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218: Frank Sterns Chats On New Role and the Parallels to Previous Stops

Written by Rob Stott

May 28, 2024

frank sterns custom integration nationwide marketing group

Just a few weeks after being formally introduced as a consultant for Nationwide Marketing Group’s Custom Integration division, Frank Sterns was with the group in Austin for the second-annual Oasys Summit. There, we sat down with him to talk about his first in-person experience with the group as a part of the team, and we dove into his career history and his vision for the group.


 

Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and excited to take the show back on the road, coming off of Prime Time not too long ago. And we’re here in Austin, Texas, at the Oasys Summit, and Mr. Frank Sterns, appreciate you taking the time and sitting down with us. This is awesome.

Frank Sterns: Well, hey, Rob, it’s my pleasure to be here. I am really excited. The energy at the summit is just fantastic.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Well, first, Oasys Summit, obviously, for you, in a new capacity that we’ll dive into eventually, but I have to imagine HTSN events in the past that you’ve been to shows. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Frank Sterns: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I was trying to think about this last night while I’m trying to go to sleep, and I’m all wired from being excited about the show. Well, how many of these types of events have I been to? And I think it’s over 100 now.

Rob Stott: Wow, that’s incredible.

Frank Sterns: Yeah.

Rob Stott: A storied career that … that’s what we’ll do first. Let’s dive into your background and path. I know you know the name in the headline of this podcast. You know obviously who we’re talking about, if that sparked your interest. But for those that don’t know who Frank Sterns is, give us that career background and path to where you are here today.

Frank Sterns: Yeah, I’ve been in the audio business for 42 years, and frankly, it was all I ever wanted to do since I was 12 years old. I was a bass player in the student orchestra. I had a friend who was also a bass player, and his neighbor worked at Infinity Speakers, which was the high-end speaker company in Los Angeles where I grew up. And he and I became audiophiles at 12, and after school, we would go to the local Hi-Fi store and listen to records and speakers, and we just became Hi-Fi geeks, and that’s what I wanted to do with my life, and it never really changed.

Rob Stott: So, it’s awesome to hear. I feel like that’s a common refrain in this industry. So many professionals in it grew up as fans, and that’s what … I don’t know how many other industries are like that, but it’s so cool to be connected and associated with one because the passion shows through. I’ve seen you have conversations. We’ve had conversations and seen you have conversations with so many people here. And that passion, the way it shows through, and it’s not just you, it’s everyone else in the room, grown-up fans of this industry and the products and gear within it. And we’re all … I heard someone call you it earlier, the product geek, right, the tech geek. We all are that, right?

Frank Sterns: I had every issue of audio magazine and stereo review, and I read all the reviews, and all the graphs, and curves, and watts per channel, and all that stuff, and I loved it.

Rob Stott: Yeah. I mean, and so, growing up a fan, you can dive into that career path. What stops have you made along the way to where you are today here?

Frank Sterns: Well, there’s been a few stops, but as I said, I started when I was young, audio file at 12, hung out at the stereo stores. Then, my father had a pharmacy in Hollywood, California, and I used to work summers for him in the drugstore, drive deliveries, that sort of thing. And he had a customer who was the western regional advertising manager for Stereo Review Magazine at the time. Her name was Jane, and she’ll show up in my story multiple times, one of these things that’s interesting and really unusual.

But Jane helped me draft a resume. Jane and I would talk about Hi-Fi. And she said, “Well, when you’re ready, I’ll introduce you. I know everybody in the audio industry.” And so Jane helped me draft a resume. In the meantime, I put myself through business and marketing school by working in a stereo store, working retail at Leo’s Stereo, selling jet sounds, car stereos, and I don’t know what. But in my senior year of college, I took a marketing class, and for my marketing class, I held a rep event. So, my senior class project was to do a sales meeting for an audio company.

Rob Stott: Did you count that? And when you said you were doing the math in your head, does that-

Frank Sterns: No, I didn’t count that. That one was practice. But Jane, my father’s customer that was the advertising manager, connected me with some people, Bill Caulfield from Vector Research at the time. And Bill gave me all these stereo review studies and banners and things, so I put on a rep meeting. I mean-

Rob Stott: That’s incredible.

