“We realized that if we were going to sell burgers, we needed to add fries,” explains David Ross, President and CEO of Ross Video. “We needed to further expand our product line, and we joked that we needed to add a shake and hot apple pie.”
Ross may use a fast food analogy to explain his vision, but that’s the recipe for global success that he has adopted since taking over the family business. And it works. Since 1991, when he joined the company full time, Ross Video has tabbed an astonishing average of 17 per cent growth, year over year.
He’s grown a privately-owned tech company into one of the globe’s leading end-to-end video solutions providers that offers everything from hardware like switchers and routers, a wide range of software products, and mobile and live event production services.
“We got hit really hard in the recession of 1989,” explains Ross, whose father founded the company in 1974 in the basement of his home. “No one was buying big, expensive pieces of equipment. We needed to expand our product line at the other end of the price spectrum.”
After a successful run as a single product line video switching company, management started to map out a future that would include more variety on its menu and a goal to build a company for long-term sustainable growth.
How big and sophisticated has Ross Video become? One example offers perspective: the Ottawa company was a major behind-the-scenes production provider for Superbowl XLIV in Phoenix in 2015.
“That’s the moment we realized what we have put together is very cool,” Ross explains. “We were there in four different capacities and we didn’t even co-ordinate it.”
Ross manufactured and sold most of its equipment for the stadium’s big screen control room, as well as designed all of the art and video effects that went onto that big screen for the fans. The company even dabbled in augmented reality by creating a virtual Lombardy Trophy and broadcasting it 10 stories high on centre field, a spectacle visible for the TV audience. The company’s Superbowl win was capped off with Ross staff from their mobile productions unit handling Sports Illustrated’s game coverage.
Suffice to say Ross Video couldn’t have attained such heights without its deeply engrained visionary culture. When the company out grew the family basement, David’s father, a pilot, wanted to relocate to an area that had an airstrip and was close to what he thought would become the company’s largest market in the future, the U.S.
The town of Iroquois, on the shores of the St. Lawrence River south of Ottawa and close to the Canada-U.S. Bridge between Johnstown and Ogdensburg, N.Y., became its new home. Today that facility serves as the company’s manufacturing hub.
Ross Video also has a research and development lab in Virginia Beach, a sales and demonstration facility in Pinewood Studios outside of London (UK) as well as another in Singapore. In total, Ross employs 600 people worldwide with approximately 400 in Canada between Iroquois and Ottawa.
Just as his father anticipated, the company’s largest market is the U.S., accounting for two-thirds of total revenue. Ross Video sells to more than 140 other countries as well.
“The initial location of the company was export focused,” Ross says. “He knew we would sell a lot to the U.S. and being near the border made logistics much easier.”
Growing the company into one of the very top video equipment manufacturer brands around the globe has included a lot of strategic thinking, but more importantly mitigating risks.
“I wouldn’t say there’s one specific secret to success,” says Ross. “It really comes down to not screwing up on the many things that can take you down.”
One strategy that has been crucial to company’s success is having sales and marketing grow in harmony with R&D. Having proverbial boots on the ground in terms of sales people provides critical information in various markets.
“As you grow internationally, first you have to invest in sales and marketing, but then those international customers will ask you for a modification to the product to meet their local needs,” explains Ross. “You may have thought that you had right thing for Canada and the U.S., but then you find out it’s not quite the right thing for Italy or France. You then have to sit down and conduct more R&D and reinvest in your product all over again.”
Ross’ solution to this challenge is to expand the core functionalities of each of the products.
“We’ve never done one-offs,” says Ross, an engineer by trade. “We just enhanced the capabilities of the products to have more and more massive appeal and you can’t do that without having sales people on the ground feeding that information back to the engineers.”
Another strategy that has worked is to avoid trying to sell into too many countries at once, and instead pick those that make the most sense and which the company is best suited to tackle.
“B2B business is boots on the ground in a specific country, speaking the language, knowing the culture and developing relationships over a long period of time,” he says. “If you think you can fly to China one day and have a conversation and get an order and fly to Italy and do it again, I would be very surprised if you are going to be successful. You must choose your most strategic deals in countries that you are going to work in and support.”
Part of the proverbial hot apple pie for Ross Video is growing through acquisitions. The CEO is working on his 11th deal in just seven years, which means that tech companies are knocking on the Ross Video door.
“I have almost one request a week from people looking for me to buy their company,” he says. “On average, we buy one to two companies a year.”
It now appears that the future growth strategy will include further super-sizing Ross Video’s global reach.
“When I came in, we were down to 25 employees and all that was on my mind was survival. It took years to piece together the elements of our strategy, the culture, the right staff and the thinking to make Ross what is today,” he says. “I don’t see a ceiling at this point. Ross has potential to be one Canada’s largest tech companies.”