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ACPCreativIT Adds East Coast Muscle With Versatile Communications Acquisition

Steven Burke

‘We now have a full solutions portfolio for our customers,’ says Versatile Communciations cofounder and CEO John Barker. ‘We didn’t really have a big security practice or an A/V solutions offering. We are getting that now. Size matters. There is leverage that we gain in terms of our ability to take on bigger projects.’

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Versatile Communications co-founders John Barker and Kevin Meany have turned away countless acquisition offers over the years. But when ACP CreativIT- with the backing of The Zaf Group- a family investment firm- knocked on their door they knew they had found a refreshing alternative to the many “churn and burn” deal makers they had turned away.

The Zaf Group’s long term commitment to employees and customers – along with working side by side with other like minded solution provider CEOs- was a “refreshing” contrast to the short term focused private equity players looking to acquire Versatile, said Versatile CEO Barker says.

“We feel like a lot of solution providers have gone down a different direction with a profit at all costs churn and burn approach to the business, which was entirely unattractive to us,” said Barker. “It was nice to find The Zaf Group. It has been refreshing to find the long term values of The Zaf Group.”

The Zaf Group, which is headed up by former Nortel Networks CEO Mike Zafirovski, insists that the founders of the family-run businesses it acquires retain a minority interest and remain involved to grow the business. What’s more, The Zaf Group insists on a long term strategic focus that sets it apart from other investors particularly short term three to five year focused private equity companies.

Barker said the ability to work collaboratively with a talented team of top notch executives to grow the business is a far cry from the heavy handed approach he saw from other deal makers. “The prospect of heading down a path where someone would write us a check and we would have to lay people off and lose control of how we go about our business and treat our customers was not appealing to us,” said Barker.

With the deal done, Barker said he and Versatile CTO Meany and their team of employees are charged up about the future. “This has been good for Kevin and I, the employees and customers,” he said.

Meany, for his part, says The Zaf Group came in with the “exact opposite approach” of other investors that were looking to “write us a check and have us march off into the sunset with a a bunch of kids that were still wet behind the ears taking over.” The response from Meany and Barker to those offers: “Are you serious?” said Meany.

The deal with The Zaf Group and ACPCreativIT marks a new chapter for the 28 year old Hudson, Mass.-based Versatile, which at $30 million and 50 employees, bats well above its weight with an impressive national customer base that includes healthcare, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, higher education and a growing commercial customer base.

The deal provides ACPCreativIT with its first offices on the East Coast with offices in Hudson, Mass. and Tampa, Florida.

Zafirovski, who is executive chairman of ACP CreativIT, said he was impressed by Versatile Communications’ technology talent. “The ability to scale up what they have built is significant,” he said

For Versatile Communications the deal is opening the door to a plethora of new services for customers including additional security services, unified communications, and audio visual (A/V) meeting solutions, said Barker. ”We now have a full solutions portfolio for our customers,” he said. “We didn’t really have a big security practice or an A/V solutions offering. We are getting that now.”

The scale and scope of the solutions muscle that ACPCreativIT companies bring to bear is appealing to Versatile customers, he said.

“Size matters,” he said. “There is leverage that we gain in terms of our ability to take on bigger projects. Kevin and I came out of big IT departments. We were used to running big data centers. Now we have got some bigger britches and can take on some of these things that maybe in the past we would not. The ability to be able to deliver nationally is a big deal.”

Versatile Communications has top notch networking and healthcare talent that will add to ACP CreativIT’s solutions muscle too, said Barker. But it is the company’s strong technical talent with a focus on professional services and cloud consulting capabilities that has powered the company through the supply chain crisis. “We’ve done a really good job with the consulting professional services,” he said. “There is a lot of consulting work we do to get people to the cloud.”

Zafirovski says he sees ACP CreativIT and The Zaf Group helping companies like Versatile Communications reach the next level of growth with heavy investment in building out national practices in areas like cybersecurity, cloud, audio/visual, professional services and voice communications.

The Zaf Group remains unflinching in the resolve to take a long term view of building the business, said Zafirovski. That, he said, is the critical differentiator for ACP CreativIT to deliver the flat out best solutions experience to customers. “What I think is most important is everything we do is focused on the long term with regard to how the pieces fit in,” he said. “So whether we double in size in the next five years or ten years is not nearly as important as being the best. We are in this for the long-term. We have a knowledge of what it takes to win.”

The beauty of buying family run companies with the owners still involved in the business is the ability it provides ACP CreativIT to build upon customer for life relationships, said Zafirovski “A unique part of this is the great level of credibility our owners have with customers,” he said.

ACP CreativIT CEO Scott Dunsire says The Zaf Group model has resulted in an executive dream team of business owners that is giving ACP CreativIT a huge competitive advantage over competitors.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to work with other great entrepreneurial leaders that have grown their businesses profitably over the last 30 years,” said Dunsire, who meets with those leaders monthly as part of his executive committee.”It’s a very unique situation. Those CEOs have migrated their businesses from the VAR space of 30 years ago to a value added services model. Not many CEOs have the ability to tap into that knowledge like I do. I don’t feel like they work for me. I feel like I work for them.”

The Zafirovski Group principles of “what makes companies great” has provided big new opportunities for employees and game changing business outcomes for customers, said Dunsire. “By putting these companies together it has provided our employees with the opportunity to reach their career ambitions and has opened up a whole new world of services to our customers. It has raised the bar in our ability to deliver new services and technology solutions for our customers. With each one of the acquisitions we have acquired incremental skill sets and technology capabilities that allow us to deliver more strategic business outcomes to our customers at scale. We have gone from $80 million with 65 employees to over $300 million with 300 employees in three and a half years.”

The common thread that ties together all of the ACP CreativIT companies is an “incredible culture that cares about their customers, employees and the vendor partners,” said Dunsire. “My perspective is we have really have two customers: our vendor partners and our end user customers. Our partnerships are as valuable as our customers because we want to offer the right solutions with the right support. If we don’t have those great relationships with our vendor partners then we are not going to have the capilitities to deliver the right solutions to our customers.”

As to the future, Dunsire says the “sky is the limit” given the unique long-term focus that The Zaf Group’s investment strategy has provided the company.

“The fact that The Zaf Group is in this for perpetuity gives our employees the confidence that there is no better place to achieve their career ambitions,” he said. “And it gives our customers the confidence that there is no one better to solve their business problems with technology solutions and services from customization and rapid deployment of end point devices to cloud consulting and security services and everything in between.These acquisitions have allowed us to go wider and deeper with our current customer base and acquire new customers due to our new capabilities. It is all building upon our customers for life strategy.”

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