Tod Pike is a familiar and rather imposing figure in this industry, standing 6 feet, 6 inches tall without his cowboy boots. But he has a soft side — it’s his customers. The Imaging Channel had a chance recently to speak with this longtime OEM executive who has recently taken on a new challenge as a dealer — heading KÔTA, a unique joint venture between LDI Color ToolBox and the Mohegan Tribe. We couldn’t wait to find out more. Join me in the SpeakEasy.
This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of The Imaging Channel.
What is KOTA, and what is your mission at the company?
KOTA is a partnership between the Mohegan Tribe of Indians and LDI Color ToolBox. We established the company two years ago in Uncasville, Connecticut, to provide the types of hardware, software and services that LDI has been so successfully deploying over the years in New York, New Jersey, and the L.A. marketplace. With this new venture, we are able to now reach into and cover the state of Connecticut. Through the partnership with the Mohegan Tribe, we are also certified by the National Minority Supplier Development Council as a bona fide Minority Business Enterprise. While it’s very much a business that is modeled after the success case of LDI, it’s unique in its value proposition to add the minority vendor status.
I’m serving as president of that company, so my first role is as president of KOTA. I’m also wearing the hat of chief sales officer of LDI. A little bit of a dual role with this, but with emphasis on building the KÔTA brand and the KOTA company.
What’s one of the biggest differences you’ve encountered moving from your position as SVP at Samsung to president of KOTA?
I think I’ve landed in a position where I can effect positive change quickly. It’s very rewarding. We make the decisions and move forward. The good news is that we can do that, and the caveat is that the decisions have to be the right ones.
Are you seeing any trends or unique opportunities?
Yes. I like what I am seeing. First, I like the product portfolio that we represent at KÔTA — we have Canon, Toshiba, Samsung and the HP portfolio, as well as the layer of software vendors that we work with. I really like the combinations of products, and the product portfolios themselves, and I think we have a competitive advantage in that we are able to match the needs of our customers with the types of products that we’re selling.
I also like the opportunities to build on the LDI record of success and the processes that they’ve put in place. KOTA may be a startup, but the years of experience and success of LDI are all well established here at KOTA. That allows us to tackle some major opportunities with the confidence that we can deliver all the promises that we’ve made.
Lastly, there is a unique opportunity in the fact that we are a certified Minority Business Enterprise, and customers are really reacting positively to that. This trend is only going to continue as companies increasingly look towards helping their communities, environments and charitable causes. Because of our status, we are able to get in front of decision makers.
When you add all those things up, it is indeed a unique opportunity. I really look forward to closing some of these bigger accounts we’re working on currently. I think the combination of what we sell, and where we’ve come from and what the future looks like as a minority vendor is very bright.
What are some of the most valuable things you’ve learned working in high-level executive capacities at various OEMs that you are now able to apply in your current position?
That’s a really good question. The focus on doing everything you possibly can to answer the customer’s needs, to satisfy them and to be involved in the customer experience is important. I feel so lucky to have been able to train and motivate workforces, which is really important. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had positions where I’ve been able to build a strategy and move organizations in a new direction. All of those things are a great preparation for doing the type of work that I am doing now.
What’s interesting is that I’ve been on the other side of the desk; I’ve had the ability to observe dealers and their dealings with other BTA dealers, and also their interactions with the manufacturers. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. As a result, I look forward to having a very professional experience and positive relationships with the vendors and manufacturers that we deal with. I think I probably have quite a unique experience there, and hopefully that will work well for us at LDI and KOTA.
What are you most excited about right now?
I’m really excited about being effective in the changes we’re making. I’m excited about the ability to hire new people and bring them into the business. I’m excited about meeting customers. I like the work. I like the people. I love this business, and I wake up every morning excited to go to work. We’re starting to see some great results, and I’m excited about what direction I can take it.
You’ve been in the industry for quite a while, and have been witnessing its trajectory. There is, by most accounts, a decline in physical printing in the office; a surge in solutions. Cloud is becoming more and more important as we go forward. Data is exploding out of every portal. How do you see the future of printing in the office?
I think you have to expand the view of what print is, and really look at how you’re helping your customers to manage information, how to access it, how to display it in multiple forms. There is an explosion of information, that’s the good news. There’s more content available; more content out there than there ever has been. There is no lack of information, and we’re in the business of displaying it, so we display it in lots of different ways: in the large format displays we sell, in computer monitors, and in hard-copy form. The decline in physical printing has been a discussion in the industry for years, and I think its decline is much slower than originally anticipated.
Do you see this slow downward slope as an opportunity for the dealers to pivot and adjust? I’ve been in industries that just crash, but this almost seems like dealers are getting a soft landing. Do you think that dealers do need to change their business model, or are they OK to just ride this long tail and it will be fine?
