Ross Video’s winning playbook: Smart acquisitions, clear strategy makes Ottawa firm global powerhouse

When rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the dying seconds of Super Bowl XLIX, the New England Patriots clinched their fourth NFL title in franchise history.

But Tom Brady and Co. weren’t the only big winners at the University of Phoenix Stadium this past February.

Ottawa’s own Ross Video had a pretty good Super Bowl Sunday as well. A local company that designs and manufactures equipment for live events and video productions, Ross Video had a hand in virtually all aspects of NBC’s game-day broadcast, which drew the largest television audience in U.S. history.

Ross equipment dominated the network’s control room. Ross technology created the on-screen graphics and generated the “augmented reality” image of a giant Vince Lombardi Trophy. Ross’s mobile trucks were also on scene, producing Sports Illustrated’s live streaming coverage of the game and surrounding events.

All of it was done with equipment manufactured at the firm’s 80,000-square-foot plant in Iroquois, not far from Ottawa on the St. Lawrence River.

Much like the Patriots, who have built a dynasty despite not having the biggest names or flashiest players at most positions, Ross Video has forged a reputation for punching above its weight by out-preparing and outperforming its rivals.

“When you’re playing a game at multiple levels like that, it’s difficult for our competitor who has slightly better technology, a slightly shinier product, to win, because there’s more to the game than that,” says David Ross, the firm’s CEO and majority shareholder. “We compete every day with Sony and Panasonic – and win more often than we lose.”

As with football, that means paying attention to every detail. Mr. Ross takes pride in doing his homework before making any major acquisition, something he’s done a lot over the past half a dozen years – 10 deals and counting.

“Every one had its challenges,” he concedes. “It’s what you do about them that’s the difference. Out of those 10 acquisitions, we have had zero failures. Every single one of them has grown or has benefited Ross in some huge way.”

At the Super Bowl, for example, Ross’s mobile trucks used technology the firm gained through its 2013 acquisition of Florida-based Mobile Content Providers. That computer-generated Vince Lombardi Trophy? It was brought to the screen courtesy of products pioneered by Unreel LLC, a company Ross bought last year.

Before he considers any deal, Mr. Ross says it has to meet two key criteria: the company must align snugly with his firm’s corporate culture and must generate no more than 10 per cent of Ross’s revenues. That mitigates the risk if a deal goes south, he says, and it eliminates “all sorts of political problems” that often crop up when big companies merge.

“What I like to do is buy relatively small gems that have great potential that would benefit from the Ross brand and integrating with the Ross suite of products,” he says. “If you were to buy a (market) leader, what do you get out of that? You get maybe the efficiencies of saving some sales and accounting. It’s not the same thing as seeing fantastic growth of a small company.”

Those acquisitions have paid major dividends for Ross Video, which is closing in on the 600-employee mark less than two years after reaching 500. Broadcasters in about 140 countries use its products, and Mr. Ross says the company’s annual sales are “well into nine figures.”

The firm his father launched in 1974 has averaged 17 per cent year-over-year revenue growth since he came on board in the early ’90s, an impressive feat in any industry.

“Not bad for a tech company,” he says with a smile. “It’s not what you’re doing right, it’s also making sure you don’t do anything wrong. I can come up with a couple of dozen things that you can do badly and it won’t matter whether you do other things right. It’s trying to make sure there’s no stone unturned when you’re pushing the company forward.”

Today, he likes to say, Ross Video is a “technology company that really focuses on sales and marketing.”

It’s a far cry from the place where he started.

“When I joined Ross Video in 1991, we had maybe three or four people in sales and marketing, but we put a ton of emphasis into research and development and products,” he says. “I used to get people saying to me, ‘You guys are the best-kept secret in the broadcast industry. I love your stuff. Too bad more people don’t know about it.’ And it just bugged the hell out of me.”

Mr. Ross says that even though his background was in engineering, he began spending time learning about the market and the firm’s competition and doing demos of the product in the field.

“That led to really recognizing the value of building a strong sales force and building your brand name. That paid off exceptionally well.”

Ross sales offices now span the globe and the firm’s marketing force includes more than 100 people.

“When you have that sort of a market presence and feet on the ground around the world, you know what’s going on and have great relationships with your business partners,” Mr. Ross says. “But the other thing is, you start to attract interest from companies that want to partner with you.”

A winning formula? You bet.