Charlie Vogt, who replaced Harris Morris as CEO of Harris Broadcast this week, says he's eager to learn the company and the broadcast industry and ready to shape Harris' strategy. "Clearly, we're going to invest the dollars where we feel like the market is trending to. The team has got to be very thoughtful and really smart about where we want to place our chips, and what bets we want to double down on," Vogt says in an exclusive interview with TVNewsCheck.
New Harris CEO Getting Set To ‘Double Down’
Harris Broadcast’s new CEO is not wasting any time.
In his first 72 hours on the job this week, Charlie Vogt met with Harris’ sales, product line and engineering managers at headquarters in Denver, ran through the company’s massive TV technology portfolio and even started reaching out to key customers, including CBS.
He is planning visits to the company’s scattered North American operations that will take him to Quincy, Ill.; Mason, Ohio; and Toronto in a couple of weeks.
“Over the next 60 to 90 days, I’m going to spend a lot of time in front of our key customers and employees,” he says in interview with TVNewsCheck.
What he learns from all the meetings and all the talk will shape Harris strategy, he says. “Clearly, we’re going to invest the dollars where we feel like the market is trending to.
“The team has got to be very thoughtful and really smart about where we want to place our chips, and what bets we want to double down on.”
Vogt isn’t ready to say where Harris will be making those bets, but promises answers soon. “I’ll be very decisive.”
Vogt replaces Harris Morris, one of the architects of Harris’ billion-dollar expansion throughout the 2000s that was aimed at creating a one-stop technology shop for television producers and distributors.
Morris was president of the division when longtime parent Harris Corp., disappointed by the lackluster returns, decided early last year to spin it off. After shopping it, Harris sold it to The Gores Group, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, last December for $225 million. Two months later, the new owner named Morris CEO.
But Morris didn’t last long. On July 2, Carl Vogel, a Gores director and chairman of the Harris board, notified employees via email that Morris was out, offering no explanation. He promised that a new CEO would be named on July 9 and he made good on that.
Vogt wouldn’t comment on Morris’ departure, but did say he plans on having lunch with him in the coming weeks. “I definitely want to meet him and he wants to meet me. I want to do everything I possibly can to help him, and to the extent that he can help me, I want to encourage him to do that.”
Harris Corp.’s sale of the unit was for much less than it had invested in it, and the apparent impatience of the new owner with Morris has raised concerns among its many broadcast customers.
One executive says he’s had issues with Harris in the past six months that included equipment being shipped to the wrong station. Another questioned Harris’ commitment to R&D.
“They’ve stripped the company,” the executive said. “Harris has a very big name, and their products have been good, but right now you can’t count on that property or that acquisition. I’m not sure if they’re going to start developing any new technology. Right now, it looks like they’re just trying to sustain it.”
But Joe Zaller, a broadcast technology analyst and president of Devoncroft Partners, says it isn’t unusual for a company acquired by an investment firm to change management quickly.
“The Gore Group has a lot of expertise in carving out and streamlining companies, so it isn’t a surprise they hired someone new,” he says. “They needed a guy with experience in a similar sized company and he clearly has a successful track record with M&A.
“There has been uncertainty around Harris, but they should be able to put that all behind them now,” Zaller adds.
Vogt acknowledges that one of Harris’ biggest problems has been the inability to integrate the companies it acquired into a coherent whole.
“That’s an area where I have done very well over the last nine years — creating one culture, one integrated business and one very aligned product portfolio,” he says. “I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t an opportunity to improve on a lot of those opportunities here.”
Vogt says he’s open to acquiring more companies if their technology and culture are good fits.
“With my experience in M&A, I think the Gores team is excited about the prospects of our ability to do M&A if that’s a growth strategy that makes sense for the company,” he says.
And no one should worry about Harris’ commitment to product development, he says. “I think one of the advantages we have as a company is the scale of the business — there’s not a lot of companies in our space that are spending $90 million to $100 million in R&D.
“The key is deciding where we want to invest those R&D dollars that we’re ultimately going to get the most benefit from and that our customers will benefit from.”
Vogt comes from GENBAND, a privately held provider of voice-over-IP technology that supports 60% of all voice calls in the U.S. and 30% of calls worldwide, and services 60% of the MSO space.
As CEO since 2004, he expanded Genband’s operations to more than 50 countries and secured 80 of the top 100 communications service providers and cable operators as customers. His work at GENBAND included integrating six acquisitions, including Tekelec SSG, NextPoint Networks and Nortel’s VoIP Business.
Last year, The Wall Street Journal named Genbandthe No. 1 privately funded company in the nation, topping a list of 5,900 companies.
“I wouldn’t have left Genband after nine years of pretty remarkable growth, and actually a pretty exciting time, if I didn’t see that this industry wasn’t ready to go through a similar kind of transformation, and that the investors that bought the business weren’t 150% behind me and my long-term vision for the company,” Vogt says.
“They knew out of the gate that I have zero interest in coming over here to flip a company in two years. My goal is to come here and build the business and focus on the areas that we’re convinced have long growth trends.”
It was his work at Genband that caught the attention of The Gores Group. Vogt says Gores had approached him earlier for other jobs at companies in its portfolio. During his years at Genband, Vogt says he got to know Carl Vogel when he was running Charter Communications, the giant cable operator.
Vogt knows how to keep his bosses happy. Harris Broadcast will post positive earnings for the 2014 fiscal year, which started July 1, says Vogt. “We have a plan that we’re running through this week that will allow us to do that.
“To be honest, I’d like to be in a position in a couple of years to take the company public and continue to grow the business. That’s been my mindset coming in.”
Harris’ headquarters will remain in Denver, but the 50-year-old Vogt says he will maintain an office in Dallas, where Genbandis based and his family lives. He has two daughters attending the University of Arkansas and a 15-year-old son, who has his father’s knack for baseball. Vogt played the game at the University of St. Louis, where he earned a bachelor’s degrees in economics and computer sciences.
“I’m not an ivory tower CEO,” he says. “That’s why I have five million American Airline miles. If people are waiting for me to come into the office every day in Denver or Dallas, or wherever, that’s not what they’re going to get. I think the value I can create is spending a lot of time with our customers and partners.”