Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Eli Sasson, CEO and President of Minicom Advanced Systems and ask him some questions about what’s been going on at Minicom since this new change came into effect.
mini.sid: Why did you decide to split now, and what was the main goal for splitting the divisions?
Eli Sasson: The decision to split the divisions was a strategic step for Minicom with a goal to have two completely separate units with each of them having a dedicated focus on their areas and markets.
As for the timing, I have always felt that we should not be defensive or reactive during a market crisis (such as last year) but rather take it as an opportunity to make strategic changes and prepare for the next business cycle.
mini.sid: When did you first consider splitting DS & KVM IT divisions at Minicom?
Eli Sasson: We started activity in the digital signage business around 2001/ 2002 and at an early stage it was apparent that it would become very successful for us. We considered the split several times during the years but the conditions were not ready for it. As the digital signage business grew, we started facing dilemmas with focus and resource allocation in sales & marketing as well as R&D and Logistics. It was an ongoing strategic discussion until all things matured and timing was right.
mini.sid: When did you finally decide to make this strategic split?
Eli Sasson: We made the decision to split towards the end of 2008, when the markets were in crisis but before the big crisis of October 2008. We took into consideration that we are executing a strategic change in rough times. Once we made the decision, it took 2-3 months to plan and launch the change internally and another couple of months to present it to our partners and work with them before we finally made the announcement publically.
mini.sid: What do you feel Minicom and its partners gained from the split?
Eli Sasson: This is a customer facing move. We are now closer to our customers and end users. We have better focus. Our marketing messages sharpened and our marketing activities became more effective. Our product roadmaps changed and became more ambitious and aggressive with new products in both DS and IT markets.
mini.sid: How has Minicom partners responded to the changes?
Eli Sasson: We recently made a survey to our partners and the feedback has been very positive. Most agreed that there is better focus and service for each unit. Only very few had comments and improvement suggestions on any effects from the change which were taken care of immediately.
mini.sid: Internally, how have the Minicom departments managed?
Eli Sasson: Strategic planning was considered all the way down to marketing activities, product roadmap and development. For marketing it was unbelievable, almost like reformatting a computer. In a matter of weeks each of the teams were 100% dedicated to each side of their new mission. Some felt like they were missing an opportunity but only days after seeing the size of the challenge, and the scope of the mission, the actions and all attitudes changed with full enthusiasm. Also, since mid-year we hired new sales managers to fill spots. Structurally, it’s much better – we are ready to go for the most important part of our year – Quarter 4.
mini.sid: Why did you create new and separate Mission statements?
Eli Sasson: The Mission we had before remains true to our parent organization but the mission statements for each unit were changed. When we acted as one unit we gave a quite generic vision that was true for everything. The separate statements help to direct and orient our business better, internally and externally.
mini.sid: What was the biggest challenge?
Eli Sasson: The market conditions have been the biggest challenge. When markets grow, it’s easier to make changes. It’s expected that you pay the penalty for mistakes as a part of it. In today’s market conditions, any mistake is much more painful – change becomes that much more difficult.
mini.sid: How do you feel about the markets?
Eli Sasson: Cautiously optimistic. The business environment is getting better daily, but in small steps. In both units, we see consistent and slight improvements since April. It’s getting better every day. Incoming sales, special orders, projects and opportunities are in the pipeline. While sales and orders grow nicely – projects and opportunity in the pipeline grow faster. The last part of the year is expected to be very good.
On the other hand, like everyone else we are very concerned with external conditions that still can be changed dramatically – like October 2008 – everything is still very fragile. After the bubble crisis in 2001, Minicom grew at 45% CAGR for several years. I will take the risk and predict that we will return in 2010 to a fast growth both in our IT and DS activities.
mini.sid: What new things has the KVM & IT division been working on since the split?
Eli Sasson: We have been very proactive during the crisis; we sharpened the market message, introduced new access management products, multi-user KVM IP switches and added to the Smart family. The new products have been very well accepted in the market so far. It shows in sales overall – The Real Needs Approach which helps businesses to control costs while growing and upgrading is very compelling to IT managers and users. While our competition pushes the end user “to throw everything out” and replace their entire KVM installation, Minicom offers the Real needs™ approach of simply adding on another access or management layer to the existing system.
We’ve already won significant business through this approach.
mini.sid: Minicom has been very involved with social media lately – how has it made a difference?
Eli Sasson: Social media for us is still relatively new, however I enjoy connecting with our partners, customers and distributors. Being able to reach our end users and hear from them directly has been very rewarding. I recently began to use Twitter. Also, we now have a Minicom LinkedIn group with 125 members already and it’s growing on a daily basis. LinkedIn has brought many of our partners together and in ways that traditional media would not have given us the same opportunities. The initial response with social media has been beyond our expectations.
mini.sid: Thank you Eli for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions.