SCN Hall of Fame 2014: Merry McCleary

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Merry McCleary, president and CEO, Avyve Answering a routine, non-descript job-opening ad in the newspaper was the seemingly benign moment that launched Merry McCleary’s 25-year-strong career in the AV industry.

Upon learning the job was for copier sales, she politely ended the interview, explaining she just wasn’t interested.

She must have made quite an impression because the next day the company called her back to request an interview for a different position, this time selling presentation products. Her interest was piqued; LCD panels, overhead projectors, transparency film, “I thought, ‘Well this is kind of cool.’”

That position was with Hughes-Calihan Corporation, which shortly after she joined, was acquired by Lanier Worldwide, a subsidiary of Harris Corporation. Within a year, McCleary was promoted to regional manager for the Presentation Systems Division in the Southeast, overseeing the sales reps in 11 offices. She made the jump from box sales to integration sales at Spectrum Data Systems, where she honed a unique customer-centric business approach to systems integration, more or less spurning traditional sales strategies. At Spectrum, McCleary met Chris Bell, an engineer who was equally aligned with her business concepts, and together they launched Avyve, where she still serves as president and CEO 15 years later.

What McCleary observed about the industry that she grew to challenge was the predominately sales-oriented nature of AV systems integration. Highly enticing sales incentives were the original source of growth for the industry. “When I joined Spectrum and started designing more sophisticated systems, I understood how important these systems were to my clients,” she said, noting that the quality and thoughtfulness of the design and services were obviously critical to their success within organizations. “I started to think that it’s so odd that sales people are compensated to sell as much as you can as fast as you can. So this whole model started to confuse me. How could you be a key technology partner for your client if you’re constantly trying to hit a quota and win a trip? Your mind is not with the client; it’s with those goals.”

At Avyve, there are no sales people. More importantly, there is a project development team focused solely on the client and their specific goals and technology strategy. “We’re very cautious that we don’t incentivize them to close a certain amount of revenue this month or quarter because it might not be right for the client.”

The model has performed brilliantly for Avyve and its 15-year record of growth. They’ve never had to lay off an employee, and during the financial recession, Avyve had some of its best years in business. McCleary’s philosophy has been to “be cautious, go slow, think things through. What we’ve learned is that when you focus on the right things, the business comes.”

She beams about the “incredible opportunities” she’s had, including her role as one of the few women to have served on InfoComm’s Board of Directors for four years, the last two of which she sat on the executive committee. “It was an amazing experience, and I met some incredible mentors,” she said.

Volunteering to give back to the community extends beyond the AV industry for McCleary. Avyve was awarded by NSCA with the Excellence in Business Award for Philanthropic Contributions in 2011.

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The lobby of Avyve’s new headquarters outside Atlanta. Every year, Avyve contributes 1 percent of annual revenues to non-profit organizations. Over the years, Avyve has contributed to organizations that include the High Museum of Art, Open Hand, Tech Bridge, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta Opera, the High Museum of Art, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Lifeline Animal Shelter, the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, TJ Martell Foundation, Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, and others. As the company has grown, so has the level of financial participation from both Avyve and McCleary personally.

Avyve has also donated AV systems to the offices of non-profit organizations, and employees are encouraged to participate in charity programs.

McCleary’s forward-looking business model has evolved to cultivate investments in the future of the industry. Avyve recently expanded into new headquarters, which added a 10,000-squarefoot customer experience center earlier this year. Clients fly in from all over the country to view the space, featuring numerous vignettes of integrated spaces, overlaid with the latest collaboration tools, web video capabilities, and other associated advancements, including what the conference room of the future will look like. “We believe it’s very complicated now for clients to understand what they’re buying,” McCleary said. “We’ve made significant investment to help clients realize those choices before they make them.”

In order to enhance internal operations at Avyve, the company has employed in-house software developers to design custom applications that help streamline projects by tracking their status and data, approving products, and providing manufacturer pricing, all of which is searchable and sortable while connecting to costing software tools. New service management software is the latest development—Avyve’s first software allowing clients to interface remotely, combining asset management with service management while enabling clients to track live service tickets, review assets, and manage project details once they’re completed. “We think this is a game-changer in our industry,” McCleary said. “This is a critical component to our success in providing national project integration, installation, and support for our clients.”

When she’s not ensuring Avyve clients’ best interests are represented in their AV systems design and installation, McCleary is an avid cook, golfer, and traveler. She enjoys spending time in her vacation home in Sante Fe, as well as in Mattapoisett, MA, off of Buzzard’s Bay, where she is the third generation of her family to reside in the home.

Lindsey Adler is associate editor of Systems Contractor News, Residential Systems, and Healthcare AV.

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