When Dave Keil took over as CEO of Integrated Broadband Services in November 2007, he was asked to make some changes.
“I was very lucky,” he says. “Usually when you enter a new company, from my experience, you find a lot of things that are broken — a lot of problems. Actually, we had a company that was very strong. It had a hundred customers then, and customers were very happy with the service. The employees were very focused and really did one thing very well, which was provide superior service to these residential tier-two cable companies on the residential side of their business.”
So instead of negative changes, he was charged with taking the company to the next level by implementing a growth strategy. Through a combination of an acquisition of Parasun Technologies Inc. and getting to know customers, Keil has grown the business to more than $30 million in revenue with about a 40 percent increase in 2009 alone.
Smart Business spoke with Keil about how to lead growth in your organization.
Grow effectively. Really get inside the head of your customers and live and breathe what they live and breathe every day as opposed to relying too much on just your employee base or too much on outside consultants. Really overspending time with your customers, I think will help give you a map to the future.
Any business, especially when you are selling to an enterprise, like we are, as opposed to retail, the more time you spend in front of customers can be of a huge advantage. … What we talk about are the challenges they have in their business.
Then, once you’ve done that homework really try to be focused and achieve a few things and do very well on a few things. While the temptation is to spread and dabble into a number of areas, I would encourage folks especially in earlier stage growth companies to pick out two or three things they do really well at and stay focused there. Improve that part of their model before they venture off into a whole bunch of other areas. That discipline will go a long way.
Create a clear strategy. We wanted to be able to get this all on one piece of paper and make sure someone who was a very junior person, people at the midlevel and people at the senior level could all understand on one piece of paper where we were going. My view is if you can’t get it all on one piece of paper, it’s probably too complex and needs to be simplified.
There’s obviously a lot of details behind that. With any strategy, execution is important and the detail behind it is important. People, in my point of view, need to get things at the bullet-point level and get their arms around three or four key things they can come away with from a presentation and from a strategy and get to the details down the road. It was really kind of reinforcing that one-page version, the executive summary version. When everyone comes into work they look at the strategy, and that’s something that they generally have a page of by their desk. They know that that’s something they are working on that is in line with that strategy. And, of course, we will evolve that every year, but that starting point was quite important for the company.
Integrate acquisitions effectively. In my prior life, I worked at a billion-dollar public company in the software service space, and I initially ran strategy mergers and acquisitions for that company. It’s called ChoicePoint, a New York Stock Exchange fairly midsized company, with about $1 billion in revenue. It eventually sold to LexisNexis, but I actually led the acquisition of 18 companies. So, I would say, half joking and half not, that gave me a lot of opportunities to make a lot of mistakes and see what worked. And you know, among the 18 acquisitions that I worked on, some were terrific successes and some were real failures and a lot were in between. Like anything in life, experience counts for a lot, and I went through a lot of many different situations. I saw what worked well and what didn’t. I tried to leverage that experience.
It didn’t make sense to have two different brands. We very, very quickly moved the Parasun name and kind of transitioned out of the Parasun name over a very tight, three-month period and had them become IBBS. We really make sure they branded IBBS very quickly as soon as it was practical with their customer base and got out there in front of their customers and made sure they knew this was not going to be a satellite business but a new, larger business that was going to be stronger and bring all the good things they had with Parasun plus some extra level of resources and improved investment into the future.
We certainly try very hard to bridge the different cultures. Whenever you do an acquisition, you always try to bring the cultures together, and I think we’ve tried very hard with a lot of person-to-person visits both ways — Vancouver coming to Atlanta and Atlanta coming to Vancouver. To help the companies become much closer, we’ve done a lot of things, like we’ve had some off-site meetings. Earlier this year, I took a group this year from Vancouver out skiing for a day, right before the Olympics, and that was a lot of fun. Some of the times those people-building exercises go a long way. Having people socially mix and get to know each other outside of work, that’s proved to be very effective.
The third thing is people like to be part of a winning team and they like to succeed. What’s been important to the team in Vancouver is that they know they are part of a stronger company that has a very exciting future ahead and is moving into some new areas. Again, communicating to them where we are going and giving them a handle on the future and a view into the future is something that we take seriously, and again we haven’t done it perfectly, but we have done well in that regard over the past year and a half, since we acquired them in late 2008.
HOW TO REACH: Integrated Broadband Services, (866) 286-1899 or www.ibbs.com