Mission Accomplished: From Navy SEAL to Ultra-High-End Integrator
How former Navy SEAL Chris Wyllie uses military efficiency to earn and manage major projects with SEAL Solutions in Hauppauge, N.Y. The company name SEAL represents Security, Electronics, Automation and Lighting.
August 21, 2015
The same virtues that made Chris Wyllie an extraordinary Navy SEAL have also helped make him an extraordinary integrator. The native Long Islander and founder of the aptly named SEAL Solutions (with the SEAL in this case representing Security, Electronics, Automation and Lighting) in Hauppauge, N.Y., has a certain something that is certainly not ordinary.
Pulling up to a jobsite of his earlier this summer at a huge and breathtaking home being built on Long Island’s North Shore, I am greeted by Wyllie’s firm handshake, eye-to-eye smile, and can instantly tell I am in the presence of someone who is capable of doing some pretty amazing things. The day did not disappoint.
Although Wyllie caters to a broad customer base, many of his jobs are very high end, and this one, located in an especially affluent area known as Long Island’s “Gold Coast,” was no exception.
Taking me on more than a 10-cent tour, he shows me the work in progress at this 19,000-square-foot waterfront home in the making. A ton of construction workers are on site to make this dream home a reality. Looking a lot like a modern-day Tara from Gone with the Wind, the workmanship is stunning. There are multiple staircases, beautiful banisters, bedrooms with fireplaces, outdoor balconies with jaw-dropping views encircling the home, a kitchen any chef would die for, a ballroom, rock-climbing recreation room complete with a sports car simulator, a home theater room, and these are just the highlights. The place is out-of-control incredible.
But taking in firsthand all the work that Wyllie has done to design, wire and install these massive systems, it’s plain to see that he is most definitely in control. Wyllie’s SEAL Solutions website has documented with photos and testimonials (including one by actor Liam Neeson) the impressive installs he’s doing as an integrator, and provides a bit of background on what he’s accomplished as a member of the elite U.S. Navy SEALs (sea, air, land team).
But how much does one really have to do with the other? More than you might think.
Two Careers, One Career Path
When Wyllie joined the military in 1994, he had already honed his A/V hobby skills, beginning by tinkering with car audio systems. But, looking back, he recalls he really didn’t know where life was going for him at 19. He was attending local college but didn’t see a clear career path ahead and was afraid he was going to be stuck in one he didn’t want.
“That’s when I had an epiphany,” he says. “I knew I had to make change, and pledged that if I was going to make a decision to join the military, I was going to be the best in the military that I could possibly be. My parents were like, ‘You’re too nice to be a SEAL.’ They thought a SEAL was a mercenary kind of guy, and I said, ‘No, that’s what I want to do.’”
COMPANY: SEAL Solutions
LOCATION: Hauppauge, N.Y.
REVENUES (FOR 2014): $1.5 million
PROJECTED REVENUES FOR 2015: $2 million
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 12
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 5
TOP 5 BRANDS: Crestron, Lutron, Sonance, Pakedge, IC Realtime
FYI: My advice to other integrators would be: “To not offer every product line; specialize; and become an expert in what you do.”
So off he went to the military, and through all kinds of training, from missile guidance to fire control and nine months of electrical schooling, right down to the diodes. As a member of Special Boat Unit Twelve, he was the communications representative during his service in the Persian Gulf.
He was also the Supervisor of Electronics. As a SEAL, he became a member of SEAL Team Two, continuing his work with electronics, including photo intelligence gathering, surveillance, etc. With a wistful look as he reminisces about those early days, Wyllie says that he had every intention of staying in the service, but was awarded an honorable discharge in September 2000, after an injury that left him with a titanium plate and screw in his neck. The next chapter in his life was ready to be written, though little did he know then that the writing was already on the wall.
Transitioning Back to Civilian Life
Wyllie says he found it difficult to transition back when he got out of the military. Not knowing exactly what to do next, he went back to college and finished not only his bachelor’s degree but his master’s in business, as well. In humble honesty, he relays that his girlfriend at the time, who is now his wife, arranged for a chat with her very successful businessman father.
“I thought he was going to help me get something going, but he didn’t,” Wyllie says, with a subtle smile on his face. “It was more of a life coach discussion. He told me to do something that will make me happy and the money would follow. I said to myself, ‘Yeah, what fortune cookie did you read that from?’ It took me about another year to figure out what he meant.
“One day, my now wife said, ‘You need a change. What do you like doing most?’ I said A/V and she said to do it.”
In what’s proven to be a wise decision, Wyllie left the stability of his union job and took his leap of faith, launching SEAL Solutions in 2003.
Working the Word of Mouth
Mid-level to high-end automation has been a steady focus for growing the business, although retrofits also figure into the mix. A typical high-end job for SEAL runs $150,000 to $200,000, although some of the bigger ones come with an extra comma, and some of the smaller jobs come in at about $25,000. And there’s always wiggle room for some upselling.
“If they don’t start at $100,000, some do get there eventually,” Wyllie notes. “By the end of a project, the clients upgrade to what they ultimately want. So, when you’re selling to a client, you have to future-proof it because they usually change what they want mid-stream. If you don’t future-proof, you shoot yourself in the foot, because every client is going to change their mind, so you prepare, in terms of wiring and account for space.”
Based on his native Long Island, Wyllie is in close enough proximity to the Manhattanites and the Hamptonites, and has built a rather attractive clientele.
“Yes, it’s an amazing clientele to have,” he says. It’s grown mainly by word of mouth and reputation. “To me, my word is the most important thing in the world,” he says. “When I say I’m going to do some-thing, I do it. I was always that stand-up person; I do what I said I was going to do, so over time, it’s helped me establish a client base that people know if they go with me, they’ll get the correct job. I’m not a fly-by-night company where if something goes wrong they disappear. I’ve built up a reputation for being someone who’s going to do it correctly, and make sure it gets accomplished.”
Catering to a high-end clientele, many of them celebrities, often entails fielding service calls at all hours and being on call on weekends, but that’s all in a day’s work for Wyllie.
Technical Expertise and Training
SEAL serves pretty much as a one-stop-shop and along with A/V and automation is licensed for alarm, CCTV, security, the works.
“I went through the training so when I put a camera up, it’s legal. If you don’t have a license to put a camera up, it can come back to bite you,” Wyllie says.
His background with training and mission guidance has provided him a high level of technical expertise and strategic thinking in understanding how everything in the home has to come together. For this North Shore waterfront home project, for example, he consulted on and worked with architects, designers, electricians, lighting designers and acousticians, and is in charge of the overall connected home project management.
“At the end of the day, if something doesn’t work, all the heads are going to look at me,” he explains. “My phone will be the one to ring. I have a very strong design and technical background. I understand the design, why it looks good or doesn’t look good, I’m brought in on decisions that most integrators aren’t brought in on. To install it isn’t hard; to know how to make it all work is.”
Keeping up with emerging technologies is a priority for Wyllie, and he’s been through a ton of Crestron trainings and every pilot course they offer, for instance.
“It’s to the point that when I come into their building they laugh and say, ‘Why don’t you just get a job here? You’re always here!’”
Wyllie holds numerous training certifications, including from Crestron, Lutron, RTI, LiteTouch (now part of Savant) and Control4.
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