Oscar: I’d like to welcome to the studio today Jeffrey Wolf, CEO of Herman Pro AV. Welcome, Jeffrey.
Jeffrey: Thank you. Great to be here.
Oscar: Tell us a little bit about Herman Pro AV.
Jeffrey: Herman began actually in the early ’60s. In those days, we evolved as one of the leading providers of factory original replacement parts for the consumer electronics industry. We were selling consumer electronic parts to all the major retailers around the country. From there, we began to evolve into the Pro AV and broadcast space, and today Herman is a leading provider of AV products, procurement services, and labor resources to system integrators in the commercial AV and broadcast industries.
Oscar: What made you want to expand and evolve your business?
Jeffrey: That’s a great question. The evolution actually was attributed to technology. As we saw the commercial, the consumer market, rather, beginning to decline from a repair perspective, we saw that the commercial AV and broadcast space was an ever-increasing industry. So we really kind of shifted gears and drove towards that industry.
Oscar: What does the competitive landscape look like for Herman Pro AV?
Jeffrey: Today, there are several providers in our space, all doing things a little bit differently than we do, different product sets, different value propositions. Herman has really been able to differentiate through our value offering. The value offering includes logistical services, value-add offerings, procurement and logistical solutions, supply-chain solutions, and then, of course, our most recent venture around our labor offering, which there’s nobody else in our space doing that today.
Oscar: Really? Tell me a little bit more about that.
Jeffrey: Two years ago, we launched Herman Integration Services. A dear friend of mine did a lot of research in the industry, and we found that one of the biggest pains for the commercial AV integrator was finding reliable, consistent, and quality subcontractor labor resources throughout the country. They couldn’t rely on the labor guy. Maybe somebody was good in New York, but bad in Chicago, et cetera. We took that and created the industry’s only national labor resource provider to the commercial AV industry.
Oscar: That’s very exciting.
Jeffrey: It’s very exciting.
Oscar: What do you see as the long-term vision for Herman Pro AV?
Jeffrey: Herman is continuing to evolve. Again, on a long-term basis, we want to continue to expand our product offering, continue to expand our labor offering to perhaps the IT space, the electrical space, to really be the go-to resource where integration is taking place with AV, IT in any kind of space: stadium, arena, boardroom, theater, hospitality space. Any area, we want to be the go-to resource across both those sectors.
Oscar: I have been watching the success of your company for a very long time. I see news write-ups and accolades. Every business award possible, your company wins. You’re an absolute leader in the industry. I see nothing but positive, nothing but extreme growth. What keeps you up at nighttime, if anything?
Jeffrey: Well, first, thank you for all the accolades and compliments. It’s much appreciated and came with a lot of hard work and effort and focus and discipline. Lots keep me up at night. The drive to continue to evolve. If you’re not growing, you’re moving backwards. Correct? So the continuous focus around constant growth, evolution, continuing to bring more value to the industry, continuing to differentiate, because if we don’t, there’s always somebody in the rear-view mirror trying to emulate and copy what we’re doing.
Oscar: Sure. Jeffrey, do you consider yourself more of a manager or more of a leader?
Jeffrey: I would say much more of a leader. Yeah. Although the manager is a critical role in an organization, leadership is where it all starts and where it all ends. Leadership sets the tone. Leadership sets the pulse for the organization, for the employees. With that proper leadership, the team will follow and follow along the guidelines and along the vision that the leader has created. So leadership really, for me, is the most important thing. I really consider myself that. The manager maintains. Leaders lead. In a rapidly growing organization, it’s all about leadership.
Oscar: In all my years, I’ve never seen a successful company that … Excuse me. I’ve never seen a successful company that lacked culture or had a poor culture. Tell me about the culture of your company, and who is responsible for leading, building that culture?
Jeffrey: You’re right. Culture is critical in any organization. There’s bad cultures. There’s good cultures. There’s unique cultures. That’s something that my brother and I spend a lot of time on. We feel that that culture carries over to the customer experience, and that’s where it all starts. It begins and ends with that customer experience.
In our organization, it’s an interesting culture, very fast moving. Although we make a lot of planned and strategic decisions on a very methodical basis, we’re also moving very quickly. We’ve empowered our team to be able to make the right decisions for the customer, to make the best decision at that moment, what we need to do to accomplish, to deliver. So I think it’s a can-do culture and a will-do culture and a get-it-done culture in our organization.
