“How would you like to run an AV company?” That’s a question Julian Phillips, executive vice president, Whitlock, was asked by a headhunter after selling a software company he ran. And, funnily enough, his initial response was, “What’s AV?”
Phillips could write a book on AV now, obviously, but perhaps it was his naiveté of the industry that contributed to his success. He took that AV job at Impact, of which he said, “Probably like a lot of integrators, the company needed a lot of work—certainly from a financial perspective—to get healthy.” One of his efforts was to focus on an emerging area of the AV business: managed services. With that, Phillips transformed the company’s financials; about 55 percent of the company’s gross margins came from managed services, which equated to about 28 percent of the revenue.
“That was my whole start in AV, and I got hooked.” Phillips recalled. “It took me about six months to be able to walk in a room and talk like an expert. It took me about a year to get so hooked that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
In 2010, Phillips received an offer from Doug Hall, Whitlock’s CEO, to join the company as vice president of managed services. It was a big decision for Phillips—one that would require moving his entire family from the UK to the United States. The move was a “fairly difficult professional challenge, but also a hugely difficult personal challenge. I did it on the basis that I genuinely believed the opportunity that Whitlock had was the one that would see me through to the end of my career,” Phillips said.
“When you make that kind of decision [leaving your home country], you can’t leave anything on the table,” he said. “I’ve always been the one who is the innovator and the bringer of new ideas. The challenge that I have is to help my colleagues figure out whether it’s going to be a good idea or not.”
Coming up with new ideas means not being afraid to make mistakes along the way, according to Phillips. “I’ve done some stupid stuff at Whitlock that didn’t work, but that was okay because we learned from it and ended up doing something that did work. I never stop trying.”
Phillips also brings those new ideas to AVIXA, where he served as chairman of the organization’s board of directors in 2018. “If I think about my time with AVIXA, I believe I’ve actually gained just as much as I’ve given,” he said of his volunteer experience. “One of the things I gained is the perspective around the exceptional experience, how important it is to look at environment and space, content and technology, and how you bring all those things together. It’s actually helped me drive innovation in the business.”
Using those idea of partnership, Phillips and his team created a business unit at Whitlock called Experience and Innovation. “We do not go to market by trying to do the space and the content on our own. We actually have partnerships that enable us to do that,” he said. “I’m very much focused on partnership as a strategy to enable innovation rather than trying to dramatically change or redirect the business on its own. The Experience and Innovation business unit has been wildly successful by partnership with experience design agencies.”
One the subject of innovation and business, Phillips concluded with one last bit of advice: “Innovation doesn’t necessarily have to be around lots of innovative new technology. You can innovate in your business model and you can innovate through partnerships.”
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