Doug Hall wants to make one thing perfectly clear as he retires today from the company he joined 25 years ago as the CFO who was also charged with leading Whitlock’s acquisition strategy: he is not being pushed out and isn’t leaving because he doesn’t believe in the pending $1.3 billion merger with AVI-SPL.
Hall, 58, says he’s been thinking about retirement since around the time when Whitlock leadership started talking about taking on a private equity partner, which happened when Marlin Equity Partners became Whitlock’s majority shareholder in October 2019.
Less than six months later, Marlin and the private equity firm that owns AVI-SPL, H.I.G. Global, worked out a deal that will bring two industry powerhouses together into one company when it’s finalized, which is likely to be some time in March.
Hall, 58, says in an exclusive CI interview about his retirement that he had an agreement with Marlin officials that he would take on a transitional role at Whitlock, but the merger with AVI-SPL “allows me an opportunity to accelerate my plan” to retire now, just weeks ahead of the blockbuster being official.
“I love being in the industry and I love the people at Whitlock,” says Hall. “For the last year or two, a lot of what I’ve been trying to do is to care for them and position the company. I’ve worked really hard to build Whitlock to what it is.
“About the time we started talking about private equity or outside investors, I started thinking about what happens after that. Once you start thinking about retirement, I think it’s kind of hard to not think about it. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. It’s just the right time for it. I’m very excited about it,” he says.
Reaction to Doug Hall’s Retirement
Since telling Whitlock employees about his retirement plans in conjunction with the announcement of the AVI-SPL merger, Whitlock has shared the news with many of his industry friends and partners, leaders in the Global Presence Alliance, former colleagues and even some of his competitors.
“With the stress going on with the transaction, to be able to get very positive, encouraging feedback from the Whitlock employees has been just amazing,” says Hall. Again, though, he’s emphasizing this decision is his and his alone and the timing is being done to smooth the transition with the merger.
“I feel comfortable handing over what’s become my baby,” he says. “I feel very confident people are going to be able to flourish in the new world. I’m certainly at peace with the decision.
“Whenever anyone retires, they hand over their company. I was planning on doing that at the end of this year anyway. It really comes down to a trust with the people I was dealing with, both from the Whitlock side and the AVI-SPL side,” says Hall.
“You can’t get into the weeds of every little decision that’s going to be made for the business, but the big decisions are made and I think it’s going to be great,” he says. “Everybody’s hearts and minds are in the same place.”
Doug Hall and the Whitlock leadership team have been working for the past few weeks with AVI-SPL execs to share best practices and to ensure the integration of Whitlock’s 900-person, $350-million company into AVI-SPL will be as seamless as possible.
“I’m looking forward to keeping track of the company going forward,” says Hall. “It’s always about the people and making sure you’ve done what you think is best for them. If I wasn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t be retiring right now.
“I’ve been obligated to these people for 25 years and they’ve been obligated to me as well. I owe it to them to make sure I’ve done the best I can to provide for them,” he says.
Looking Forward to Retirement
Hall doesn’t think he’ll be regretting his decision when he wakes up without an alarm on his first day of retirement next week.
“I think it’s going to be amazing,” he says with a smile. “I’ve loved what I do. I’m going to miss some of the interactions with our partners and our customers and our employees, but I’m not going to abandon those people. I’ve got a lot of friendships that are going to last beyond my tenure at Whitlock.
“More than anything, it’s the pace [that will change]. I’m used to trying to fit a lot into a day. I’m sure I’ll be busy, but I’ll be busy doing different things,” says Hall, who notes he took the job with Whitlock as CFO 25 years ago because he didn’t want to travel like he had been at Ernst and Young.
Hall doesn’t plan to disappear completely from the lives of his AV industry friends but he’s not going to make a habit of following the new AVI-SPL every day either.
“I want to be respectful of the new leadership going forward,” he says. “I don’t want to be someone who’s looking over anyone’s shoulders. I have a lot of long-term friendships, like with our COO, Roger Patrick, who I’ve worked with for more than 20 years.