Frank Sterns: … little did I know that I would be doing rep meetings. So, that was my senior class project. At Christmas break, I took my resume. I went to CES in Las Vegas, got myself a beautiful room at the airport inn, and-

Rob Stott: Wow, and haven’t looked back

Frank Sterns: … went to the high-end exhibits with my resume. And I knocked on doors, and I knocked on the door at David Hafler company. David Hafler, one of the original audio pioneers, like Saul Moran’s, and so I met David and I said, “I’m going to be in the audio business, and here’s my resume.” And he said, “When do you graduate?” And I said, “May.” He said, “Why don’t you come to work for us?”

Rob Stott: That’s awesome.

Frank Sterns: “Come to Pennsauken, New Jersey.”

Rob Stott: Wow.

Frank Sterns: California boy.

Rob Stott: Hey, the beach is right there too. Yeah.

Frank Sterns: “Come to New Jersey. I’ll pay you $400 a week.”

Rob Stott: Wow.

Frank Sterns: And I said, “Absolutely.”

Rob Stott: Done deal.

Frank Sterns: Done deal. And I graduated on a Friday. Over the weekend, I packed my car. On Monday, I took off in my car with all my possessions, stopped in Chicago at CES, and set up the Hafler booth. And then, when CEF was done, I tore down the booth, got back in the car and drove to New Jersey-

Rob Stott: That’s incredible.

Frank Sterns: … and started my first job.

Rob Stott: That’s so awesome. Funny enough, though, you think about it. I can’t imagine the number of people I’ve met that their first day on the job is a show, and specifically, CES. So, neat to see that that’s not something that’s new in this space. It’s always been that way. Huh?

Frank Sterns: But the story gets stranger.

Rob Stott: Uh-oh.

Frank Sterns: So, I’m at Hafler for about a year and a half. We launched professional amplifiers and end up taking a pretty big share in the commercial business in theaters. And then David and Ed Gately, who was the president of the company at the time, buy a speaker company called Acoustat out of bankruptcy. And they asked me if I would like to go to Florida and run the brand, and bring it back, and relaunch it. So, I packed up the car and I drove to Florida and became the head of sales and marketing for Acoustat to relaunch this brand. And that worked really well. We got the brand back up. We got it placed and, in multiple stores, started to grow the business. Then I got homesick. And I was in LA on a business trip, and I was meeting with my sales rep at the time. I said, “I’m really homesick. I really want to go back to LA.” And he said to me, “Well, my ex-fiance is dating the president of Infinity, and I’ll give Janie a call.” And I said, “Janie?” And it turns out that was the same woman-

Rob Stott: That’s incredible.

Frank Sterns: … that worked for … well, it gets even more incredible is the thing. So, she introduced me to Arnie Nudell and Carrie Christie, my heroes from the local Hi-Fi store because this was a local high-end brand. I had always wanted to work for Infinity. And they hired me to launch their new high-end speakers, the Infinity IRS $500,000 speaker system and betas. And I spent the next two years building that business, and then I became the national sales manager.

And then I was interested in product, and so I developed a full line of car stereo speakers, Kappa car, and RS car stereo, and Infinity’s business grew in car, and we became the number one premium audio brand as part of Harman International at that point. So, about a year or two after that, Arnie Nudell and Sidney Harman aren’t quite getting along, and there’s tension in the company. And my phone rings one day and it’s Jane. I haven’t talked to her in six years since I started the job. And she says, “I’m consulting for this little company in Miami that specializes in switch boxes and volume controls, and they’re looking for somebody to run the sales. Would you know anybody?”

Rob Stott: Well.

Frank Sterns: And I’m thinking because about a year or two before that, Denon had introduced the first five-channel receiver, and the first thought that came to me is, “Where are people going to put all these speakers?”

Rob Stott: Right.

Frank Sterns: So, televisions back then were big-

Rob Stott: Great big, massive, yep, yep.

Frank Sterns: … big, heavy things. So, the first thing I did is I wrote a spec for a product that was a center channel speaker that sat on top of a television. Now, it’s common, but that was a new thing.

Rob Stott: Yeah, it was wild at the time.

