The Art Of The Turnaround

Husband-and-wife team rebuild existing business

Not every entrepreneur makes his or her way by starting a business from scratch; some buy into it. Take Merle Vaughn and Jeff Lasley, the husband-and-wife team who own Acromedia Systems. The Los Angeles-based firm designs, builds and installs communications systems, audio visual devices and local area networks (LANs). The paging system that announces your flight and the cameras in the parking areas at L.A. International Airport are examples of the products the three-year-old firm supplies.

The couple were both practicing attorneys when an attractive business opportunity came their way. “Acromedia Corp. had been in business for 23 years when two of the four partners decided to retire,” recalls Vaughn. “The two remaining partners were looking for a way to avoid dissolving the company. One of them approached Jeff for legal advice.” Using $20,000 in savings and a bank line of credit, the couple purchased a 51% share of the business (enabling them to qualify as a minority business enterprise). In 1995, Vaughn, Lasley and the two partners founded Acromedia Systems.

Under Vaughn’s and Lasley’s managerial guidance, Acromedia has grown from eight to more than 40 employees, and revenues climbed to $6 million in 1997. The duo made significant changes to restructure the company and improve cash flow. For example, instead of continuing to subcontract out the fiber optic installation, they brought the work in-house, reducing costs by as much as 50%. “Once we looked at the volume of installation we were doing, we decided to train our existing field personnel to do the work,” explains Lasley. “Today, we contract out less than 2% of the work.”

The fact that they had no technical experience in the industry never deterred the couple. “We felt we had what was important–the managerial skills needed to run a company,” says Vaughn.

Lasley oversees the technical aspects of the company, while his wife handles the administrative details. Although the couple was fortunate enough to inherit good technical help, finding qualified employees in their specialized field has been formidable. Even more challenging has been coping with growing pains. “Our market is growing so fast that we have to be careful how we allocate our funds,” says Lasley. “For instance, taking on a big project over a short period of time can easily overextend us.” In other words, it is easier to manage a $2 million project over six months than a $500,000 project in two weeks.
Acromedia plans to offer a wider variety of products and services, including computer networking. The company also services the Los Angeles Unified School District, the new Getty Center Museum and UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Acromedia Systems, 5600 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90045; 310-410-4141

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