How He Came to be CEO and Where He’ll Pursue Growth
Last month I had the opportunity to attend the first-ever Crestron Next Road Trip event held in Boston, MA. The company is using the Road Trip as a replacement for the lost CEDIA Expo 2021 where they and around 150-200 other companies pulled out in the face of rising COVID infections. It is designed to offer integrators an opportunity to view its many new recently introduced products, take a variety of training courses, and get a preview of some future technology.
But most importantly for me, I was granted an opportunity for an unrestricted interview with Crestron’s new CEO, Dan Feldstein. The interview was originally scheduled for 30-minutes but actually ended up lasting more than an hour and a half, as our vigorous conversation covered a lot of ground – including big topics, such as how Feldstein came to be the company’s new CEO, and what market areas he believes offer the greatest growth opportunity for the company.
See my interview with Dan Feldstein, Crestron CEO…
The Crestron Next Road Trip is a two-day event, and my interview with Dan Feldstein was scheduled for the morning of Day 2. Once we had all gathered near the registration desk at the appointed hour, our group walked to a nearby banquet room that had been set up with tables and chairs, but was not currently in use and therefore quiet and empty.
Joining us for this interview was: Dan Feldstein, Crestron’s new CEO; Brad Hintze, Executive VP of Marketing; Kaylie Shaffer, Associate Marketing Manager (and my main PR contact for this event); and myself.
My first impression of Dan Feldstein was to notice how young he looks. I’m used to older, more establishment-type CEOs in expensive suits, with golf-course tans, slicked-back hair, and spitting out smooth-talking corporate-speak. Feldstein puts off more of a young, fresh-faced, intelligent, detailed, and one-of-us friendly kind of vibe.
After some light banter, we got down to business. My goal in this interview was to try and get a sense of Feldstein’s perspective on where the company is at, where he sees it going, what’s working well, what are their challenges. Basically, I want to know what Crestron dealers (and the rest of us) expect from the company now that there is a new sheriff in town.
Easily Hits Curveballs Right Back at You
Feldstein is easy to talk to and a generous conversant who is quick to pass compliments and credit to others while remaining fairly modest about his own personal accomplishments. He comes off very much like a team player who is willing to share the limelight and to listen and weigh the points of others…including a nosy tech reporter!
I was impressed by, no matter how tricky the topic he was queried about, how quick he was to respond with a well constructed and insightful response. I even threw a couple of curveballs at him…just to test this skill. I practically had to duck when he hit them right back at me.
Was It Just the Name? Or Was There More to How He Became CEO?
My first goal was to learn the story of how he came to this position. Was it simply handed to him due to his famous last name? Or did he have to work for it? His perspective here was thoughtful.
Crestron was born the same year I was born. So Crestron has been a part of my life from day one. Certainly my earliest memories have always included Crestron. Whether it was wandering through the [Crestron] parts stock room, grabbing a speaker and a case and a light and a battery…and then trying to put something together. Or whether it was that my summer jobs were always at Crestron. Or even the memory of how after dinner, sitting with my father, he would teach me things like how to read the resistor color codes.”Dan Feldstein reminiscing how Crestron has been a part of his life, his whole life
Of course, that Dad that he’s referring to is George Feldstein, the founder of Crestron. George is a person of historical significance to both Crestron and to Tech, as he is one of the primary driving forces behind the growth of the entire integration industry, Dan had many memories of his father helping to interest him in engineering – and preparing him for big things in the future.
A Similar Interest; But, Is There a Difference?
But it didn’t sound like George had to work too hard to interest Dan in engineering. “From my earliest ages, I was always fascinated with technology…always fascinated with what we did at Crestron…and always kind of involved in the whole process,” Feldstein said.
“I always knew I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and be an engineer,” Feldstein told me. “So I went to RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a famous engineering school). I was thinking that I would be an electrical engineer like him, but I liked the software side also. So I did the computer systems engineering program there, which is a little bit of a hybrid program where you learn circuit design, but you also have a concentration on programming.”
