It’s been a relatively quiet time for Greg Rokos.President of ESI Tech-nologies, a Montreal-based solutions provider, his company’s last acquisition was in 2001. For a business that has grown to over $30 million in annual revenues partly by buying nine companies since 1994, it’s a long stretch of seeming inactivity.
That’s about to change.
“Presently we’re in discussion with at least three organizations to further our (product) offer,” he said in an interview last month.
“This year we became certified on Cisco IP telephony,” he continued, “and we see a major market opportunity as the IP communications market matures.”
The company is expanding in other ways. It’s looking for system integrators in Ontario and the U.S. to carry its Windows-based Action business management application, a software package ESI developed from that 2001 acquisition. Until recently Action, an application that can cost up to $100,000 which he said competes against Accpac and Microsoft Navision, was marketed only in Quebec.
Perhaps even more important to the company, at the end of this month it plans to launch a pay-as-you-go help desk service for small and medium businesses.
“We’ve taken the best of service and help desk (applications) and created a product that is more versatile and cost -effective” than other solutions, said Rokos.
Clearly growth is imperative to the company. A look at its origins explains why.
ESI used to be the Canadian division of a billion-dollar French computer leasing and distribution conglomerate called Econocom. Rokos was the unit’s president after working there for nine years.
In December 1993, after a restructuring which downgraded the Canadian operations, Rokos and CFO Pierre Courchesne led a management buyout of the division. Today the pair own 90 per cent of ESI.
At the time it concentrated on storage. That field has been expanded to include high availability systems, managed services and compliance products.
In 1996 Rokos made the first of his acquisitions, pushing ESI systems integration, Microsoft development, wireless and cabling solutions and health care applications.
Major partners include Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Network Appliance and Check Point Software.
It has diversified in other ways as well, forming a joint partnership last year with ERA Info of France to provide business process re-engineering services to enterprise customers of Oracle, PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards applications, as well Navision integrations.
If Econocom’s acquisitions legacy seems deep in ESI’s strategy — even though some of its purchases caused the French company trouble — it is perhaps in part because Rokos says founder Jean Louis Bouchard is one of his biggest influences.
“We have to grow to remain competitive,” Rokos insists. So after focusing on Quebec, it has opened a Toronto area office. While about three quarters of ESI’s revenues come from Quebec and the rest from Ontario, he hopes to make it an even split.
“We’re planning to double the organization (revenues) in the next 36 to 48 months,” he said, through internal growth and acquisitions.
Usually the company takes time to swallow its purchases before making another — a lesson Rokos said he learned from Econocom — but he admitted his worst mistake was “making an acquisition too quickly.”
He won’t give details, but said while the numbers made sense, after the deal closed “we realized we were not on the same wavelength” with those running the firm. He got rid of it. “It was a good lesson,” he reflects, “but you have to pay to learn.”