“If anything comes up on the business side, they’re certainly welcome to ask me, but I’m looking forward to starting a new phase of my life,” says Hall. At the same time, he hopes his industry friends and colleagues make him part of the “Whitlock family for life” as he’s done when employees leave.
Doug Hall has been “blown away” by the support he’s gotten from Whitlock employees and partners since telling them about his retirement plans.
“It’s been overwhelming, but I make sure to turn it around on them and remind them the success wasn’t my success. It was theirs,” he says.
How Doug Hall Joined Whitlock
After spending 12 years with Ernst and Young, Hall joined Whitlock as CFO in 1995 shortly after meeting founder John Whitlock at an awards dinner sponsored by the financial firm. He went to his first InfoComm show a few months later and his life and career changed forever.
“I wasn’t as technology guy, but I immediately fell in love with the AV world,” he says. “By the time I got back to Richmond, I was in charge of AV sales. That became my passion.” Hall had three business cards—CFO, Richmond branch manager and presentation sales manager.
A few years later, as Whitlock grew, they hired a CFO and Hall became COO, running the company with Kevin Thompson. Roger Patrick ran the western U.S. for Whitlock before becoming COO 12 years ago when Hall became CEO.
“What I did the first 20 years was the same,” he says. “We just added more of a structure to it.”
Hall is pretty surprised about how his career turned out.
“When I joined Whitlock in 1995, we were the third-largest AV company in Richmond, Va,” he says with a laugh. “I never dreamed of moving even beyond the east coast. To be able to serve clients in the largest global enterprises in the world, I never would have envisioned it.
“I actually never envisioned being a CEO or that kind of a leader. I was more of a reluctant leader initially. Somebody had to do something so I just picked it up and started doing it. Eventually I realized, ‘I guess I’m in charge of that now,’” says Hall.
John Whitlock will miss his longtime CEO and business partner.
“It has been my privilege and great pleasure to have had the opportunity to work all these years with my friend and business partner,” Whitlock tells CI. “Doug has been a great leader for our company. Over the past 25 years, he has grown a fledgling regional AV company into a dominant global leader in our industry.
“He created a widely respected brand for our company and put together a team of the very best people I have ever worked with. At the same time, he was able to maintain a culture that felt like we were a family by truly caring about our people and our partners.
“Working with Doug at Whitlock has been the greatest adventure of my life. I will always cherish our times together, and our company will always be my proudest achievement. I wish Doug all the best in the new chapter of his life. It is so well-deserved. And, I am hopeful and excited to see our company and our people thrive under new leadership,” says Whitlock.
NSCA executive director Chuck Wilson is happy for Hall but will miss him at AV industry events.
“I wish him all the best in his retirement,” says Wilson. “I’ve admired him as a strong leader who drove Whitlock’s impressive growth and I’ve enjoyed our friendship for many years.”
Hall will head into retirement with one major regret: About 20 years ago, Kevin Powers wanted to join Whitlock, but the sides weren’t able to work out the deal. Powers went on to lead Technical Innovation, which was acquired by Diversified in 2016 to kick off the four-year flurry of major M&A deals in AV.
“I wasn’t able to think as big back in that day,” he says.
Hall says he also struggled in his early days at Whitlock in closing deals to acquire smaller companies to build Whitlock, but he learned that the company was better off simply hiring the people it needed and its focus on organic growth remained intact for most of his tenure with the company.
Entering the Next Phase
Doug Hall is excited to spend more time traveling with his wife of 33 years, Ferebee, noting they already have several trips booked, including one to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, his favorite destination. Their daughter Casey, 27, will welcome Hall’s first grandchild due in April, their 24-year-old twin sons—Cullen and Hampton—are in the work world and both of Hall’s parents are in their 80s.
“My position at Whitlock has allowed me to be around for the important parts of their lives,” says Hall. “Now it’s the next phase. Everyone asks when you talk about retirement, ‘what are you going to do?’ They’re so worried about not having anything to do every day. There’s a lot of things we want to do.”
Hall, an avid long-distance runner, might also register for some destination marathons.