Upon learning of the acquisition of High End Systems by Barco, the editors of Live Design made some inquiries and were able to get an exclusive online Q+A with Merritt Belisle, chairman of High End Systems Inc. Here’s what he had to say about the transaction and the future of High End.
Live Design: What brought about this transaction and how long has it been in the works?
Merritt Belisle: The transaction has been in the works since the Fall of 2007. We had a very good partner in Generation Partners, a private equity firm in Greenwich, CT. They had been in this investment about 10 years and it was time for them to realize their equity.
LD: How does the merger have any immediate effect on employment at either company?
MB: There is no immediate effect. Austin will be a center of competency for digital lighting for the Media and Entertainment Division of Barco, so we’re very excited to be part of the Barco family.
LD: Does integration of High End into Barco imply that High End’s Austin facility will, at some point, cease to exist? Will High End still exist as a brand within Barco?
MB: We have a lot of integration planning left to do, so with respect to branding, those decisions haven’t even been contemplated. Right now, Barco has a very light touch with respect to Austin. We are here working hard to make money and be successful for the corporate family, and I would anticipate that Austin will be here a long time and will continue to be the center of competency for digital lighting for Barco. I’ve had a great privilege to work with Richard Belliveau, who is an extremely talented and creative individual and I would certainly think that anybody who has Richard Belliveau on the payroll would keep him in Austin, and keep him innovating and creating.
LD: Is there any part of the purchase that discusses production of future products or continuation thereof? In other words, what was in the works, and will it still be released?
MB: There is certainly no such discussion in any purchase agreement. I am extremely impressed with the Barco senior management. They are very capable business people. I’ve also been extremely impressed with the team here at High End Systems. I would anticipate that we will make all the right product decisions, because as I mentioned earlier, we haven’t really made a lot of integration planning decisions. Those things are going on. Barco has a policy of not disturbing the success of companies they buy. As I’m sure everyone who’s been in the lighting industry knows, High End has been a very successful company. We‘ve had some great product releases and we will continue to work with Barco and our goal is to bring great exciting products to lighting professionals and venues and make things fun for people who go to shows and other entertainment events.
LD: How is everyone at High End taking the news? Any immediate effect?
MB: There is tremendous excitement here at High End. We are now part of a global footprint. We have incredible financial resources to realize our goals here. There is a true feeling of appreciation, and if I may say so, love for Lowell Fowler and Richard Belliveau and this 30-plus year old company that they have built, which will continue on here in Austin. It’s an extremely exciting time for all of us. We are now part of a global powerhouse, Barco, and we expect to do great things in partnership as we move forward.
LD: What’s happening to leadership at HES (ie, Richard, Lowell)?
MB: Richard and Lowell as founders will remain very active in the business. As I mentioned earlier, Richard is an incredible creative talent and I look forward to the ideas and products we come up with working with Richard. Lowell is an ambassador to this industry—he knows everybody and we will continue to work together. I will lead the HES business unit for Barco as vice president of Digital Lighting. Obviously, the product portfolio here at High End encompasses more than just digital lighting, but they wanted some clarity within the Barco family that this will become the center of competency for digital lighting. As we move forward, I’m sure we’ll have announcements to make as we complete integration planning. But right now there is no big move here. Bill Morris will continue to run sales and marketing for the High End side of the organization, and we’re obviously looking at sales integration. None of those decisions have been made yet.
We’re very excited about the fact that we have a greater product portfolio for our sales people and quite frankly we will probably get in some doors as part of the Barco family that may have been difficult to get into in the past. So it is a win-win for both companies. The main thing we emphasized yesterday in our employee meeting is that our job is to take care of the customer and to build great products. We’re going to take care of our customers and make great, new, and exciting products. We don’t have to worry about the corporate gymnastics of what is going on in Belgium or what is going on in Asia because this is a very large company we’re part of, and we’ll continue to work well with each other and within the Barco family. There is nothing but great opportunities ahead for us.