Oscar: In preparing for this interview, I found that Herman Pro AV does business with basically the who’s who of the Pro AV business.
Oscar: I’m talking about on the supplier side, as well as the key customers.
Jeffrey: That is correct.
Oscar: Billion-dollar-plus companies and you are their preferred vendor.
Jeffrey: That is correct.
Oscar: How did you establish these, what seems to me as an outsider, almost impossible partnerships?
Jeffrey: An outsider is absolutely correct and accurate. We were the newest kid on the block back then. Probably in 2000 or the late ’90s, there were several established distribution organizations in the AV space. The way we did that was we came in from a completely different perspective. We went in and came in and spoke to CEOs and VP of Ops and CFOs, not about selling products, but how we could bring efficiencies, cost savings to the organizations.
We were coming up with such a different, unique message that we totally came under the radar and built strong foundations and relationships with all these organizations that said, “Wow! These guys have a different message, a compelling message that can bring real value to our business, not save them a nickel or a dime on a product.
Oscar: Jeffrey, what is the toughest decision you’ve made in the last 5 or 10 years?
Jeffrey: Wow. That’s a good question. One of the most important things that I’ve learned, being successful in business, is the power to say no. Over the past 5 to 10 years, as you can imagine, a lot of things came across our bow, from manufacturers, customer opportunities, strategic opportunities. There was such a tendency so many times to say yes for, wow, rapid growth or a strategic opportunity that we think would transform our business. Then, as we really dove and spent time studying and analyzing, no was the right decision.
I think twice two organizations wanted to acquire us. Both of those times we said no. It wasn’t the right time. It wasn’t the right partner, so perhaps we sacrificed an initial windfall for a long-term benefit. I think those are the two that really come to mind, were the two acquisition opportunities that we said no.
Oscar: What are you most proud of at Herman Pro AV?
Jeffrey: A lot of things. I think most of all, I’m proud of our reputation in the industry. When the industry thinks Herman, they think reliability, professionalism, quality, and great people they can rely on. Our team really represents everything that we stand for, and I think that’s real obvious in our industry perspective, as well.
Oscar: Jeffrey, from this side of the desk, Herman Pro AV is one of the finest entrepreneurial-run companies I’ve seen in quite some time. I think your future is virtually unlimited. I’m impressed. I would like to make an investment in your company of $1 million. How would you deploy those funds?
Jeffrey: That’s a great question. I think what we would do, Oscar, is two things. One is we would take probably half that money and deploy that to sales and marketing resources and bring it to sales leadership, really ramping up our marketing engine with those funds to accelerate our growth. The other half I would use to build more infrastructure in our labor business and actually double our technical labor force out in the field. To really give us scope and scale, I’d probably take half a million and put it to that.
Oscar: Great. You would guarantee a double-digit return, as well, I would imagine.
Jeffrey: Absolutely. Will I get the check before I leave?
Oscar: Yes. I would like to, just for a few minutes, hand over some magical powers. These powers will allow you to turn back the clock to the first day of your company, and you will have the power to reverse any decision that you’ve made. What would you change?
Jeffrey: Wow. That’s a pretty powerful question. I would probably have surrounded ourselves with a lot more talented resources initially. It took us a while to get where we are today, and I think with the proper team … I really learned along the way it’s all about your team. The old saying is hire people who are smarter, better than you. We probably thought we could do it all in those days, and so I probably would have done that and really surrounded myself with a great team early on.
Oscar: Great. You still have the magical powers for another minute or two. I would like for you now to look forward. Let’s go forward five years. Tell me how you think the business climate will change and how that will affect your business.
Jeffrey: We see a lot of trends right now with the emergence of IT and AV. There’s lots of concern in our industry that the big electrical contractors and the IT firms are going to come in and take … They all want a piece of this AV space, so in five years, there’s going to be true convergence. There’s no doubt. We don’t have fear on that. We see opportunity around that.
That gives us the opportunity to really expand our vision and our focus and what we’re focused on, to be able to really expand our horizons and get more of the pie through the IT space, offering our expertise and our capabilities to both the AV and the IT industries.
Oscar: Some of your competitors are mammoth corporate-owned giants.
Jeffrey: Yes, yes.
Oscar: Do you think, as an entrepreneur, you have an advantage over corporate behemoth?
Jeffrey: No doubt. No doubt.
Oscar: How so?
