Integrating the Integrators: So Far, So Good for VIA International
After successfully melding company cultures and establishing best practices, VIA International touts 22 locations in 8 states with $69.8 million in revenue for 2013.
Jason Knott · June 13, 2014
The grand experiment that is VIA International appears to be working quite well. All the fears from doubters that it would be impossible to combine various unique company cultures along with different sales, operational and back-office processes — while at the same time managing the egos of the successful entrepreneurs — have not come true.
Indeed, the merged forces of VIA International achieved a remarkable $69.8 million in revenue in 2013 across all its districts, making it the No. 4 integrator in this year’s CE Pro 100. VIA, which combined six (essentially seven) market-leading custom integration companies into a single entity last fall, now touts 22 locations in eight states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
CEO Randy Stearns calls the financial results “the most welcome surprise” of 2013.
“Considering that the original founders did everything humanly possible to make 2012 their best year ever knowing that their ownership stake in VIA would be based on those results, and that we were all incredibly distracted throughout 2013 by the challenges of completing the merger (in late August 2013) and then integrating the businesses into one unified entity, the fact that 2013 revenues and EBITDA outpaced 2012 was like after winning a long and grueling race, finding out later that you also broke the world record,” he says. So far, the team has been able to achieve many other significant milestones, including:
- Established the VIA brand name with logo, website, tagline, etc.
- Created human resources policies with an employee handbook, common benefits program unified payroll system, revised compensation plans, realigned organizational chart, and a company-wide performance review process.
- Unified accounting with a centralized software platform (NetSuite), centralized purchasing, accounts payable; and restructured the entire finance and accounting team.
- Honed a single, effective sales process across the board under a national director of sales; launched a CRM system; and held a three-day sales summit for the entire sales force.
- Created a standardized well-documented project process flow, centralized system design, programming and proposal generation using a common D-Tools database and proposal template.
- Moved all rack assembly and testing to a new 15,000-square-foot Salt Lake City production facility, dubbed the Rack Building Center of Excellence.
- Hired key corporate staff — from both internal and external sources — to fill important roles that help smooth the ongoing transition and expand business.
- Melded the design and installation process so it can accommodate large million-dollar projects as well as smaller jobs that can be repeated over and over again profitably.
- Gone deeper with fewer vendors in winnowing down its suppliers.
Of course, challenges still exist, including continuing to build on its platform so VIA can grow through acquisition. Stearns says the group has an in-depth expansion plan and has even identified acquisition targets, but has yet to embark on the plan, noting it must be carefully managed.
GROUP SYNERGIES LEVERAGED
Overall, Stearns calls the first nine months of VIA exhilarating.
“The list of accomplishments during that period would make your head spin. The challenge, of course, is making the massive number of internal changes necessary to integrate seven businesses into one while still succeeding in the field and delivering for our clients at the level they have come to expect. It is analogous to repairing the engine of a plane while in flight,” he says.
“While I can’t honestly say it has gone smoothly (what multi-party merger ever does!?), I can say it has gone according to plan. The detailed integration plan we developed during the merger process projected that it would take an entire year to fully integrate the businesses. We are proud to announce that we are ahead of schedule. All considered, I would grade us an A- to B+,” he concludes.
Before VIA could operationally combine, the group had to start sharing ideas.
“These are world-class guys who have been doing the best and biggest projects everywhere, and we have now gotten to know one another,” says Brad Whitehead, COO. “We are starting to share and collaborate our own ideas. We are talking over email and telephone on conference calls all the time together. So through our best practice teams we engage these people and they start to really gel with one another.”
Eric Thies, director of marketing, agrees, adding, “When you get 350 really smart people that have been executing at a very high level and you start taking the best of the best and putting them together in committees to determine how to go forward, the results are pretty remarkable.”
For example, more than 50 members of VIA gathered together at the CEDIA Expo in Denver last fall.
“The overwhelming comment at the end of that meeting is, ‘Holy crap, we have a lot of talent here,’” remarks Thies. “It is like we have a scary amount of talent in the room. You’ve got some of the best engineers, best programmers and best sales guys that exist in our industry. You put those guys in a room together and some great, exciting things come out.”
Jason Knott is Chief Content Officer for Emerald Expositions Connected Brands. Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990, serving as editor and publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He joined CE Pro in 2000 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of that brand. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He has been a member of the CEDIA Business Working Group since 2010. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org
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