Rashid Skaf, former CEO of the commercial A/V and controls powerhouse AMX, has had his eye on Biamp Systems for about a decade. Biamp, a leading provider of audio, video and communications systems for commercial applications, finally fell under Skaf's purview when his employer Highlander Partners acquired the business earlier this month. Skaf was named president, CEO and co-chairman.
Highlander is a private equity firm with holdings in several industries — mostly food and beverage, building materials, packaging, and big metal things — none of which have anything to do with A/V or commercial integration.
When Skaf joined Highlander in 2016, he got the green light from owner Larry Hirsch to scout out a good acquisition in commercial A/V, an increasingly hot sector for venture capitalists.
Skaf, who says Highlander looked at about 150 prospects over the subsequent year, was pleased it came down to Biamp because he always appreciated the company's “culture and ethos,” he explains. “It’s a company that’s always done right by its customers.”
And it's a company that will serve as “a good foundation to tuck other companies into” when Highlander begins to build an A/V portfolio, according to Skaf. Don't expect another deal right away, though. Skaf says Biamp will be an A/V party of one at Highlander for at least a year or so.
“Everything I do is about growth,” says Skaf. “You’re either growing or you’re dying. I really love running companies and tinkering to make them better. This is not the end, but I’m giving myself the first year to find the right opportunities.”
Highlander bought Biamp from Lomar Corporation, a company that owned Biamp for about 28 years and is led by two brothers who didn’t have anyone in the next generation looking to take over Biamp. It was largely a case of good timing and an enticing offer that finally led to Skaf becoming the man at Biamp’s helm, he says.
And, while the term “private equity” brings with it an idea that the investment will be short-term before Highlander flips it and moves on to something else, Skaf says that’s not what he expects to happen with the Biamp acquisition.
“They have no timetable in place,” he says. “When we talk about Highlander, we’re really talking about Larry. It’s his money we’re investing.”
As far as private equity and venture capital companies investing in AV integrators and fellow manufacturing companies, Skaf sees the industry becoming “more interesting.”
“There are a lot of companies that are becoming ripe for acquisition right now, and all variants are available for expansion, whether that means vertical expansion, geographic expansion or an expansion into a particular expertise,” he says.
Right now, there’s no end date in mind for it, either.
“With Highlander buying into the A/V market, other groups that haven’t been looking at A/V will certainly start to do that as well,” Skaf says. “The biggest challenge is it’s more risky in the tech space than in some others. You have to really know what you’re doing and to keep up with the technology.”