Jeffrey: Like you say, we do have some public companies, some Fortune-100, some Fortune-500 competitors, but it takes them so long to move and to make change and to steer that ship, whereas we move so quickly. By the time they make a decision, we’ve already implemented something and launched and are light-years ahead of them. So although they have a resource advantage and they have a talent advantage, we have a speed-agility advantage. We see it every day, where we can outpace the competition in those areas.
Oscar: Beautiful. What one word describes Jeffery Wolf as an entrepreneur?
Oscar: Do you think entrepreneurs are born, or are they made?
Jeffrey: Absolutely born.
Oscar: How do you define success?
Jeffrey: Wow. I define success in several different ways. One, I define success, first and foremost, a healthy, strong family foundation, which is the most important to me and to quality of life, with wonderful children and a wonderful spouse, et cetera. Then from there, I define success as really what I’ve created in my business and what I’ve created in terms of my employees and what I’ve been able to provide for them and their families. Also, success also for me is our reputation in the industry and how we’re regarded by our customers and our suppliers and by industry people. That really sets us apart from the others perhaps.
Oscar: Who do you go to if you’re looking to brainstorm an idea, you’re looking to problem solve, you’re looking for guidance or experience share? Who’s your go-to person or group?
Jeffrey: I’m very fortunate. I’ve been in EO for 16 years, and I’m in the same forum for 15 years and with the same core group of guys for probably 14 years. Oscar, that has proven to be the most invaluable resource to me on a personal level, on a business level, and from a family perspective, as well. EO provides an invaluable resource the Board of Directors has dedicated to me whenever I need it. No matter what I need to talk about, no matter what issue I’m facing, I have this forum that’s there for me and has been there for me and has changed my life and every facet of my life.
Oscar: That’s very powerful.
Oscar: What is your primary source of knowledge?
Jeffrey: What type of knowledge?
Oscar: Leaders are always learning. They’re always striving. Where do you source it from?
Jeffrey: Lots of reading. I source it from the web, from entrepreneurial resources on the web, from industry conferences, from entrepreneurial conferences, lots of EO. It has tremendous resources globally, domestically that I try and take advantage of whenever I can. Those are invaluable. Those are probably my four real top resources.
Oscar: As a business leader, how do you make a mark in your business or maybe even in your community?
Jeffrey: The community is very important to me. That’s probably another area where I define success. Giving back to the community is very, very important to me. In our organization, both personally and from a business perspective, we have certain objectives that we make sure we’re always giving back, making our mark in the industry and in the community, either through philanthropic activities as well as personal philanthropic activities.
From a business perspective, we like to be in the lights. You referred to that before. So we’re always doing big sponsorship activities, industry sponsorship activities, corporate events, all around creating the brand image of Herman Pro AV. We do both of those.
Oscar: Great. Give me an example of something unbelievably cool that you did either professionally or personally.
Jeffrey: Okay. Professionally, that’s a good entrepreneurial lesson. Back in 2000, I started a company. It was an internet-based retailer, an e-tailer, if you will. We started literally from zero, from an idea. Within five years, we had over 300 employees, and we were doing over $80 million in revenue. So that was totally cool, that whole experience, from the venture world to the building of the organization, the Board of Directors, et cetera. That was an amazing experience for me.
Oscar: If I say the words trust and respect, what do those words mean to you?
Jeffrey: Those two words are probably two of the most important cornerstones, from my perspective, to be successful both personally and from a business perspective. If you don’t have those two nuggets of foundation, I don’t think, it’s very difficult to be successful in both from a business and personal perspective.
Oscar: Final question, and it may be a challenging one.
Oscar: Imagine for a moment, when you wake up tomorrow morning, Herman Pro AV no longer exists. What will be the next company you look to launch?
Jeffrey: Wow. That’s a good one. The next company I would launch would probably be definitely a technology company, definitely something internet based, but I don’t know what the specific offering would be yet, but definitely a technology internet-based company.
Oscar: Fair enough. Jeffrey, I have enjoyed this interview immensely.
Jeffrey: As have I.
Oscar: You’re a tremendous entrepreneur. You inspire me. You inspire others around you. I look forward to watching the continued success of your organization, and I look forward to bringing you back in the studio to find out how you double and triple over the next one or two years.
Jeffrey: I look forward to that, as well, Oscar.
Oscar: Thank you so much.
Jeffrey: Thank you so much.
Oscar: My pleasure.
Jeffrey: I really enjoyed it.
Oscar: Thank you.