At the Center of the Storm, CEDIA’s CEO Exudes Confidence; But What’s the Plan?

cedia logoJust before the Consumer Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) held its annual Expo in Dallas in October 2015, we learned it had appointed a new Chief Executive Officer – Vincent Bruno, who joined the organization after leaving his role as a marketing director for Crestron Electronics. Bruno, who went through an extensive executive search process, hit the ground running, including trying to meet as many members as possible at the show.

But now, months later, the organization is trying to regain momentum after some concerning issues came to light, the most recent being the exit of Crestron, which we announced last week. Bruno described his go-forward plan…and it is ambitious.

What’s the new CEO’s plan? Read more below…

One refreshing step that Bruno took immediately was to make himself widely available to the media, participating in a virtual round-robin of media interviews. Although Strata-gee didn’t participate in that first wave of interviews, shortly after that, Bruno agreed to meet with us as well.

Our first interview with Bruno took place late last year. To facilitate the discussion, we agreed to speak off-the-record about a wide range of issues the new CEO was facing in his early days. Since that discussion was off-the-record we can only say this, we were impressed with his openness – everything was on the table for discussion and he did not decline any of our questions. This is, sad to say, a refreshing change of pace for a previously opaque organization – as we have been frequently frustrated in trying to get answers to often simple questions.

An Unusual Series of Events

Since our conversation with Bruno, an unusual series of events took place that reported on, sometimes exclusively. First, we reported on the exit of two members of CEDIA’s Board of Directors. The way this news came to our attention only confirmed their exit, but no reason was given for why these two directors chose to resign. Ultimately, we were shown a copy of the resignation letter of Bob Brown, one of the directors who resigned – which informed us of his reasons for resigning. We also interviewed Larry Pexton, then Chairman of the CEDIA Board who gave his take on Brown’s issues. Brown’s resignation letter contained a long list of grievances that suggested a dysfunctional Board of Directors.

We separately learned that the organization’s long time attorney abruptly left the organization, again with no official announcement or explanation from CEDIA. A new firm has been retained in his place. This move may be an example of the new CEO picking his own team…or it may be part of the general rumble of discontent that seems to exist.

The Eve of ISE

It was hard not to pick up on turmoil within and around CEDIA. Then last week, we reported that  the single largest exhibitor in CEDIA’s Expo and a 20+ year supporter of the organization, Crestron Electronics, had decided to pull out of the 2016 CEDIA Expo. This development was unexpected…and a bit suspicious…as it came in the wake of CEDIA hiring away Crestron’s marketing director.

So on the eve of the Integrated Systems Europe show, we had the opportunity to speak again with Bruno – on the record this time – to take stock of his first days as the organization’s chief executive. Given that he was in the middle of dealing with the rather rambunctious media reaction over the Crestron news, we were struck by how calm and self-assured he appeared to be…at least over the telephone.

Impression of CEDIA Upon Joining

Photo of Vincent Bruno

Vincent Bruno

Bruno told us how, in his day’s as a manufacturer, he had come to think of CEDIA as primarily just the show (meaning their annual Expo) – a comment we hear frequently from both members and manufacturers. However, when he arrived at headquarters, Bruno was pleased to discover that CEDIA was so much more than just a show.

“Before I joined CEDIA, I thought it was a sleepy organization and the only significance of CEDIA to me was the show – I didn’t regard CEDIA for anything else,” Bruno told us. “My pleasant surprise was how organized the staff is, and the area that needs the most work is in marketing – to tell the world of the good things that we actually offer.”

Board Dysfunction Acknowledged

So we asked Bruno, besides the staff, what else did he discover upon joining the management team? On Day One, what issues arose that you felt needed to be addressed?

“What I found was a dysfunctional board,” Bruno admitted. “I constantly needed to remind the people on the board that we need to be here being visionary and we need to help members. And everything that’s being talked about is not helping members – not a single member. We need to get back to the business of helping members. That’s why they give us their money – and we have to return back value.”

Domestic and International Staff

As far as the staff, Bruno said he discovered a group of people who needed leadership and direction. But to their credit, they didn’t just sit still, Bruno told us. “They kept things going, like new certifications in place, new education that was being prepared, and more,” he said. “You know, things that do help members that members didn’t know about.

On the international level, in the EMEA region (out of the UK) Bruno was pleased to discover a great group of staff, whom he said were very well-organized and “very passionate about their membership.”

“They went out there and they launched the City and Guilds Accreditation, so now CEDIA education is accredited by this group and it’s a very big deal,” Bruno said with a sense of pride. “There are things in place with builders that, unless you’re a CEDIA member, you cannot even quote on a project. That’s fabulous.”

CEDIA 2015 Day 1 Crowd

CEDIA Expo 2015

Reaching Out to Shows in Related Industries

Bruno told us that CEDIA is “working real hard” to get their educational programs accredited by some educational institution. He didn’t have a lot of details on this yet, but clearly, he was inspired by the successful program instituted by the EMEA staff initiatives.

