James Farley

Machine Tool Builder

AMT Albert W. Moore Leadership Award


The most important course I ever took was Accounting, where I learned the language of business. Without it, I would not have been able to grow SpeedFam from job shop to one of the nation's leading exporters of machine tools.

Kansas born Jim Farley was a passionate entrepreneur, innovator and leader. He took a small lapping/manufacturing company, SpeedFam, global in the early 60’s, high-tech into the chip polishing semi-conductor business in the early 90’s and in 1995, he took SpeedFam public while operating in ten countries.

With his wife, Nancy, he endowed in 2008, Farley Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation within the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University to “provide all students the training & support to evolve engineering beyond the application of the sciences to the creation & management of businesses that capitalize on innovations and to empower students, faculty, staff and alumni with skills to be successful entrepreneurs.” Because the diagnostic equipment was not available in his local hospital when he needed it, he and Nancy endowed the James N. & Nancy J. Farley Non-Invasive Cardiodiagnostics Center at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center, so that others in their community would not have to travel for cardiac diagnostic care.

Jim was equally proud of his roles as father of five, and husband of 56 years, “we agreed that Nancy would run the family while I ran the business. I think she did a better job than I did and we sure couldn’t have done what we did on the business side without her."

Career History

1950 General Electric, Schenectady,  New York; Test Engineer

1950-52 US Army Signal Corps, White Sands Missile Range, Radar Engineer tracking test missiles and rockets during the Korean War

1952-60 Allen Bradley, Sales Engineer  – 1955 Farley recalled “Allen Bradley dispatched their best looking salesman, JNF, “ to Steve Boettcher at Abrading Systems, Skokie, IL, a contract lapping (job shop) to sell push buttons and motor controls

1960 JNF leaves Allen Bradley to join SpeedLap Corporation (formerly Abrading Systems) and is soon promoted to Sales Manager

JNF purchased a 35% position in Boettcher’s SpeedLap Corporation

JNF developed regional distributors to market SpeedLap machines, growing the part-time sales force to 150+

1962 SpeedLap Corporation expands sales to all of Europe, using a distributor sales model 

1964 SpeedLap S.A. established in France to build machines in order to meet the requirement to manufacture in Europe in order to exhibit at the European Machine Tool Show

1965 SpeedLap name changed to SpeedFam to better reflect their actual process: Free Abrasive Machining

1965 SpeedLap Trading Company, aka Western Hemisphere Trading Company, established to market SpeedFam in Latin America

1965 SpeedLap established manufacturing in Germany 

1969 SpeedFam AG formed in Switzerland to market SpeedFam in Europe

SpeedFam GmbH established as European manufacturing site

SpeedFam S.A. closed

JNF travels to Japan to meet Makoto Kouzuma. They agree to set up liaison office in Tokyo. JNF, “after many late night phone calls from Kozuma-San, offers him life-time employment. This resolves late night phone calls.”

1971 SpeedFam Co. Ltd. Established in Japan as a 50/50 joint venture with Obara Engineering, Ltd. 

“JNF and Mr. Obara being of similar age, would be co-equals and thus not beholden to one another – important in Japanese culture.”

1972 SpeedFam Sales Co. opened as a DISC, a Domestic International Sales Corporation, pursuant to the Revenue Act of 1971

1974 SpeedFam GmbH closed due to exchange problems, all manufacturing for European markets moved to Des Plaines, IL

1975 Boettcher and Farley split SpeedFam – Boettcher keeps the job shop (Abrading Systems Corp),  Farley keeps the machine manufacturing business (SpeedFam)

1975 JNF signs $4.4M order for 48 silicon capable 32” SpeedFam machines with the USSR

1979 Subsidiary Hi-Tech Co. Ltd, Taipei, Taiwan established

1980 Shinto priest blesses the grounds for the relocated SpeedFam Co., Ltd factory in Ayase-City, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

1980 Speed Fam Co., Ltd opens branch office in Seoul, South Korea

1981 SpeedFam Electronic Equipment Group started in Chandler, AZ to be closer to Silicon Valley 

1986 Joins MAC Advisory Council for McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University

1986 Establishes “Undergraduate Machining & Prototype Lab” within the Fort Motor Company Engineering Design Center at Northwestern University 

1988 SpeedFam Corp. renamed FamTec International Inc, Electronic Equipment Group moves to new factory in Chandler, AZ, sales exceed $20M

1989 SpeedFam Co., Ltd opens sales office in Singapore

1990 SpeedFam Co., Ltd opens sales office in Peking, PRC

1991 SpeedFam initiates CMP design effort

1995 FamTec International, Inc. renamed SpeedFam International, Inc. 

1995 SFAM begins trading on the NASDAQ following IPO of 2.8M  shares

1997 Secondary offering of 3.45M shares

          Secondary offering of 2.18M shares

100th CMP machine shipped

1998 Speed-Fam International, Inc. merges with Integrated Process Equipment Corp (IPEC) to become SpeedFam-IPEC

2002 SpeedFam-IPEC acquired by Novellus Systems, Inc. 

JNF retires from SpeedFam-IPEC

JNF  Group, LLC founded

2008 –  The Farley Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation established within the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University to” empower students, faculty and alumni across the university with the skills to be successful entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs and to provide all NU students with training and support to evolve engineering beyond the application of the sciences to the creation and management of businesses that capitalize on innovations.”

2008 – James N. & Nancy J. Farley Non-Invasive Cardiodiagnostics Department established at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center, Scottsdale, AZ.  Farley awarded “2008 Doctor of Philanthropy” by Scottsdale Healthcare Foundation



Northwestern University, Bachelor of Science, Electrical Engineering – 1950

Farley was a co-op student with General Electric Corporation

Farley entered Northwestern University as a 16 year old freshman in the fall, 1945. His class was comprised primarily of returning servicemen, his room mate was 27. Farley often remarked that “a good portion of my education occurred outside the classroom.”

“I graduated as a highly trained vacuum tube engineer. As they handed me my diploma, they said,  “what we taught you is obsolete, semi-conductors were invented while you were here, good luck, Farley.””


1970 – US Department of Commerce President’s “E” Award in recognition of efforts to increase exports

1981 – US Department of Commerce President’s “E Star Award in continued recognition of noteworthy export promotion efforts

1980 –  President Jimmy Carter recognizes JNF at the White House Conference on Small Business

1982-  “Illinois Export Achiever of the Year” awarded at the 46th annual Chicago World Trade Conference by the Illinois District Export Council

1987 –  SpeedFam named “Chicago Area’s Best Small Business” by Arthur Anderson

1996-  “Alumni Merit Award,” Northwestern University

1996-  James N. & Nancy J. Farley Professor of Engineering & Entrepreneurship endowed at Northwestern University to “a professor whose qualifications & accomplishments include success in the fields of entrepreneurship and manufacturing”

1996 – Mechanical Engineering hallway in the Technological Institute Building at Northwestern University renamed “James N. & Nancy Farley Mechanical Engineering Wing” 

1997 – “Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year “ awarded by USA Today, Ernst & Young, the Kauffman Foundation and NASDAQ

2004 – “Albert W. Moore Leadership Award” by the Association for Manufacturing Technology


Association for Manufacturing Technology