Frank Sterns: So, we made it, and it became Infinity’s biggest selling SKU ever, the Video One.

Rob Stott: Yep. Wow.

Frank Sterns: And then it’s where are we going to put all these surround speakers for five channels? Well, in the walls, right?

Rob Stott: Naturally.

Frank Sterns: We created the Infinity Environmental Reference standard, the ERS series with a little company called SpeakerCraft at the time. And we took those to a new association called CEDIA, which we were founding members, and went to the first CEDIA show in Amelia Island, Florida. There were 39 of us in a tent. And there, I met Ivan Niles Zuckerman, introduced by Jane. And Ivan and I absolutely hit it off and connected right away.

Rob Stott: That’s incredible.

Frank Sterns: And he said, “Come to work for us.” I said, “Yeah, I can do this. I think you’re in a space that’s going to really going to be the thing.” So, I left Harmon and the number one speaker brand. People thought I was nuts. And I went to work for a small company doing about $5 million a year selling switch boxes in volume controls. But I was absolutely convinced we were going to grow this business because this was the next big thing.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Got Janey to thank for a lot. Maybe I should be talking to her. Is that what I’m hearing?

Frank Sterns: It’s really amazing.

Rob Stott: That’s crazy. I mean, you hear about it all the time, just the size or rather lack thereof of this industry and the relationships and how important they are. I will get to it eventually, just what that means in this space. And it shows, but it’s cool too because it feels like everyone out there has everyone’s back, and we know just where those connections can crop up in areas that you least expect it, and how they can come through in just some really incredible ways as-

Frank Sterns: To this day, I understand that connection because we relate it to the same things. And Jane used to say we’re PLU, people like us. But the fact that she showed up at three different times in my life at random that were really important in my career, I still don’t understand it, but I am totally grateful for it.

Rob Stott: Wow. And I mean, again, people, I don’t want to skip through your Niles career, but does she show up at any other point, move since, or …

Frank Sterns: Well, she had a big influence at Niles at the time because other people that worked at Niles, like Albert Det, who did all of our marketing, brilliant genius, came through Jane as well. So, her role as a consultant really put Niles on the map, brought the executive team that would then drive this company from 5 million to 80 million over the next 12 years together. So, yeah-

Rob Stott: That’s awesome.

Frank Sterns: … she was the glue that made all that happen.

Rob Stott: That’s incredible. What stands out to you … that was the longest stretch, right? You had Niles, is that right?

Frank Sterns: I joined Niles in 1992 as VP of sales, but it was also a small company. There were 35 of us there. And from being involved in product development at Infinity and having that inclination, and being a product geek, and writing product specs, I took the product management department, which, for speakers, was me. So, in my part-time, I’d go out on the road. I’d pitch things. I’d talk to dealers, and they’d say, “If you had one of these …” And on the plane, I would write up a … and I would flesh out those details. Then, I would actually do much of the sourcing of engineering, and contract writing, and vendors, and pilot runs. And eventually, I became responsible for sales, marketing, training, product development, engineering, purchasing, sourcing, supply chain, quality control.

Rob Stott: Everything. Call it everything, right?

Frank Sterns: Yeah. And I did that for four years as we built the company. And then we sold the company to Nortek in 2005. Ivan decided to retire, and I stayed on as president and CEO of the company.

Rob Stott: That’s incredible. Well, to go from that to … and then your next stop is Sony. Is that right? Was it Niles to Sony?

Frank Sterns: Well, my next stop was actually Nortek, who bought us, bought up a number of companies in this space. They bought up Niles, SpeakerCraft, Alon, Zantech, Channel Plus Panamax, Vermin-

Rob Stott: A who’s who of this industry.

Frank Sterns: … a whole bunch of companies. And everything was really good until the housing crisis hit because Nortek’s primary business was building products, NewTone, intercoms, Nordyne air conditioners, NewTone bath fans and range hoods. But they were also very big in leverage finance. The CEO was a peer of Michael Milken, and he was a junk bond king at Goldman Sachs before he became CEO of Nortek. So, the company had, I don’t remember exactly, but something like $2 billion in bonds that they had sold that were contingent upon the operating company paying a dividend to the holding company to pay the interest on the debt. And when the housing crisis came, it was pretty clear they weren’t going to be able to continue to pay a dividend, and so they would have to renegotiate the debt with the bondholders, which they did. And they did a debt for equity swap, and the bondholders became the shareholders of the business as it emerged from bankruptcy.

Now, the good news is the operations didn’t shut down. The bad news is they had to save costs in order to pay back that debt. And the bondholders wanted to get their money back. And so they came to me, and they asked me to move from Miami to Southern California to Carlsbad of all places, which is where I live now, and merge all these CI brands together, and essentially, get rid of a layer of management and converge the brands. And I thought about it. I thought about it very hard, and I didn’t think that it would succeed. The analogy that I used to use was if you’re a football fan in northern California, you got the Raiders, and you got the Forty-Niners. And one’s got maroon pants. The other’s got silver pants. And if you took them and slammed them together and you had silver tops and maroon pants-

Rob Stott: Make it work. It ain’t going to work.

Frank Sterns: … you’d lose all the fans. And so that was the analogy I used. Niles and SpeakerCraft, similar companies with very different personalities. And part of our thing was we appeal to different people for that very reason. If you smashed them together, you’d likely just lose everybody. So, I declined the job, and they hired somebody and said, “Here’s your new boss.” And I said, “It’s time for me to go.” And I retired for the first time at 50, in 2010, and I packed my bicycle, and my guitar, and my camera, bought a one-way ticket for Italy, and spent the next three months biking around Europe and visiting the Tour de France and taking pictures and-

Rob Stott: Living it up for a little bit, right?

Frank Sterns: Yeah. Well, and doing some soul-searching, to be honest. Where do I go from just-

Rob Stott: Where do you go from there? Yeah,

Frank Sterns: I was all-in, I mean, I had been all-in 24/7 for 18 years.

Rob Stott: So, to go from that company, you had 35 people. Is that what you said is what was?

Frank Sterns: 35 people when I joined, and at the height, we were 240 people. We went from five million in sales to about 80 million in sales.

Rob Stott: So, strong growth. Where I’m heading with it is that to go from that to eventually a call comes. We can get into the story about it, but the size of a company to go from Niles to what? Sony’s a little bigger than 250, right?

Frank Sterns: Yeah.

Rob Stott: I think so if I had to guesstimate. No. And even revenue as well, but it had to be a world of difference, at least you’d think, right? I heard you talk, and we’ve talked about it too, just the ability and how you were set up in a very fortunate way to operate building that CI business there.

Frank Sterns: Well, Sony was a Niles customer. So, Sony bought Niles amplifiers and Niles IR products for Sony’s custom installation rack mount systems that they sold turnkey to custom installers. And the guy that was running Sony’s CI program, Neil Manowitz, who is now Sony’s president and COO, he and I became friends. And we thought alike. And he went from running Sony CI to running all of Sony’s audio. And then he called me when he learned that I had moved to Southern California after the Niles thing and after I got done riding my bike, and he said, “Are you living in California?” Because the Sony headquarters were in Rancho Bernardo, basically in the same neighborhood. And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’m working on a startup in the high-res wireless speakers, but we haven’t got it off the ground.”

And he says, “Well, would you sign an NDA?” And I said, “Sure.” And he came in, and he filled me in on Sony’s turnaround plans to change what they had been in large volume commodity to the go more premium, and on the audio side, high-res audio, custom install, and on the TV side, 4K TV and more premium products. And he said, “Would you consult for us?” And I said, “Yeah, I’d be happy to consult for you.” And then, about a week later, he said, “Would you consider a full-time job?” And I wasn’t doing anything. I said, “Yeah, I would consider a full-time job.” And so he said, “Well, we need somebody to lead our CI.” And I was like, “Yeah, I’ve done that before. I can do that.”

Rob Stott: That sounds familiar. Right?

