By Convergent AV
This is an interview with commercial AV industry professional Richard Ventura. Richard holds a BA in history from the University of Minnesota-Morris and an MBA from Hamline University. He also served as Assistant Wrestling coach for the St. Cloud State University Husky Wrestling Program.
Richard is also a retired member of the Minnesota National Guard after 10 years of service in the military.
Rich, your career began with computer hardware and software sales. Tell us about that.
Prior to NEC, I worked for an integrator (GCI Systems) based in Minnesota. My focus was selling everything from hardware to software to services. I handled a lot of our government and small business accounts. However, in my first year I landed a major customer and really got to learn a lot about relationships. It taught me a lot about working with customers to deliver more than just a product. It also taught me a lot about building relationships that are deep and wide. In this role I was 100% commission so you can imagine how if you lose just one order it would and could impact financially. What was also great about this role is that I got to learn about all types of technology and truly understand the ecosystem that we were building. Now remember, this was also before LCD displays took over and laptops were starting its major boom. WiFi wasn’t out there so we sold a lot PCMCIA network cards. Microsoft had worked with Compaq on Windows PDA’s, and Palm Pilots were the latest and greatest personal business tool. Smart Phones weren’t the thing yet. So technology was just about to start to burst and I got to learn a lot about how networking worked and servers and such. It grounded me a lot and gave me a solid baseline to build upon when I joined NEC. Also, I had begun building a massive network of potential partners that I worked with when I was selling their gear.
In 2000 you joined NEC/Mitsubishi as a senior account manager. Can you tell us how you ended up joining the company?
So I actually started as an Account Manager. Then moved into a senior role fairly quick – I think within 2 years. Our account manager when I was working at GCI Systems (Pam Wolfe) was recently moving into a manager position and our NEC printer rep (Chad Crump) reached out to me right away. It was a perfect fit for me as I sold a lot of NEC and I had a strong affinity for the brand. Those early years at NEC/Mitsubishi were amazing times. A lot of new technologies were entering the market – large format LCD, desktop LCD, LED backlighting, medical grade LCD displays, etc. – and I was able to immediately make an impact. In fact my first client win became one of our major customers and set the path I later encountered when starting the retail team. That little customer was Target.
You began with NEC Display Solutions in 2005 as a Senior Account Manager, continuing to take on management positions in sales and business development. Can you tell us about your roles and how the company grew along the way?
Over time NEC/Mitsubishi divested and we became NEC Display Solutions. The career path that was in front of me kept going towards growth and new opportunities. Not long after the divesture, we merged the display and projector teams. Out of this I moved into the solutions architect team and focused on building solutions for our customers and partners. This was a great opportunity for me to expand on the partnerships built over the previous years as well as to expand my knowledge base on emerging technologies. This took a lot of my previous background working as an integrator as well as my history during the early years at NEC.
During this time we noticed a huge trend starting to form. Restaurants were looking more and more at technology to replace their menu boards. We jumped right into this and I moved to exclusively focus on restaurants for North America, as well as still managed a couple of our retail clients. This became the first boom in Digital Menu Board deployments and was our first real opportunity to verticalize our sales approach and build branding and market share in the space. Over a short period of time we deployed over 14,000 displays for McDonalds McCafe and over 26,000 displays for Burger King. During that time, I moved into a management position and hired our vertical sales team which was amazing. They focused on restaurants, retail, and education. That team consisted of some of the best sales people I will ever have the pleasure and opportunity to work with. They were true hunters, closers, and relationship people. To this day I hold each of them in such high regard. We closed a lot of business with major customers in all markets and really led the way for a majority of what is being done today in the markets by our competitors.
As a Vice President with the company since 2013, you have certainly seen changes, not only in your own title but in technology development as well. Tell us about that.
I have been very fortunate over the years to help NEC grow and be successful. The opportunities to work with Solutions Operations, Product Marketing, Business Development, Partner Management and now Strategy have been amazing. A lot of great opportunities and a lot of great relationships. Over this same time we have seen such an amazing boom in technology. Growth in focus on direct view LED, analytics engines, facial detection platforms, OPS computing, Raspberry Pi, expansion of OPS technologies outside of computing, expansion of digital signage platforms, expansion on collaboration systems, explosion of touch technologies. It has been an amazing run so far and the coming years we are going to see so much more.
Digital signage has been a part of your career for quite some time now, can you tell us about what first intrigued you about digital signage and how it has continued to be a main focus?
About 14 years ago I had a meeting with this company in MN called Alive Promo. They were a print marketing company and this gentleman by the name of Sam Rogers was running this new group focusing on Digital. I remember this clear as if it happened yesterday. We are sitting in his office and he is asking me all about our new 32” and 40” LCD displays and some of our smaller panels. At the end he looked at me and said digital signage is going to be a majority of your business someday. Around that time we had just had the first Digital Retail Expo which later became Digital Signage Expo. At the time we saw it as a small show with a lot of promise and a new conversation. We weren’t talking about orders of 3,000 15” desktop LCD displays; instead we were talking about using technology to communicate differently and to drive new actions and activities. We were talking about transformation. This was huge. This transformation impacted the company more than a desktop display. Also, this transformation meant doing more than just selling a screen.
Fast forward to today – this is a core of our business. It is a core of what we do as an industry. And that small show is now the largest show globally dedicated to digital signage and Alive Promo is still there selling interactive directory boards and transforming organizations.
You are the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Digital Signage Federation (DSF), can you tell us about the DSF and what it means to be Chair of the organization? Also talk about the current state as well as the near future of digital out-of-home (DOOH)?
In a nutshell the DSF is the industry. We represent all levels of the industry. We are the body of the industry. If you look at our members we have endusers, integrators, hardware, software, installation, content, network operators, content aggregators, DOOH, consultants, designers, technologists, traditional sign companies, measurement organizations, IoT suppliers, etc. We have members from all over the world. In fact we have an association in Europe, and we are about to announce another in a major part of the world. It means a lot to be able to give back to this industry and help shape the direction and the focus. DOOH is a relatively new focus for the traditional digital signage space. We have always focused on it, but there is much more of a focus as we have seen more convergence of technology and cross over between the digital and the traditional signage space.
We are also seeing a massive blurring of lines between the markets as more and more traditional digital signage installations look for measurement and monetization of their networks and more focus on the technology from the traditional OOH space. This is going to grow even more in the coming years. In fact because of this the DSF is building stronger relationships with organizations like FEPE, OAAA, Geopath, and other in order to work together and deliver stronger value and better overall growth. The digital signage industry itself is growing. We are seeing some maturing when it comes to the overall space. Companies are merging and acquiring each other; new technologies are coming to challenge the norm; the installations are becoming more and more sophisticated; and customers are becoming more knowledgeable about the industry as a whole. Now we need the integrators to fully jump on board and we are starting to see it happen more every day.
(Editor’s note: Richard Ventura is now the Vice President of Strategic Management at NEC Display Solutions).