As Ross Video continues its steady march toward a billion dollars in annual revenue, even its CEO sometimes marvels at what the Ottawa-based video technology giant has accomplished.
With its fiscal year end of Oct. 31 approaching, Ross is a lock to extend its remarkable three-decade run of continuous revenue growth. Buoyed by timely acquisitions and a knack for innovation that’s helped make its production hardware and software a staple at television studios, arenas and live venues around the world, the firm has become an industry powerhouse.
Ross reached into that playbook once again this month, finalizing a deal to acquire Spidercam, an Austria-based manufacturer of computer-controlled cameras that hover over stadiums and other outdoor venues to provide overhead views of sporting events, concerts and the like.
Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but suffice to say it’s one of Ross’s biggest M&A transactions yet.
Chief executive David Ross said Spidercam – which employs about 40 people plus hundreds of freelance technicians around the world – will fill a significant niche in his firm’s product lineup.
The Austrian company’s cameras are a fixture at big-time European sporting events like English Premier League soccer games, and were also on site at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony – where a Spidercam may have captured Will Smith’s infamous slap of host Chris Rock, although Ross admits the manufacturer “couldn’t quite confirm” its equipment got the shot.
“The idea of being able to buy the largest and most iconic player in this industry is a dream come true for me,” Ross said. “It’s a big deal for us.”
Despite its global prominence, Spidercam, which has facilities in Austria, Germany and Kennesaw, Ga., is still a relatively small player on this continent. Most of its 30 or so cable-suspended cameras are scattered across Europe and Asia, where they’re used at cricket matches in India and Pakistan.
The firm is now developing a smaller camera for indoor venues, which Ross believes could be Spidercam’s ticket to wider exposure in the North American market. But the company lacks the sales and support staff to engineer a continent-wide rollout of the product across the Atlantic, where Ross Video already has a well-entrenched network.
“We’re really big in North America, and they’re in the process of breaking in,” Ross said. “In a way, they had a product but no way to deliver it. That’s what we do.”
The two firms also have the added benefit of familiarity. Ross Video has embedded its augmented reality software in Spidercam’s products for years, making an acquisition a logical next step, Ross explained.
“We were already partnered with them, so we had a good relationship,” he said.
It’s the 19th acquisition for Ross Video, and the first since it purchased California-based LED display screen manufacturer D3 a year ago.
Since then, Ross has stepped up its game.
After posting average annual revenue increases of 17 per cent for two decades, the Ottawa firm is poised to more than double that rate in fiscal 2022, with projected growth of about 35 per cent.
It’s enough to leave the firm’s longtime CEO grasping for words.
“It’s mind-boggling, really,” said Ross, who took over leadership of the family-owned company from his father John in 2006. “(Revenue growth) is accelerating, which is just counter to what everybody’s telling us is supposed to happen when you get bigger.”
Yet that’s exactly what is happening.
Barely 16 months after cracking the 1,000-employee mark, Ross Video now has a global workforce of more than 1,300 and growing. The company is expanding at such a rapid clip that it’s already outgrown its main production facility in Iroquois, south of Ottawa, more than a month before it even opens an additional 55,000 square feet of new capacity.
“We are now starting to plan the next expansion before we’re finished the current expansion,” Ross said with a chuckle.
From its humble beginnings in the early 1970s as a manufacturer of a single product – production switchers used to shift between multiple cameras in live TV studios – Ross Video has evolved into a video production powerhouse with more than 30 items on its roster.
Ross predicts the firm will top $350 million in sales in fiscal 2022 and is probably two years away from reaching the half-billion mark. From there, he figures Ross Video is about four years from hitting the magical 10-digit milestone every CEO dreams of.
"We can definitely see the path to a billion dollars now. Nineteen acquisitions and creating a true unicorn internally financed, there’s probably not too many companies like that."
And it’s done it all without taking a cent of outside funding.
“We can definitely see the path to a billion dollars now,” Ross said. “Nineteen acquisitions and creating a true unicorn internally financed, there’s probably not too many companies like that.”
Meanwhile, Ross said another one of his long-term goals is coming closer to fruition: taking Ross Video public. The company is probably “two or three years away” from an IPO, he said, adding it intends to implement a dual-share structure to ensure its current boss retains firm control.
“When you go public, you can end up with a very short-term viewpoint to the detriment of the long-term viewpoint,” Ross said. “That is absolutely not the plan for Ross.”
With some economists predicting a recession is just over the horizon, more than a few executives in his position might be tempted to put a lid on talk of IPOs and sustained double-digit revenue growth.
“The most recent (projection) I saw is there’s a 40 per cent chance of a recession next year,” he said. “That means there’s a 60 per cent chance of no recession next year. We’re being cautious, for sure. We’re not going to be blindly going ahead and overextending ourselves because of what’s going on. But we’re also taking advantage of the opportunities in front of us, and I think we’re equipped to do that.”