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Q&A with Doug Hall, The Whitlock Group

Hall is CEO of The Whitlock Group, a $135 million AV integration firm in Richmond, Va. Recently The Whitlock Group announced the formation of the Global Presence Alliance with European integrator Impact Marcom.

Hall is CEO of The Whitlock Group, a $135 million AV integration firm in Richmond, Va. Last month The Whit-lock Group announced the formation of the Global Presence Alliance with European integrator Impact Marcom.

PRO AV: How did the alliance come about?

HALL: It's the result of 18 months of meetings we've had with Impact. They first visited us not with the intention of having an alliance, but of finding out about each other's best practices and the business challenges we had in the U.S. We found out our businesses were very similar regardless of location and that we share common business philosophies and practices, and most importantly a commitment to service.

There was a follow-up meeting about five months ago. … and at that point both sides became interested in saying, ‘We're doing a lot of work in Europe, you're doing a lot here. Is there a way we can cooperate to solve some of the obstacles to doing international business?'” It's one thing to design a system in the U.S. and install it in a foreign country; it's another thing to maintain it after you install it. As our business has grown, we needed to partner to address that.

PRO AV: How will the Global Presence Alliance compare to U.S.-based alliances like PSNI or USAV?

HALL: From a U.S. and European perspective, we are the founding alliance members. There is a possibility at some point there may be other companies that could join and help support us, but this really is the group. We have already approached some folks in markets were we don't exist and we're considering those as additions for us down the road. But if, for instance, someone in another country wanted to join our alliance, it could be in a support role.

We don't want to be like a PSNI or the others. We already have excellent buying power. This wasn't a defensive move; we just saw an opportunity to grow our businesses internationally by joining forces.

PRO AV: How will the alliance work?

HALL: We share some clients with Impact that they serve in Europe and we serve in the U.S. and there will probably be a half-dozen different structures on deals, but the most important thing is that it will be seamless to the customer. Our goal in the U.S. has always been that if a customer goes into a conference room in D.C. that it has the same look and feel, standards, and reliability as their conference room in Dallas. That's what we're trying to achieve with this relationship. So communication is going to be key. We already have three ongoing projects and each company has a point person and we funnel information so standards are met. The great thing is that a lot of their practices are similar to ours, and we'll combine them so there's consistency. … In some ways it will appear as if we merged companies.

PRO AV: Why not just merge with Impact?

HALL: We didn't want to go the merger route. We didn't want to deal with control and that type of thing. Also, they're a public company and we're privately owned. But in the end what's important to us and why it took so long to find a European partner is culture. As we've grown our mom-pop culture, it's been a challenge for us to maintain it—the kind of thing where there's not a lot of red tape to make something happen for the customer and where a person's word means something. So finding someone we could trust, who wasn't going to take our customers or treat them as second-class was important. We think Impact is going to represent us well.

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