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Atrion Communication Founder Pat Grillo Scales Back Role After 33 Years, Son Dominic To Succeed Him
For many years, every new employee at Atrion Communication received a gift courtesy of founder Pat Grillo.
It was a copy of Michale Bandley and Elizabeth Kearney's 1990 book "Customers Run Your Company: They Pay The Bills!" Grillo instructed all of Atrion's most recent hires to read the book and heed its lessons.
In case the book slipped anyone's mind, Grillo installed a large sign in Atrion's Branchburg N.J.-based headquarters with the words "Customers Run Your Company: They Pay The Bills!"
Grillo knows about building a customer-first culture; several of Atrion's clients have been with the company since it was founded in 1985. Grillo's goal for Atrion has never been growth; instead, he's been laser-focused on keeping customers satisfied, employees happy, and Atrion positioned as the highest-quality IT services firm in its region.
"I'm a relationship guy, basically a sales guy who happened to know a little about technology at some point in time," Grillo said. "You have to keep your base happy, and make sure they're getting the service you promised them."
Grillo hopes to meld Atrion's legacy of customer service with a fast-growing professional services practice as he gradually hands the company's reins over to his son, Dominic Grillo. Dominic Grillo was promoted June 1 to the president role, where he's responsible for overseeing all of the company's day-to-day operations.
Pat Grillo will remain Atrion's chairman and CEO, where he'll be responsible for working a number of major accounts, handling high-level vendor meetings, and setting Atrion's overall, high-level plans.
"I'll still have the chance to say 'yes' or 'no' when it comes to spending money," Grillo said. "I like the challenge of keeping up with the young people."
Pat Grillo began stepping away from the technology side of Atrion's business three or four years ago to focus primarily on the business operations. At that point, Dominic Grillo took charge of the technology decisions and brought on David Magee in late 2014 to serve as Atrion's chief technology officer.
"He's a technologist," Grillo said, noting that Dominic Grillo holds the highly-coveted Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential. "I was some 30 years ago, but I couldn't keep up with it. Technology changes awful quick."
Dominic Grillo and Magee have enjoyed major growth with Atrion's professional services practice since the start of the year by engaging with both new accounts and existing clients. Atrion's new guard also plans to focus heavily on security, Pat Grillo said, as the company plans to double down on security assessments, penetration testing, and implementations.
Internal response to Dominic Grillo's ascension to Atrion's presidency has been positive, Pat Grillo said, as both the younger Grillo and most of Atrion's leadership team are in their 40s.
"I think they like the idea of someone more their age that's more in tune with what's going on today," Grillo said.
Dominic Grillo's work at Atrion began at the way back in grade school when he was putting stamps on envelopes for mailers. His formal employment at Atrion began in the shipping and receiving division prior to moving over to the technical side.
He was named Atrion's executive vice president in 2011, and Pat Grillo quickly began receiving queries from IT vendor executives looking to hire the younger Grillo. Grillo said his son is "one of the smartest people you're ever going to meet," and he opted to stick with Atrion despite having the opportunity to make far more money elsewhere.
"Because he's my son, he takes the least time off and puts in the most hours," Grillo said. "It's not about nepotism. It's about work ethic and all the things he brings to the table."
Despite all this, Dominic Grillo maintained as recently as four years ago that he wanted no part of running Atrion. It wasn't until Pat Grillo brought in Brian Maloney as a business advisor to potentially prepare the company for sale that he learned Dominic wanted to give running Atrion a try.
So a little more than three years, Pat Grillo began grooming Dominic to take over the company, and has gradually allowed his son to make more and more decisions over that time.
"It's a matter of confidence," Grillo said. "He's made a lot of great moves."
As Dominic Grillo takes over Atrion's operations, Pat said he would like to spend more time with his grandkids, get on the Board of Directors for a company or two, and do more for veterans causes. Pat served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, and relishes the opportunity to help raise money for the troops.
"People who retire get old and die really fast," Grillo said. "I'm always going to work."