Frank Sterns: And so I took the job, and I got there and I dug in. And I realized that they defined CI in a very narrow fashion, different than how I would define CI. So, after about 90 days, I wrote a business plan, and I sat down with the senior leadership of Sony, Mike Vasulo, at the time, and said, “Here’s what I think you’re doing right. And here’s what I think you’re doing wrong, and here’s what I think the opportunity is. And here’s the way I’d like to do it if we really want to do this.” And they said, “Well, we brought you in to do it. You know how to do it. Go do it.” And so they gave me the green light, and I reorged the Sony structure, hired third-party sales reps under a contract, merged three different Sony sales channel divisions, the premium audio, the custom installers, and the distributors that serviced custom installers, and said, “This is really one business. There’s not three different businesses.” So, I merged them all together, set up incentive programs so that they all acted the same with aligned incentives and a cadence, and a regular reporting structure, and a process, and plugged it all in.

Rob Stott: And the rest, well, they could say it worked.

Frank Sterns: Of course, it worked. I mean, I knew it would work.

Rob Stott: Right. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Frank Sterns: The systems that I used, I’d started developing at Infinity in 1986, perfected at Niles over 18 years. And so, essentially, went around the country, and I went to all my friends that knew how to run the playbook, just like a football coach would, and said, “If you want this, you’re in. We’re going to run the old playbook. Come with me.”

Rob Stott: Find your coordinators, essentially.

Frank Sterns: Yeah. And everyone said, “We don’t know if it’ll work.” I said, “I don’t know if it’ll work.” They said, “But if you think it’ll work, yeah, we’ll come with you.”

Rob Stott: Build enough trust in you, yeah, right. Yeah, absolutely.

Frank Sterns: So, we plugged it in and, of course, it worked. We went from 55 million when I started to over 400 million three years later. It was a rocket ship. It was just-

Rob Stott: A testament too, right, just the, I mean, experience over time and having done it at several stops to see it just exponentially grow the level of success and just different way of thinking, right?

Frank Sterns: What’s so gratifying now is here, somebody from another factory came up to me and said, “We never really cared about custom install or this channel until you showed what could happen at Sony. And now we really care about it, and that’s why we’re here.”

Rob Stott: There’s a testimonial that could be shared about just the impact that sums it up. And I know there’s more to talk about too in terms of having those opportunities to do that as well, but I don’t want to gloss over. I’ll let you keep rolling. I mean, the work at Sony happens, and another opportunity presents itself.

Frank Sterns: Yeah. Well, the other major audio company in southern California in my neighborhood, if you will, is called Sound United. And Sound United owns the-

Rob Stott: Some big brands

Frank Sterns: It’s no longer Sound United. It’s now Masimo Consumer. But at the time, Sound United, we owned Polk Audio, Definitive Technology, Boston Acoustics, Marantz, and Denon. And I’d had friends at Sound United. I mean, I know a lot of people in the business. I’ve been doing it a long time, and they’d been trying to get me to move from Sony and come over, and they just didn’t have the right opportunity. I just didn’t think I could succeed, to be honest. But then they came to me one day and said, “Well, we have an opportunity for senior vice president of the Americas to run all the sales and marketing and commercial operations.” They called it in from Canada all the way down through South America. And I said, “That sounds pretty exciting.” So, I joined January 2020, and six weeks later, COVID starts up in Asia. It affects the factories. And then a month late, it moves to the US, and we’re all working from home and-

Rob Stott: Very different world.

Frank Sterns: Who knows what’s going to happen here? But it turned out to be good for the business.

Rob Stott: Yeah, got a lot of people to … consumers turned that focus inside, staying at home. Right?

Frank Sterns: Yeah, exactly. And we never let working from home or Zoom get in the way of growing the business. In fact, we bought Bowers & Wilkins on laptops from Zoom and integrated the merger that way. We did have one face-to-face meeting with the executive teams in Bermuda because it was the only place that the Brits could travel to, and the Americans could travel to where we could both get in and meet.

Rob Stott: Wow. That’s incredible.

Frank Sterns: And that was the only face-to-face that we had in the whole process. But we bought and integrated that company all via remote, and then we were private equity owned, and the private equity firm decided to put us up for sale. And we made a number of Zoom pitches and otherwise to potential interested parties and eventually were acquired by Masimo in April of 2023.

Rob Stott: Yes, yep.

Frank Sterns: 2022.

Rob Stott: Two, yeah, that’s right. And well, it brings you to today, right? So, retired for a second time, is that right?

