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SCN Hall of Fame 2020: John Laughlin

John Laughlin, CTS, is a problem solver. His ability to fix processes and improve businesses is, after all, what got him into the pro AV industry in the first place.

John Laughlin, CTI

(Image credit: CTI)

Laughlin had a friend working at Conference Technologies Inc. (CTI) who asked him to join the company to help fix some business issues. Laughlin agreed to help for six months. He didn’t know it at the time, but he would be there a lot longer than that—he now owns the company and is CEO and president.

CTI was founded in 1988 by Dennis and Jane Woodhouse as a privately held audiovisual firm. At the end of his first week there, Dennis Woodhouse asked Laughlin what he thought they should change. “I told him to fire everyone but the two people who were actually doing work. He said we couldn’t do that, so we set up some easy rules instead, starting with the workday running from 8 to 5.”

Laughlin and the Woodhouses instituted new processes and worked to change the culture. People who were not a fit eventually left, and those who were willing to change and grow with the company stayed. “The CTI culture is by design,” Laughlin said. “We work to foster an environment of collaboration and education, and [to be] a place where people want to be a part of something.”

Laughlin, an entrepreneur at heart who says he’s had side hustles since the third grade, always wanted to own a business. “I told Jane and Dennis that the only way I’d stay was to earn sweat equity as a partner, and I knew eventually they would want to retire,” he reminisced. “I started in 1997 and earned 5 percent ownership each year. By 2008, I was able to buy them out, which was timed right with their retirement.”

Laughlin continued to grow the business with the Woodhouses over the early 2000s. In 2001, CTI made its first acquisition in Kansas City, KS, and the team learned to run a multi-city operation. Two years later, they added a Memphis team, followed by Omaha, and the list kept growing. “We have had a few years of acquiring multiple companies since then,” he said. “It has been a steady and strategic approach, and that has helped us adapt. Because with growth comes new challenges to navigate while ensuring everything stays on course.”

During this growth process, Laughlin managed to maintain the company’s positive culture, in part because of his personal motivation and collaborative nature. “I am not motivated by money,” he emphasized. “Building a company that is healthy and that helps employees afford things [like the ability to invest in their children’s education or buy their first home] is the biggest motivator.”

“Collaboration is a big part of CTI’s culture, as is the emphasis on relationships and involvement in all the industry organizations that help it advance,” he said. Laughlin, who serves board of directors for the PSNI Global Alliance, added, “It is equally crucial to our growth to be involved in industries outside of AV for different perspectives and educational opportunities that foster collaboration.”

Laughlin’s greatest collaboration is, indeed, outside of the office—he credits his wife, Mary, with much of CTI’s success. “She has been my rock through all the highs and lows and believed in everything we have set out to accomplish together. Her contribution is immeasurable and her name absolutely belongs on this Hall of Fame honor next to mine.”

READ MORE: SCN Hall of Fame 2020