Starting Fresh after 34 Years in the Business

Starting Fresh after 34 Years in the Business

It’s always interesting to hear about the stories and experiences of businesses in our industry. The success stories are most common, but the stories of struggle and failure are often the most interesting. After 34 years in the integration business, myself and two partners formed a new business last fall and purchased the assets of the commercial integration business we had run together for 17 years. Now we are having new experiences that will be the stories we tell in the next few years

But, are we a new business or an old business? Some of our team goes back with me to the 80s and 90s when I was just a kid in our industry. Others were part of a business started in 1985 that our former company purchased in 1997. Now we’ve blended all that experience and history into a new business, not a green start, but the continuation of three and a half decades of experience, customers, relationships, partnerships, and lots and lots of stories. It’s created a few challenges that you might find interesting.

First, how do you create a new story about a new business that stands on the shoulders of all the people, projects, and experience of the last 35 years? We have a new name, but we’re not really new. Our legacy is identified with names of the companies that came before, but the real legacy is our people, our vendor partners, and the loyalty of our customers. The previous company name continues in the marketplace, and we don’t want to cause confusion, but there is confusion. We found the answer in the hundreds of touch points that occur every day. Every conversation, every proposal, every email, every invoice is an opportunity to reinforce our brand promise, our experience, and our commitment to our customers and partners. Our website, literature, vehicles, and signs all needed to demonstrate stability, innovation, and trust.

Second, past performance is not necessarily an indication of future results. The most fascinating discussions and the most work during our transition of the past seven months has been establishing new relationships for the new entity with all of our old partners and customers. Although we might have worked together with some primary vendor partners for the last 15 to 30 years, we still needed to demonstrate our financial strength, provide a business plan, and convince them to continue business as usual with our new company. Every general contractor, developer, and many of our large customers made us start over by filling out qualification packages, providing financial and business records, certificates of insurance, bonding, and workers comp history (Workers compensation history was an interesting discussion, since the new entity has no history).

Third and maybe the most important challenge was demonstrating to the fifty plus staff who transferred to the new company that us older guys knew what we were doing, that we had a plan they could believe in, the financial strength to make sure they still got paid, and that they wouldn’t be subjected to unnecessary change. I made an early decision to carry over as many existing professional relationships from my past to build the foundation of the new company. I wanted the same bank, business insurance, bonding, health insurance, payroll processing, business software and major vendor partners, and thankfully they all agreed.

In my last article a few months ago, I announced our new business would be cloud based, to reflect the path many of our customers and products are taking. Now that the transition is complete, I’m pleased to report that it works. We are hosting our email exchange, file storage and sharing, accounting software, document imaging, phone system, and even our new building security and camera surveillance. I’ll admit that some of our staff has struggled to maintain their patience while we became a cloud-based business, but with the help of our IT staff and an outside expert, things are settling down. The real value of a hosted business became clear on May 1st when we moved into a new facility 15 miles away. The internet was up and running, and we literally picked up our computers and phones, plugged them in at the new facility, waited a couple hours for the domain to populate, and we were back in business. A few staff even figured out that with hosted business services, they could work reliably from home (occasionally).

What a world we now live in. I just wish I were twenty years younger. I bet some of you feel the same way.

Mike Bradley is the President and CEO of ECD Systems in Scottsdale, Arizona, . Mike is a graduate of Arizona State University and has participated in sales and management in the low voltage contracting industry for thirty-four years. Mike served for eleven years on the board of directors for the NSCA (National System Contractors Association) and is a frequent speaker on marketing and management topics at various industry events.

Somehow I Manage

Fans of NBC’s popular TV show The Office may remember Somehow I Manage, the business memoir of Dunder Mifflin’s wayward boss, Michael Scott (played by the hilarious Steve Carell). This fictional book acts as a running gag throughout the show, capturing the essence of that burning question about how Michael, who spends more time cracking jokes vs. actually managing, is still able to run a successful branch in a mid-level paper company. Of course, while Michael’s management style is comical, he at times offers sound advice for business managers. Here’s just a few of my favorites:

* “People will never be replaced by machines. In the end, life and business are about human connections. And computers are about trying to murder you in a lake. And to me the choice is easy.”— Ok, so this was in reference to when Michael’s GPS ‘made’ him drive into a lake, but his comment on human connections is key. In order to run a business, you need to pay close attention to the relationships you build with your clients and your employees.

* “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”—A classic quote from the series, this alludes to Michael’s management style. He understands that taking the route of a ‘feared’ boss is not the one he wants, but he also wants to be respected. Finding that balance with your employees is important as a leader.

* “The only time I set the bar low is for limbo.”—This is an easy one. Keeping your aspirations high, and working to achieve those goals will help you succeed. If you set your bar low, you won’t make it as far as you’d hope. Which leads us to…

* “Never, ever give up,”—Quite possibly one of my favorite moments in the entire show, when Jim tells Michael he’s in love with Pam, and Michael responds with this. Sure, the context is on a personal level, but from a business perspective, it’s still relevant. Everyone faces failure in his or her business, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Set a goal, keep pushing, and you will succeed.

So grab that ‘World’s Best Boss’ mug, carry it proudly, and get back to work.
—Kelleigh Welch