Frank Sterns: Yeah. Well, so I was on the executive team at Masimo with the integration team, integrating Sound United into Masimo, and went to the executive meetings about the long-term strategy, and frankly, very compelling. What they’re working on-

Rob Stott: There’s a lot going on there.

Frank Sterns: … I believe is correct as much as I believed in 1992 that the Switchbox volume control company would eventually be. The difference is a lot older than I was then and didn’t see myself with a 20-year time horizon to see this and develop this through. And I didn’t think it was fair to them or fair to me to pretend if I really didn’t intend to work that much longer.

Rob Stott: There’s so much to appreciate about that understanding where you are and where a company might be and just having the wherewithal, really. Right? Step aside, let them-

Frank Sterns: Yeah. One thing that … I love the business. I love to work. I love to compete. I love the products, but I’m also aware that I’m not as young as I used to be. And how many good days do we all have left? And I’m very blessed that I am perfectly physically healthy.

Rob Stott: It’s the Tom Brady approach, right? Retire while you … the GOAT in the game, if you will, right?

Frank Sterns: Yeah.

Rob Stott: There’s still more to give, but maybe not quite at that level.

Frank Sterns: Yeah. So, I went to Masimo and said, “Probably it’s best for you to bring somebody in here that’s got a longer-term horizon than me, and I’m going to retire.” And that was January of last year-

Rob Stott: Yeah, 23.

Frank Sterns: … so it’s been 16 months. And it’s been great, and I don’t regret the decision. And I am riding my bike 160 miles a week, and I’m cooking and doing all the other things I like to do, reading, but I miss the industry. I miss the product. I miss my friends.

Rob Stott: That itch starts happening. Right?

Frank Sterns: And while I don’t want to be 60 or 70 hours into Zoom calls and meetings, I still want to be involved. And I still-

Rob Stott: Yeah. The cool thing, so a great opportunity presents itself, and that’s obviously, as we’re sitting here, why we’re here talking, why we’re able to talk at this Oasys Summit. But you look back at every one of those stops, and it speaks to why this seems like … and coming from someone who’s on the team, it might seem a little biased to be saying, but it seems like the perfect opportunity for basically rinse and repeat what you’ve done. Right? It feels like at other stops to see the potential that is within a company, whether previous stops, obviously product-based, right? But you see the potential of the launch pad that a company might be sitting at or the opportunity to influence, to put your stamp on where things could head, or just to help them get to that next level.

Frank Sterns: I wouldn’t call it rinse and repeat because I don’t think it’s rinse and repeat.

Rob Stott: Yeah, that’s not fair.

Frank Sterns: But what is appealing to me is a couple of things that have been consistent throughout my journey and where things have succeeded for me. Number one is the quality of people. The people at Nationwide are great. I’ve known them. Richard Gleicks, Oseon, he and I go back to 1983 to the Hafler days, and we’ve been together at every stop in one way, shape, or form. Hank Alexander worked at Niles as the western regional sales manager, so he was on my team. We worked together.

Rob Stott: And small industry, you know?

Frank Sterns: Dean Sottile and I get along really well and have had multiple meetings through Sony, even though it wasn’t directly connected. HTSN was, but Dean and I found we got along. Tom Hickman and I get along. S, the quality of people is really … you and I know each other from-

Rob Stott: Absolutely. Dealerscope days. It’s unbelievable. No matter what angle or what portion of this industry you’re in, it is small and well-connected.

Frank Sterns: So, that’s number one. Number two thing that appeals to me is a company that’s got a commitment, but early in the journey. So, Sony knew they needed to change. They knew they needed to be in premium. They didn’t know what CI was, really. I mean, they called it CI, but they didn’t define it the way I would define it. And they didn’t understand where the opportunity was, but they knew they needed to make a change. They knew they needed somebody that knew it, and they were willing to let me tell them what they should do, and it worked. So, the parallel that I see here that I saw at Niles and other places is good people in the right place, committed, and a willingness to bring in some expertise and then implement suggestions to make it work, so all those things line up for me. I get excited

Rob Stott: And well, let’s be real. You still get to ride that bike.

Frank Sterns: Yeah.

Rob Stott: That can’t be overlooked. No, I joke, Frank.