Bruno told us that he has promoted Dave Chic to Senior Director for Industry Outreach and has tasked him with forwarding the organization’s outreach initiatives. The focus has already borne fruit as Bruno told us he has established a relationship with the CEO of the National Association of Home Builders, and the CEO of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Through these initiatives, Bruno has already decided that CEDIA will have a Technology Pavilion at the next Design & Construction Week Show.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Bruno told us that he has created three simple strategic statements for his team – one for staff, one for clients (homeowners), and one for members. They are:

  • STAFF – “CEDIA maintains a working-together culture based on direct, open, and honest communication with each other, our members, partners, vendors and key alliances. Our team will continually learn, adapt, and improve. And we will maintain an environment that is high-performing and we will always be developing our expertise in the technology we represent.”Bruno told us that he plans to completely recreate the headquarters facility. The lease is up in October 2017 and they will either renew at the current location, or move to an entirely new facility. Whichever way it works out – Bruno says he intends to dramatically overhaul their presence.”We’re going to build out our facility to be an Experience Center,” Bruno said, alluding to a Crestron concept. “If Lutron provides all the lighting, it’ll be the Lutron Lighting Controls for CEDIA headquarters. If Savant provides the controls for the kitchen, it’ll be the Savant Kitchen.”The goal: to continuously expose the staff to the technology being installed by CEDIA members.
  • CLIENTS – “CEDIA is the place where clients come to find people to professionally design, install, upgrade, and repair their technology.”CEDIA, Bruno tells us, has to be the place where people (i.e. clients) come to find people (i.e. CEDIA members). To help facilitate this, CEDIA is planning to install a LinkedIn module on their website where “a licensed technologist” can put his profile – including, for example, a video of his projects – or anything else – on his listing on the site. Homeowners will be able to peruse this information to select which specialist to call. Bruno looks at this as a sort of Uber for technology installer.Bruno also says that CEDIA the organization is attempting to make the acronym “CEDIA” be synonymous with “technology.” This will help when the organization launched consumer events, which Bruno plans at some time into the future. These events, which he visualizes as regionally based, i.e. CEDIA New York City, CEDIA Miami, CEDIA LA…”wherever there’s an NFL team” – “Where home technology professionals and manufacturers will exhibit to the right demographic of people to come to the event,” Bruno said excitedly. “Right now we have a trade show, I want to have more consumer-facing events.”
  • MEMBERS – “CEDIA provides vision, connection, and resources to empower our members to collaborate and expand prosperity within the channel by providing clients with a life lived best at home.””So what we are,” Bruno explained, “we are the authority for residential technology and we are the connector.”CEDIA has created concepts such as CEDIA Groups and is pursuing other initiatives to do a better job of being an industry “connector.”

Bruno told us that he has created projects related to each of the above statements. Ironically, one of his biggest challenges with the staff has been to “instill the confidence that we can achieve these lofty goals.” Every day, he explains what success looks like.

He listed a range of goals, such as:

  • Selling out exhibit space-meeting rooms-sponsorships-education-“and all that stuff” – “I don’t want a single square foot to be available…as a matter of fact I want a waiting list,” Bruno said.
  • Attracting mainstream media – “I absolutely have to have at my show CNET, Gizmodo, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Wired, Forbes, Bloomberg, Barron’s – you know? Gotta’ have them.”
  • Manufacturer Announcements – “We have to entice manufacturers to make new product and technology announcements at our show. Our show is in September, that’s right before the holiday shopping season and months before the CES. At CES, more than 180,000 people come – you know a journalist cannot even have five meaningful conversations throughout that whole show because the gridlock, the traffic, the general volume of people. Our show is perfect for press. Last year we had 18,764 people come to our show. I need a minimum of 20,000 attendees at the CEDIA 2016.”`
  • Membership growth – Bruno says that they “absolutely” have to drive membership to 4,000 members globally. Currently, the organization is at 3700+ members, including EMEA.

Of these goals Bruno says: “They ARE achievable and we WILL achieve them.”

During our discussion, we did talk about the surprising Crestron decision to pull out of the 2016 Expo, and you can see his reaction in our post specifically on the Crestron news.

Globalization Strategy

Finally, Bruno said that he is taking opportunity of his attendance at the ISE event in Amsterdam to further CEDIA’s globalization strategy. He is meeting with the CEDIA UK management and board with some specific proposals to better tighten the relationship between the two organizations. There will be more details released on this later.

To our ears, Bruno has outlined an ambitious agenda. Maybe too ambitious. More members, more globalization, more initiatives – is this the best direction for CEDIA? Tell us what you think in the Comment section of this article.

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About Ted

A sales and marketing specialist - primarily in the technology industry - I've experienced a sort of "circle of life" in business. I've been a mass merchant retailer, a specialty retailer, a specialty manufacturer, a large volume manufacturer, a distributor, and even represented sales representatives. Now the owner of a marketing company that works with a variety of businesses on improving their strategic marketing and business development - I analyze issues from all angles to develop holistic solutions.

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