I think you see a number of dealers expanding their product portfolio. It’s a smart thing, to manage network services or to move to diagnostics. It is an area that we’re certainly moving into and interested in. Many dealers are. You’ve got cloud services and storage. There are lots of things that are adjacent to the traditional copier and printing business. I think it all revolves around helping the customers to manage information, and access it, and display it in the form factor that they require at the time. With that expanded definition, I think there is a reliable market out there to reach out and help customers. Just replacing old equipment every three or four years is probably not going to be the best way to maintain those customers who now do those things in a very different way.
It seems to me from this conversation that you have a very customer-centric approach. It appears to go to the core of what you believe in.
I do. I can’t imagine doing this business in any other fashion. I started out as a sales rep, showing copiers out of the trunk of my car, and I like to think that I could still do that job. I believe that’s where it starts, and that’s where we need to focus our time — on our customers and their needs. That’s part of what makes this particular engagement and relationship work — at the very core of our business philosophies, we arrive at the same place.
How would you describe your management style?
I would use the word involved. I am a customer advocate, and then an associate advocate. I am a positive person, and I know my people and my customers. I’ve always wanted to be present, be available, and be involved. I like to over-communicate. I would like to think that people would talk about me in a way that would emphasize the amount of information that they receive from me when they’re working with me, and the quality of the information. I believe communication is important. I want to make sure that everybody is on the same page.
I’m also strategic, and that certainly comes from the fact that I‘ve had many training opportunities, and have a good knowledge of the industry. I have had an opportunity to see what works, and to work with problems, and to be able to develop a strategy map on where the organization needs to go. Once you analyze the business and place the correct strategy and make sure that you communicate it well to the office, then you roll up your sleeves and get involved in the business and helping to implement the promises that you make.
If someone just out of school told you they would like to enter the office technology field, what advice would you give them?
Pick an organization that has integrity. Pick an organization that has low turnover. Pick an organization that will provide an adequate opportunity to learn. This is not an easy business to get to know, and so try to get into a high-integrity learning environment with low turnover and you can learn a lot.
The other piece of advice that I would have is to become an expert. This applies not just to this industry, but to any industry. I think you need to have a real desire to learn everything that can possibly be learned about technology, environment, workflow and customer needs. Really dedicate yourself to becoming that expert, because if you do, you’ll be successful.
Is there anything you would’ve done differently in your career? Anything you would’ve changed?
No, I don’t have any regrets. I’m very happy to have done what I’ve done. If I would’ve done something differently, I would’ve missed the opportunity to have done the things that I have done and meet the people I have met.
Honestly, I was very fortunate, sequentially, in the way my career happened. I started at Xerox, which at the time was very interested in basic training, both for product and sales skills, and then management and senior management skills. With that as a foundation, I went to work for Canon, and they encouraged me to use those things that I had learned, and empowered me to do a number of different things. It was good timing, and with Canon it really led me to another level of understanding of the different types and the array of technologies that they brought. Hopefully, I can take all of that plus my experience leading the Samsung team and wrap it up into something that will continue to help here at KOTA and LDI.
What word comes to mind when you think of LDI?
Expert. When I think of LDI, I think of the team who has really been the core of the LDI mission. I have the opportunity to meet with them, and work with them, and they are experts. More and more, customers are looking to do business with specialists. In the old days, it was all about good sales training, learning to talk about benefits and handle objections. It has now turned into ensuring that the employees are experts in what it is that they do, because that’s what customers are expecting. When I think of LDI, I think of the expertise that they bring.
Do you have anything else that you’d like to add on LDI, what you’re doing with this joint venture specifically?
We’ve got a view toward 2020. That’s what we’re focused on right now. The road to 2020 is going to be very interesting, because the evolution of technology is happening at a pace that is much faster than when I entered the industry. I think this is a critical time. It is a very exciting time. We are very enthusiastic about what we expect that we’re going to be able to achieve. We think that it will only happen with the selection and recruitment of the right people, focused on the right targets, in the right environment.
Is there a professional accomplishment that you’ve reached that you’re most proud of?
Certainly. That would be growth. If I look back on the things I’ve done and the teams that I’ve worked with, I’m most proud of the fact that in all of my situations, I’ve been able to be part of a growing organization. Revenue growth, customer growth, organizational growth. We’ve grown things, and as a sales and marketing guy, that’s really cool. Ultimately, you’ve got to grow. You’ve got to outrun the market competition.
I would also like to be able to look back at my career and be pleased with the reputation I’ve built. I hope that will be the case!
Patricia Ames is senior analyst with BPO Media.
Follow her on Twitter at @OTGPublisher or contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of The Imaging Channel.