the skills we have and apply them in new ways?
I’m a map nerd, so that’s a big point of interest for me. LIDAR is used in so many mapping configurations. There’s an infinite number of things that you can do. I would be really interested in bathymetry, mapping the ocean floor, doing things that are a little bit outside the curve for us. How do you make something that you sell a lot of, but you also are doing something pretty different?
I think that’s it. Do something different and have fun with it.