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Q&A: Bob O'Malley, CEO, InFocus

InFocus CEO Bob O'Malley sits down with CMP to talk about how he plans to turn the company around.

Last fall Bob O'Malley left his position as senior vice president of marketing with distributor Tech Data to take on the challenge of turning around Wilsonville, Ore.-based projector vendor InFocus as its CEO. When he started, InFocus was coming off its 11th un-profitable quarter.

CMP Channel spoke with him one month after his arrival and he felt the "heavy lifting" was over and the company could get back on track. CMP speaks with him again to see how his views on the industry and the projector market had evolved and where the channel fits into the InFocus picture.

How long have you been with InFocus now Bob?

I started on October 1, so it's more than four months.

Bob O'Malley

How have your first few months with InFocus shaped up?

It's a little bit like showing up at the gym and there's a treadmill going already, and it's the only one in the gym so it's what you now need to use. Now you have to figure out how to start running next to the treadmill and jump on it without getting a broken leg at the same time.

Part of that first 100 days are getting a sense of the organization, getting a sense of the people, spending time with customers and understanding supplies so that you can be effective and in sync with things that are already in progress. You don't want to shut anything down. You want to keep everything going.

Before you came over to InFocus you were on the marketing side for Tech Data. What do you think is different about being back on the vendor side?

One of the nice things is that I've been involved in channel-related things for 25 years, and I think that probably means I started when I was around 12. I've been with manufacturers three different times in three different customer organizations, two distributors and one hybrid integrator/distributor, so I've been on both sides before. One thing I think about this business that I've always enjoyed is that there are so many great friendships. You might compete on a deal but you're still close friends because those that are involved in technology, especially on the channel side, realize that they get things done by partnerships and by working with others.

At Tech Data I was a customer consultant, so shifting to this side, that's a perspective that I can certainly bring to the InFocus organization.

What are the parts of your role as CEO of InFocus?

First of all to be a voice and that's both internally and externally. InFocus has been through an awful lot of change, all for the right reasons. If you look at our financials we've lost money now 11 quarters in a row, but over the last year we've narrowed that loss. We're approaching break-even, and the company and people of InFocus have done an awful lot of hard work to bring this company back with the stated objective of being profitable in the near future.

First of all I need to recognize and compliment that and continue to steer that ship and make sure we stay on course. Externally my job is really to listen first to customers and I have probably spent a third of my time over the first four months with customers and talking to customers. My first 30 days I think I either talked to or met with 35 different customers. The second 30 days I went to understand our international operations in Amsterdam for our customers in Europe and in Singapore to support our customers in Asia as well as interfacing with our manufacturer partners.

We're a company that's shifting from a product focus to a company that's going to be much more customer focused, much more market focused and much more solutions oriented. We realize that value-added partners are going to be a key to our success.

How do you plan to revitalize the brand within the channel?

That's part of the good news. I just looked at a study that was done by a branding organization and InFocus came out as No. 1 in both the un-aided and aided awareness categories in projectors. VARBusiness just did a story with Ann Mozer from Ricoh on the cover, and they talked about peripherals and InFocus came out No. 1 in terms of the market.

In some sections it is a strong brand and it's a question of taking that strength and leveraging it. On the Pro/AV side of our business, on the video business -- I characterize the VAR side as being the service side and the data projectors -- the PRO/AV side is video projectors. That's the area that we as a company need to spend a little more time with. I believe what we're going to see is data and video coming together. It's one of these convergence trends that we believe not only does InFocus need to be involved in, we need to lead.

What we are doing is brining InFocus back into focus.

Next: O'Malley Explains Growth Strategy

What is your strategy for growing the company this year?

We need to get control of business, and the second thing we need to do as a company is to grow organically. That's going to be our primary focus for 2008: to go to our traditional customer base and work more closely with them and then to earn more of their business. We believe that traditional customer base has made InFocus the company that it is today. We owe them quit ea bit so we're going to go back and work with them. Our third initiative is to look for significant growth opportunities that are very much aligned with our core business. That's probably going to be something that we're doing into 2009.

I mentioned the conversion of data and video and one of those applications that I think is going to be a big space for projectors is high-definition video conferencing. It's network-based video projection. While a lot of press has been given to the solutions that are involving LDC and plasma, these projectors play an important part in that solution and can potentially be much more cost effective as some applications move beyond videoconferencing to include things like PowerPoint presentations.

Who do you see as your biggest competition?

That's something that was part of my education when I got here. I was aware of traditional competitors in our space like Epson, Sony, Samsung and ViewSonic. We counted up the other day and we had 45 different manufacturers worldwide that make projectors so our biggest competitor is "other."

Our strategy here is to go back to our organic growth strategy and to start to differentiate our products. Our challenge is to differentiate the way our product is used and in terms of our relationships with our distributors.

How do you segment your business?

We have four major components. The first is our traditional component which is a projector you'll see in a conference room with an audience of 10 to 20 people. It is somewhat mobile and can be brought from one conference room to the other but it's not a put-in-your-briefcase mobile product. That's where we started. That's our bread and butter. That's where the projector business started and it's typically used for PowerPoint presentations.

The second application area for us is the mobile segment. Those are products that a traveling salesperson can use with a laptop when he or she needs a projector to show sales projections for probably 5 to 10 users. That has been a growing segment.

The third segment is the installed segment. It's typically in larger conference rooms with a mounted projectors on the ceiling and somewhere in the room there'd be a screen for the projection. Typically these are for audiences of 25 to 300. These projectors need to have variable lenses.

The fourth segment is the home segment. With that the vertical that dominates that is education. That's on the low end an elementary school with a projector that can be brought in on a cart to be available to an instructor and then on the college-end it's the installed segment.

What new technologies in projectors represent opportunities for VARs?

Our industry, the projector component of the industry, is going to see some changes in the next couple of years which I think will give VARs a tremendous opportunity to go in and replace systems, and the two drivers are wide-screen aspect ratios and high resolution/high definition. With the wide resolution movement, like with the TV market, people are moving from 4:3 to the 6:9 aspect ratios. You're going to see the same thing on the projector side.

If I have a notebook with a 16:10 aspect ratio, I'm going to want to project an image that's 16:10. That's an opportunity for our VAR base to go out and sell new screens, new projectors. We just announced the first 16:10 aspect ratio projector, so we're leading the market for wide projection.

The second driver is going to be high resolution. That's not so much for PowerPoint presentations but as we get much more into the projection of video, there are going to be very important applications like digital signage and high definition videoconferencing. Those will be opportunities for VARs.

Wide and high-definition and high-resolution are key factors in the selections of projectors going forward in the future, and key opportunities for our VARs going out to sell them.

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