During the Exertis Almo E4 Experience, CI learned about the meticulously planned leadership transition from Sam Taylor to Dan Smith.
Recently, CI chatted with Sam Taylor and Dan Smith about market-enablement company Exertis Almo’s meticulously planned leadership transition. Smith is succeeding outgoing executive vice president and COO Taylor, who is retiring following a remarkably successful 14-year tenure. Both leaders attended the Exertis Almo E4 Experience on March 7 in Dallas, an event that drew hundreds. As always, the E4 Experience delivered informative education sessions, invaluable peer networking and an exhibit floor populated with top vendors across product categories. For CI, however, the highlight was chatting with these two leaders about Exertis Almo’s culture, growth and exciting future.
The Decision to Retire
Any conversation with Taylor makes his passion for Exertis Almo abundantly evident. Indeed, during our talk, he reflects, “I started Almo Pro AV in partnership with Warren and Gene Chaiken and 22 dedicated professionals who came over from our former employer. When we started, we had no customers, no inventory and no vendors. Flash forward to today, where we now have 240 people in our division dedicated to pro AV and revenues of approximately $1 billion. After 14 years, I still feel like this is my baby.”
So, then, what motivated Taylor’s decision to retire? He explains that, two years ago, he realized that he’d achieved all his personal, professional and financial goals. That realization inspired Taylor to coordinate a planned departure, with a one-year transition plan to find a suitable successor. The timing changed, however, when DCC Technology, which trades as Exertis, acquired Almo Corp. in North America. “[The Board] asked me to stay on an extra year to help oversee the integration of the sales and marketing teams into Almo,” Taylor explains.
The transition plan included recruiting a top executive search firm, which produced something like 30 candidates. However, Taylor himself suggested adding Smith, then at LG Electronics and not seeking to change jobs, to the mix. He underscores that the entire Exertis Almo decision-making team — from president and CEO Warren Chaiken, to chairman Gene Chaiken, to Taylor — concluded that Smith had separated himself from the candidate field. “I felt really comfortable that Dan was not only going to continue what we’ve done [but also] going to grow it in different ways,” Taylor declares. Handing the reins of Exertis Almo to someone who’s going to carry it forward gives Taylor peace of mind as he nears retirement in June.
The Attraction of Exertis Almo
For Smith, Exertis Almo was particularly appealing because of its transition from distribution to true market enablement. “I think there’s a very fast-growing need for a market-enablement company,” he opines. Indeed, Smith believes that, with so many vendors and technologies, there is an ever-increasing need for training and support. “And therein lies Exertis Almo’s true value proposition: a well-thought-out vendor selection, enviable education offerings and a wide portfolio of services,” he summarizes. Seeing those increasingly pressing industry needs, Smith enthusiastically embraced this opportunity to oversee and lead true market enablement.
Another core characteristic of Exertis Almo that impressed Smith is its customer responsiveness and willingness to change approaches. He remembers thinking, “If they find out they need a new product, they bring the product onboard. If they find out they need additional training, they build the training to satisfy that.” It’s the antithesis of the stagnancy that sometimes can plague larger organizations that have tasted success and wed themselves to a formula. Exertis Almo is almost a billion-dollar business, but it’s still looking to grow, innovate and evolve. “There’s still a tremendous amount of growth potential,” Smith says with a smile. He points, in particular, to emerging opportunities involving collaboration tools, AVoIP, interactive digital boards and DVLED. Moreover, Smith believes the merging of the AV and IT communities will open the door to further market enablement.
Exertis Almo’s Company Culture
Both Taylor and Smith underline Exertis Almo’s company culture, whose roots lie in Almo Corp.’s 77-year history. It’s a family-like environment, Taylor attests, and those bonds inspire employees to refer friends and relatives to the company. Those employees’ enthusiasm radiates outward, thus illuminating another reason that Smith was excited to accept this leadership role. “You know it on the outside,” he says, “but you feel it on the inside.” Smith declares that he immediately felt a personal fit with the company…a cultural congruence of sorts. “One of my goals is to help continue that,” he vows.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are central to Exertis Almo’s company culture today — just as they always have been. In fact, Almo had longstanding diversity training and policies, including active recruitment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). After last year’s acquisition, the merged organization further amplified those initiatives. Taylor emphasizes that some of the fruits of those efforts are apparent; for example, Exertis Almo has a wealth of female team members, including in key leadership roles. Smith adds that, although DEI remains a foundational value, the organization even more broadly emphasizes respect for and trust in individuals. Pointing to a recently completed annual employee survey, he remarks, “I was astounded, as an outsider, how high [the marks] were. But, on the inside, it was easy to believe.”
Leveraging Organizational Resources
Smith praises parent company DCC for empowering Exertis Almo to serve its customers while, simultaneously, respecting leadership’s independence. Smith summarizes the arrangement by saying, “We’re going to be the finance people, and you’re going to run your business.” Thus, Exertis Almo remains free to maintain its culture and pursue its mission, which Smith describes with refreshing clarity. “Throughout our whole route to market, we service that end user,” he declares. “What enhances the business? What enhances the education? And what enhances communication? How do [our customers] do what they’re doing better?” Leadership, at the same time, however, leverages all the benefits of scale of multiple businesses combined. Smith points to 2.7 million square feet of warehouse space in the U.S., with 11 active warehouses, as examples.
A New Challenge
Meanwhile, as Taylor readies himself for retirement in June, he plans to wrap his arms around a new challenge. An avid swimmer all his life — in fact, he swam in high school and college and also served as a coach — Taylor will channel his passion into helping underserved youths. Kentucky State University, an HBCU, had a catastrophic failure at its pool a few years ago. However, the institution doesn’t have the money to fix it. That is where Taylor comes in.
“I’m chairing a fund,” he announces, “and our goal is to raise a million dollars to fix the pool.” What’s more, he’s seeking to raise operating capital to keep the pool well maintained and functional for good. Taylor adds that not only will Kentucky State students use the pool but, in addition, those needing swimming lessons and seniors will have access. It’s a perfect next chapter for someone whose passion for market enablement and building businesses is only equaled by his love for swimming.
It seems clear that, as Taylor eyes retirement, his team and he have chosen well in selecting Smith as successor. The future of Exertis Almo remains bright, and, as a result, so, too, does the future of its customers.