Frank Sterns: For sure. None of us know how many days we have left, and as you get older, you look and say, “I don’t want to be all he did was work.”

Rob Stott: Right. I joke, but no.

Frank Sterns: Yeah, I still get to ride the bike, and-

Rob Stott: Enjoy life while still having an impact. And to your point, the friendships, right? I can only imagine an industry when you’ve given as much blood, sweat, and tears to it, hard to just cold turkey quit and step away from. You get that itch and want to … not to say that you just disassociated and didn’t talk to anyone, right? I’m sure that you still talk to people, but it’s like the wanting to be involved and wanting to-

Frank Sterns: It’s the relationships you build through shared challenges in a work environment. Hey, we’re we’re going to try this. We’re going to go take this hill. We’re going to compete. We’re going to launch a new product. We’re going to launch a new buying group. We’re going to launch a new initiative. And having to get together and work together to make that happen builds really tight bonds, especially for me.

Rob Stott: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Frank Sterns: And that I’ve missed that.

Rob Stott: Yeah. So, Andy, Hank, Dean, they twist your arm enough, and you’re here. So, let’s talk about here. There’s one question I want to ask upfront because I am sure we sent out a press release a couple of weeks ago at this point, by the time this publishes. And I’m sure there’s assumptions made in an industry. There’s a recent retirement or step back really from our organization with Richard, who you mentioned. Are you here to replace him?

Frank Sterns: No. And frankly, that’s where discussion started with me. I had known for quite some time because of my relationships that Richard would eventually be stepping aside. And when Richard decided that it was time for him to back off the day-to-day reins, they asked if I would be interested. And I said, “Well, I’m totally interested, but I’m not ready to commit to that level of work intensity.”

Rob Stott: Who wants to be the guy that gets to replace Richard?

Frank Sterns: Well, Richard is not replaceable.

Rob Stott: First of all, right, can’t do it first of all. But no, that’s, I think, important to address too, right? Because who knows what people think, but his influence is still here, though, as you can see. A gentleman, a man that I can’t imagine that Oseon team not wanting to at least continue to pick his brain as long as it’s still able to be picked.

Frank Sterns: Well, Richard is still engaged even though he’s stepping back from the day-to-day. And Richard, I mean, Richard created the modern AV specialty, CI buying group model, and he’s done a brilliant job with it. And it’s emulated but not duplicated everywhere. And Richard is still emotionally invested, and Richard will continue to be involved in the strategic direction of Oseon.

Rob Stott: The time will always be the time.

Frank Sterns: The time is the time.

Rob Stott: No. Well, so then, natural follow-up is, as a consultant to the CI group at Nationwide, what will be your focus? What do you see yourself doing, or what’s been laid out in front of you?

Frank Sterns: Well, just to follow up, so the conversation was would you be interested in running Oseon as are … No, I really can’t make that commitment because it’s just not right. But I would love to be involved and help you guys in your journey. And so we, mostly Dean and me, spent some time setting up a statement of work and a scope. And essentially, it is to evaluate the three groups and the overall CI initiative, the commercial ellipsis, Oasys, and Oseon, and look at the CI strategy overall. How do we best serve members? How do we best serve vendors? How do we position the groups? How do we staff the groups? How do we manage the groups? What sort of events do we do? How do we improve events? How do we change events? What sort of people structure do we have? And to look at the entire portfolio holistically and make recommendations for growth improvement.

Rob Stott: Yeah. The cool thing is I think you are very uniquely positioned for that. Right? Not even just because of the stops themselves you made and the work you’ve done at those stops, but that outside perspective too. You’ve done this, but you’re coming into a team that … Oseon still, what, two years and a couple of months since the merger with Nationwide and really expanding that CI division here, and even Oasys and Ellipsis, this is only the second annual Oasys Summit. Ellipsis still has theirs coming.

Frank Sterns: It’s getting off the ground.

Rob Stott: So, a very new organization. The folks here have been heads down building this thing and are, for better or worse, very emotionally and well-invested in what’s going on here. So, having that outside perspective of the work that’s been done to date and then to have you be able to review all that and, again, bring that outside perspective to what’s being built, invaluable, and like I said, just uniquely positioned to do that.

