VTM Group is celebrating our 20th anniversary! That's right, 20 years ago - August 1995 - our founder, Rich Baek, opened the doors to VTM, Inc. What began as a niche events marketing firm has grown into a full service association management company offering a range of support for high-tech associations. From compliance and certification efforts to strategic communications and association management services, we offer it all. To mark the occasion, I sat down with Rich to learn more about the evolution of VTM over the years. A full transcript of the interview is below.
We kick-started the celebration by throwing ourselves a party in downtown Portland earlier this month, so look for pictures from that event soon. And keep an eye on our blog and social media profiles for more exciting news as we celebrate 20 years of VTM!
An Interview with VTM Group Founder, Rich Baek
To what do you attribute VTM’s success over the past 20 years?
No nonsense diligence and a creative way of looking at the world. For example, we don’t follow typical workplace fads, instead we focus on tried and tested diligent work ethic along with a positive attitude to seek opportunities even during the most trying economy.
How do you envision VTM will continue to grow and be successful for another 20 years?
Along with continuing to be the leader in the markets we already serve, we always seek ways to expand into other markets. For example, when I launched the company in 1995 my primary market was the computing industry. Very quickly, opportunities in the consumer electronics market became apparent. Then logically when computing devices started to interact with consumer electronics devices, content providers became the logical next target market for us and so on and so forth.
Also, it goes without saying that it’s essential that we continue to be very selective when adding to our already strong team members who share our diligent and creative work ethic. There is no way around hard work and diligence. Over the years I’ve seen companies try to outsmart the work ethic component to business success, but it doesn’t last.
What strategic decisions and efforts have had the biggest impact on VTM’s success?
Instead of just focusing on profitability, we focus on being the best at what we do by keeping our promises to our clients and to ourselves. For our clients, we focus on delivering on the intention of what was promised. A story I love to highlight is our trip to CES 2004. A terrible storm snowed in the airport and all flights were cancelled indefinitely. We had several clients counting on VTMers to support their presence at the event. So, I purchased a suburban and we used personal trucks and SUVs to get all of our people and client collateral to the show. We caravanned as a team, and drove nonstop to make it to the show on time for our clients.
For ourselves, one’s career has to provide two things: the opportunity to feel achieved and financial stability. To feel achieved means that not only are you feeling proud of where you are, but you have a bright future to continue to grow. Financial stability means that you have an environment to perform and are able to reliably provide for yourself and your family.
Also, when we hire not only do we seek good skills, but, more importantly, we seek a great attitude and good natured people. We can teach new skills, but we cannot teach a positive, “can do” attitude.
What sets VTM apart from other players in this market?
We are great at “dive catches”. No project goes flawlessly. The art is to make it seem flawless to our clients. In fact, that’s what they pay us for. If it’s always flawless then it would be easy for them to just do it themselves. By planning meticulously and executing diligently we minimize the potential for “fires”. So when these “fires” inevitably erupt we are prepared to take care of it. Our ability to perform dive catches—to save the day—has been a key ingredient to our sustained success.
What leaders, entrepreneurs and other figures have served as examples and inspiration for how to start and grow a successful business?
At the risk of sounding like a mama’s boy: my mom. She has been an entrepreneur all her life and has been a key advisor for me. In fact, much of our pricing structure and strategy has been developed through her guidance.
Are there any missed opportunities that changed your approach to business?
Missed opportunities are what you make of them, and we’ve been able to make smart decisions to enable future success. Are there things I’d do differently if I could? Sure. But the first things that come to mind are opportunities I walked away from because they didn’t make sound business sense or they didn’t challenge me in the way I needed. For example, venturing into the real estate market in 2005, 2006, or early 2007. It just didn’t make sense; it didn’t pass the ‘smell test’. So I walked away. As the market crumbled in 2008 I was reminded of the importance of sound business decisions and trusting your judgment.
What milestone or achievement has been the biggest triumph for VTM?
Two things come to mind: the first is introspective – our ability to reinvent ourselves. As a company, and as an individual, you need to do some soul-searching about current direction and future opportunities. If something doesn’t match up then you need to make changes. It’s a rejuvenation of all players from the very top to the very bottom; making sure we have the right people in the right jobs at the right time. Our ability to reinvent and rejuvenate ourselves as individuals translates into reinvention and rejuvenation of the company. We are VTM.
Also, we have an amazing retention rate, as evidenced by our first two clients remaining happy here and growing with us over the years. We’re able to keep our clients very happy, and I’m proud of that.
What words of advice do you have for a new VTMer today?
Seek mentorship from those who you view as who you want to be, from those who you respect and want to be like. Have the mindsight of the person in the job that you want to have. Seek 1:1s and focus on how to grow. Individual growth directly translates to company growth. Speak out to achieve the goodness of the company.