It’s official. Staging Connections is now debt-free and safely in the bosom of the Freeman family. Things could have been very different. In June an agreement was signed for PSAV to buy Staging Connections, but Freeman rode in on the white horse.
Tony Chamberlain: “We’re excited. It’s a giant step forward for our business and it’s great for our employees. We’re part of something much bigger and a company with very strong position in the US market. Freeman’s objective is to grow internationally, and we’re the perfect entree into South East Asia. We have a ‘beach head’ in Singapore and China. As of midday Monday we have no debt. We’re part of a large organisation that has no debt. We don’t have to worry about any bankers, we can be totally focussed on our employees and our clients.”
The last five years have been turbulent for Staging Connections. It was hit hard by the GFC, which forced it to rationalise and focus on the core operations of its venue (in-house AV provider) business and it’s staging business. But it’s come back leaner and, crucially, is growing.
For its part, Freeman has been experiencing a rich seam of revenue and profitability. Freeman turns over some US$2.5b a year, and is best known for providing general events and exhibition services, but it’s the AV side of Freeman that’s been the source of some incredible growth.
Ken Sanders, Freeman’s President of AV Services: “AV represents a surprisingly large part of what we do – US$800-850m. It’s not something we’ve traditionally pushed. It’s snuck up on us.
“In-house AV services now represents US$400m a year, which is significant, and has come from a zero base seven years ago.”
AV Asia Pacific put it to Ken that Freeman surely has the clout and know-how to move into South East Asia without Staging Connections’ assistance.
“We’ve learned over the years it makes sense to buy a company that has local expertise rather than build it ourselves. We’re big but we don’t claim to know everything. We try not to make the mistakes others have learnt from. And when you look at a well run company like Staging Connection, we’re not just buying revenue we’re buying the chance to work with some great people.
“Our company culture is very family and employee oriented. It’s a culture developed over 88 years that we feel is unmatched anywhere in the world. People are the biggest part of the formula of success for us.
Which is music to Tony Chamberlain’s ears: “Is it like shackles been removed? Many of us in the business feel that way. We can now focus on employees and the clients. That’s terrific.”
Finally, AV AsiaPacific put it to the two events specialists bosses that the days of hiring out gear as a sustainable revenue model are over.
Tony Chamberlain: I don’t see us as a technology company. What we’re great at is facilitating fantastic communication. In other words, it’s not about the technology, it’s how you use it. We have competitors with the exact same technology as us but we know how to get the best from it. We think about the outcomes the clients are looking for and we’re always looking at new technology that improve the event experience and the return on investment for the client. And that’s what it’s all about: ROI.
Ken Sanders: “Live events aren’t going away. They’ve been around since the Romans. Live events keep people engaged, trained and doing business and it’s based on the kind of communication that can’t be replaced by technology.”
More from the official press release below:
Freeman has announced that it has completed the acquisition of Staging Connections Group Limited (SCGL), a global event services company.
Founded in 1986, SCGL is an international business with centres of excellence in Australia, New Zealand, China, Singapore and Fiji. With its 15 offices and 600 employees throughout ANZPAC, SCGL provides Freeman with an immediate presence throughout the region.
“As our clients are expanding globally, they want the same level of Freeman quality, service, technology and support in markets around the world. This acquisition provides us with an immediate presence in ANZPAC and connects us with an organisation and team that shares our values and our design-driven, customer-centric approach to business,” said Joe Popolo, CEO of Freeman.
“There are tremendous growth opportunities by combining these two great companies. Staging Connections [Group] has strong relationships with the leading brands in ANZPAC and a reputation for superior production design. Together, we will continue to deliver an unparalleled suite of services to our clients around the world,” continued Popolo.
SCGL is aligned with Freeman’s value system and culture, and brings a customer-centric approach focused on innovation, partnerships, employee development and customer success.
“There are a lot of synergies between the Staging Connections [Group] culture and that of Freeman, particularly our customer-centric approach to event delivery. We’re confident that we will fit together seamlessly,” said Tony Chamberlain, Managing Director of Staging Connections.
“We’ve been working with Staging Connections over the years and have been impressed with their people and their culture. There couldn’t be a better fit for Freeman as we continue to expand into global markets. I’m excited to have them join our audio visual division and thrilled to have Managing Director, Tony Chamberlain, as a partner,” said Ken Sanders, President of Freeman Audio Visual.
The acquisition was approved by SCGL’s shareholders at their shareholder meeting September 24, 2015 and by the Australia Federal Court on October 1, 2015. Staging Connections Group Limited is now part of Freeman’s audio visual division and will retain its brand.