Frank Sterns: I think that I tend to approach business and business problems from a different perspective than is traditional, whether at Niles, Sony. I like to work backwards, get a mental picture of what 10 years down the road looks like, and then work backwards to-

Rob Stott: How do we get there? Yeah.

Frank Sterns: How do we get there? Where, frequently, what happens when you get into the battle is you think about tactical steps. I’ve got this. How can I use it? And it’s much harder to think about what does my constituents need. What do members need from a buying group? What do vendors need from the members of a buying group? And then, how do I create something to deliver to both parties? It’s very different than I got this. Where do I send them? So, that strategic longer-term, where am I, where do I want to go, how am I going to get there, if I don’t have resources, how am I going to get there in spite of the fact that I don’t have resources is a different way to work than a tactical heads-down management. And when you’re in the middle of the firefight, it’s hard to step back and see that big picture. So, what I think I can bring and what I plan to bring is that detached view and recommendations of how to implement that.

Rob Stott: Perfect. Because you finished an answer anyway. That’s a good cut point. And I know we’re excited to see that come to fruition. And I know you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Is this officially like week one? What are we at as we’re sitting here at Oasys Summit?

Frank Sterns: It’s week three.

Rob Stott: Week three, okay. So, it’s still-

Frank Sterns: But it’s not like I haven’t been thinking about it for a while.

Rob Stott: Right. For sure. You’re officially on board on paper at week three, so lots to do ahead of you. But to be sitting here at this summit, week three, this is one of the three legs of the organization that you’ll be looking at. But the vibe at this event, what do you get in the sense of as you’re out there walking around a show that is, I don’t know, triple, quadruple in size compared to last year? So, what do you see in just initial impressions?

Frank Sterns: Well, the sense is there’s a ton of energy. I’m very gratified to see how into it everybody is, from the dealers to the vendors, to the staff. It feels like people want to be here, and they’re enjoying to be here, which is great. I would be really nervous if I got here-

Rob Stott: Yeah, like uh-oh, what did I sign up for?

Frank Sterns: … and it was dead, and people were down. I mean, I know the business community has been challenging since I retired, so I expected people would come in a little bit with their heads down. And I’m not seeing it, so that’s very gratifying. So, there’s a ton of energy. It’s got to have that. I’m not going to be able to do anything without that. Beyond that, I’m filling notebooks, just walking around and watching, and listening, and trying to understand, and talking to dealer members, and talking to vendors, and talking to staff, and talking to Hank, and talking to the field sales team. Where’s your pain points, and what’s working for you, and what’s not working for you? And getting to know the organization.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And much can be said those few years where we weren’t able to be together in person, but these face-to-face opportunities are certainly … even though it feels like the frequency’s getting up there, the opportunities they provide us to sit down and just chat, even like this, even to be able to do this is something that I think is invaluable in that sense. And neat to be able to have you here and do this. I think I’ve stolen a lot of your time, and I know we’re going to be having follow-up conversations, so as much as I’m itching to keep asking questions, I know that I got to let you get back out there and chat with the dealers because your time, as much as I appreciate you giving me some time, I know your time’s more valuable out there. So, this was incredible. Thank you for taking us on that journey. And I think that picture that you painted every step of the way just goes to show, we mentioned it, why you are very uniquely positioned to come in and do the work you’ve been tasked with. And so we’re looking forward to it. I personally just am very excited to watch what unfolds here. So, we appreciate it, and I can’t wait to keep working with you, man. This is going to be a lot of fun.

Frank Sterns: Thanks, Rob. I really appreciate being here. I was so excited last night. I couldn’t sleep. My mind was just racing about all this stuff I want to do and all the people that … it’s just been so nice to be back and talk to people. And frankly, people have been so welcoming.

Rob Stott: Heck yeah, man.

Frank Sterns: It’s totally gratifying.

Rob Stott: Got a lot of friends out here, so let’s go hang out with them.

Frank Sterns: And thanks for spending time with me.

Rob Stott: Anytime.

Frank Sterns: Appreciate it.

Rob Stott: Anytime.

Frank Sterns: I look forward to working together with you and the rest of the team at Nationwide.

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