AV integrators that had ignored the many years of calls to add a service component to their operations found themselves scrambling last year when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out just about all project-based work.
Chantilly, Va.-based Corbett Technology Solutions, Inc., though, requires all its AV installs to include a service component and that approach not only helped the company survive the pandemic-related slowdown but to thrive during it.
CTSI earned a 2020 NSCA Excellence in Business award for business performance and it’s an accomplishment that makes Gino Ruta especially proud as he transitions from president and CEO to board of directors chairman.
Now, Ruta will become even more focused on growing CTSI into an East Coast powerhouse through acquisitions, an area he’s spent significant time on in his 21 years at the company helm.
“We’re not looking to grow just for the sake of growth,” says Ruta. “We’ve done about five acquisitions over the years and we’ve tried to make sure everyone fit in together right from the gate.
“We’re trying to build one company that has the same standards, the same culture, not a network of disparate companies,” he says.
CTSI is close to making two more acquisitions, says Ruta, and leadership under private equity owner Wind Point Partners are looking to grow the company by about 2.5 times in the next five years under new president/CEO Joe Oliveri.
Ruta will continue to look for companies that have similar margin profiles, a relationship-based sales approach and a pro-employee culture. Those attributes have been in place since Chris Corbett started it in 1969, he says.
Ruta took the reins when the company became known by its acronym in 2000 and alerted Wind Point leadership about a year ago of his plans to step down. That set off a search that netted Oliveri, who knows some CTSI board members and was ready to jump at the challenge after 25 years at Johnson Controls.
“I view it as a big change,” says Ruta. “Joe is definitely running things day to day but I’m here to help with the transition as we work together and head toward our common goals.
“I don’t want to get in his way for how he wants to run the organization. We have an incredible amount in common and a perfect amount that’s different,” he says.
Oliveri ran Tyco Integrated Security, a $2 billion security integrator before joining CTSI. He started his new job shortly after recovering from the coronavirus, he says.
His goal is to “continue building on what Gino has done and grow this company and build out our footprint across the East Coast.”
“Gino and the team have done some amazing things here,” says Oliveri. “They’ve grown this business tremendously and have a strong foundation. I’m going to try to take this to the next level.”
Oliveri has never worked for a company owned by a private equity group but he’s no stranger to high expectations.
“The pressure to make quarterly numbers at Johnson Controls was intense,” he says. “I’m not expecting anything different.”
Planting the Culture Flag
Another area that makes Ruta especially proud is CTSI’s ClearDesign project lifecycle, which focuses on user experience through engineering-driven customer care and quality inspections.
“Not many of our competitors have the proportion of engineers, post-sales support people on their team or Lean certified user experience specialists,” says Ruta, noting the company boasts more than 40 engineers.
A couple of years ago, CTSI leadership developed a flag that highlight’s CTSI’s commitment to its customers and the way in which they achieve it. The so-called flag highlights the company’s quest to “deliver value through people, technology and customer experience.”
Employees picked the traits they wanted to see included, says Ruta, and it created some surprising results. CTSI leadership adopted the principles of customer first, one team, community, and excellence, he says.
They focused on a culture that includes loving others (family), serving others (teamwork, financial stability), adding value (loyalty, respect) and having fun (integrity).
Ruta says everyone in the company promises to “be the best systems integrator through talented people, exceptional service, continuous innovation, enduring partnerships.
“What I realized is quality work is the result of having people who enjoy working together, who have each other’s backs and who know the company isn’t going to just dump them,” he says. “That’s the way I’ve run the company for 21 years and that’s the way we’re going to continue running it.”
That attitude permeates through every level of the company too.
“We all have our core strengths. Being able to just work together as a team on opportunities and solutions to provide positive business outcomes for our customers is really important to me,” he says.
Director of business development Al Rosenkoff agrees.
“That flag is something we run the business by internally, but we’re proud of it and we share it with customers, new employees, potential acquisitions,” he says. “When you treat your employees well, they treat the customers well.
“It really guides us and we tend to work well with customers and partners that have similar values. Respect and integrity and operating in partnership is really important to us. Most of our customers operate in that fashion, but occasionally there are some that don’t,” he says.
Ruta says the pandemic has made it harder to maintain the CTSI culture but he checks in regularly with managers and produced update videos for employees every couple of weeks, ending the videos with positive messages.
“A lot of it is just encouragement,” says Ruta.
The CTSI all-employee quarterly meeting has gone virtual but Ruta says it “allows people to see and talk to each other and realize they’re part of a bigger organization.”
CTSI’s Managed Service Focus
CTSI overhauled and updated its managed services offerings in 2017 by increasing how much it spent on that part of the business, boosting the ratio of services to sales and relaunching its portfolio to include it on all installs.
The company offers three levels of services—basic, essential and premium—with each level carrying reduced on-site response time and increasing the number of preventative maintenance inspections a customer gets.
“We had a vision to launch CTSI subscription services,” says Rosenkoff. “What we learned is the biggest business driver for our customers is around peace of mind and keeping technology current.”
Oliveri is excited to join an organization that has such a firm grasp on the importance of service.
“I’m really happy to see how far advanced CTSI is in that area and the product offerings we have in the space,” he says. “I really think this is the wave of the future. I think customers are going to be buying this way.”
It all starts from system design, says Wilson.
“We have a system design mindset,” he says. “We’re trying to design solutions to solve customers’ problem using a clear design that has a frictionless experience from day one.”
Engineers work with CTSI’s user experience team to focus on lean processes and understanding the customers’ organization.
“We work through policy, process and workflow to create a frictionless mindset,” he says.
“We speak the language of our customer and really understand the customer requirements,” says Rosenkoff.
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