Life lessons: Colby Harder

Defining corporate core strengths can renew company focus

Colby Harder: President, CONTI Evolution

 

In 2008, CONTI Evolution, an audio, video and data communications firm, was on top of the world, experiencing its most profitable year since the family business was founded in 1973. Then, like many other companies around that time, CONTI saw customers trickling away and business dropping off to the point where 2010 ended up being the worst year in its 37-year history. President Colby Harder shifted the company into "survival mode" to ensure it made it through what he hoped was a temporary setback. "We were forced, because of the market conditions, to let a few people go. That sent shockwaves throughout our organization."

Harder decided that, for the most part, the company would start using subcontractors as his way of what he believed would be a "risk-free" way of operating the business.

But what he quickly learned was that despite their best efforts, the subcontractors were too far removed from CONTI's core and values, and he had too little control over their expertise, the quality of their work and the end product.

Harder said he woke up one day in early 2012 and realized the company needed to refocus on its core strengths. Those strengths, he decided, lay in the expertise of the people he had felt forced to let go.

"Those were technical people – and in our business, those technical people are ultimately the product that we sell," he said. "Without them, we don't present a lot of value."

He decided it was time rebuild his team. Harder also reinvested in the internal champions still within the company who continued to help drive growth. CONTI was strong enough in June 2012 to acquire the Vancouver operations of Evolution Presentation Technologies, an audio-visual equipment provider. Today, the company has a new financial controller and its sales are back to about 80% of what they were prior to 2008.

"When people hit tough times you start questioning everything about the organization," Harder said. "Ultimately you have to come full circle back to defining what your value really is to your customers."

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