Defining a Path All His Own
This was Dan’s first step away from directly copying his father’s role, and beginning to define a separate but connected path all of his own. “So when I started at Crestron full time in ’94, I came in on the software side because we had plenty of hardware engineers but not a lot of software people.”
Feldstein spent his first eight years at Crestron writing software applications, such as creating custom software for certain projects, developing software tools for dealers to use, and even creating firmware for some control processes. He was a full-fledged Crestron engineer, but one who grasped both the hardware and software sides of the equation.
The First ‘Inflection Point’ of an Expanding Role
Then, his Crestron career hit an inflection point. The company had an immediate need to update their corporate software systems and there was really no perfect person to do it. Then someone suggested to George that Dan might be the right person to do that. George thought for a moment and said, “Dan?…Dan who?” You know George…Dan…your son.
And with that Dan moves into the role of looking at a variety of software solutions. A project of this magnitude requires a full understanding of the company’s processes. “I was working with every department to understand their needs and what their requirements were.” It’s a big job with a lot of risks if you get it wrong.
Climbing the Learning Curve; Expanding His Role
So now, Dan was in the operations side of the business – working with accounting, operations, IT (information technology), engineering to come up with the perfect system. He learned a lot more about things in the company that he had no previous direct interaction with before this project.
That project gave me the opportunity to really touch every part of the business. And then, as I like to joke, I became the VP of everything my father didn’t want to do. He gave me oversight of human resources, facilities, IT, and accounting. It was a really big vote of confidence.”Dan Feldstein
This meant that the core upper management at the company was George for engineering, Randy Klein for sales and marketing, and Dan for operations. He also mentions that another important player was Fred Bargetzi, the company’s chief technologist, who recently passed away. This group was responsible for almost all of the major decisions that moved the company forward. How tight was this group? Feldstein says that some combination of these four executives had lunch together almost every day.
Where Will the Growth Come From?
Crestron is a big company facing a big tech industry with lots of different markets available to it. So I asked Feldstein, where did he see particularly rich opportunities for Crestron? What specific areas will we see further product development and more innovations?
Without skipping a beat, he offered this assessment:
- Unified Communications (UC) – This is a key technology developed for its commercial customers that elegantly integrates various forms and channels of communication into one easy-to-operate device. Over the last couple of years, the company has further diversified this capability into devices designed for the residential space to accommodate the new work-from-home world.
- Commercial Lighting – Feldstein tells me that commercial lighting is a “valuable part of our business and we’re going to follow that opportunity where it takes us.” Offering scalable lighting control solutions suitable for any commercial space from office to stadium, the company has made significant advancement…with room to grow.
- Residential – Crestron has made massive inroads into the residential space thanks to its latest Crestron Home solution which delivers a new level of flexibililty while offering clients an easy and intuitive system to operate. The company is continuing to expand Crestron Home product offerings, and Feldstein sees a long path of continued growth for the company in the residential space.
- Workplace of the Future – “Fundamentally, every workplace on the planet has to change,” Feldstein proclaimed without hyperbole. He says the workplace was already changing, but COVID accelerated the pace of change “1 million percent… And now, effectively every company is looking at what will the future of work look like?” Feldstein grew more animated as he imaged the thinking of every CEO. “Where are my people? How are they interacting? How do I make sure thay’re still productive?” So, he concludes, the opportunity for Crestron there…”is huge!”
Watch for Part 2 of This Interview with Dan Feldstein
There was much more covered in this interview that I will save for a Part 2 post later. In that post we’ll talk about Crestron’s take on supply chain issues, how the company will never go public, how Feldstein views his role as CEO, and how Crestron seeks to be a better business partner to dealers and suppliers. Whew! I told you…this was a long, interesting, and thought-provoking interview!
However, for now, I can say that I found Feldstein friendly, articulate, thoughtful, and passionate about technology, customers, and…of course…Crestron. It will be interesting to watch them continue their journey with their “new” CEO.
Watch for Part 2 of my interview with Dan Feldstein.
Learn more about Crestron at: crestron.com.