Charbel Zreik spent two years looking for the right company to acquire. Through a search fund model, Charbel discovered DCI Design, a communications provider servicing the hospitality industry. Though they were not on the market, Charbel recognized a unique opportunity.
“I contacted the CEO,” Charbel remembers. At the time, the business was owned by six partners and had been around for 25 years. They had a reputation for excellent engineering as well as customer support, but had reached a plateau. “The six partners couldn’t agree on what the next level was,” says Charbel. “They saw they needed a single leader and realized they needed a partner to create sustainable, scalable processes and add a marketing engine and a unified vision.”
Charbel closed on the acquisition of DCI in July 23, 2014 and on July 24, came in and took over as CEO. “DCI had brand recognition at the highest level of the industry,” he says. Even so, as one of many tech providers to the $4 billion hospitality market, Charbel saw room for growth.
The industry was going through a transformation at the time. The most forward-thinking hotels were moving from on-premise technology to hosted, cloud-based technology. “Very quickly after coming on board, I aligned with Marriott who had a strong hosted model,” says Charbel. His first strategic hire was a senior leader from the hotel juggernaut who could run that line.
The second thing Charbel did was make a small acquisition that gave him the certification to do high speed Wi-Fi access for Marriott. “Getting the Marriott certification to do that is very coveted and difficult,” he says.
By month six Charbel had started to bring on leaders that could juice the areas DCI was lacking in, namely sales and marketing. “I built out a senior management team that drew on the best of the best from around the industry,” he says. Hires included a head of sales from a hospitality-focused IT security company, a head of installation and head of systems architecture from competitors, a senior controller, and some additions to the board of directors.
On the culture side, Charbel was determined to shake things up a bit. “We did a re-org in which we shifted a little bit of the organizational structure and did some transformational work from a cultural perspective. We set a very clear cultural vision for the company and made some difficult decisions around letting people go that were not in line with the culture.”
“This wasn’t meant to be a turnaround,” says Charbel. He was simply doing what was needed to take a company that was doing well and needed to go to the next level. “You can’t come in and clean house,” he says. “You have to take the best of what the company has to offer. It was more of an organizational sculpting.”
Charbel has a defined view of his role as CEO. “I am in touch with the market and understand what value prop makes sense for the market and for our customers,” he explains. “The second piece of it is articulating a clear vision and plan for the company that’s in line with the needs of the market and the needs of our customers.”
He’s done this partly through building a culture that is sustainable and keeps the company moving together cohesively. Charbel aims to put team players in place that have clear ownership over their distinct objectives. “Then I become a coach as they execute their different parts of the vision.”
Charbel wants DCI to stay nimble as they grow. His spit test for senior and mid-level managers is that they are entrepreneurial in spirit. For him, culture is the tie that will keep innovative minds moving in the same direction. His goal for DCI is a “performance oriented, high-integrity type of culture.”
“For the first time we are talking about courageous dialogue and accountability,” he says. “This is a company that was run by six partners so in a way the culture was those six guys,” says Charbel. Now he’s aiming for a culture that matches DCI’s mission rather than the personal ones of a few individual owners. “You can’t build a $100 million organization that way.”