We talk with Dennis Barnedt about his successful career, his latest acquisition, ZircoDATA and what challenges he sees the industry facing in the future.
How did you get into the records and information management (RIM) industry?
I started with First American Records Management (FARM) in Los Angeles in 1994. I was recruited to run their Southern California offices after my manager from an international distribution and transportation company recruited me when he joined FARM. At that time, the company was owned by Ken Saxon and Tom Bird who, with pride, I say are still investors with me today.
How did your position at FARM lead you to where you are today?
I started as the vice president of operations for FARM and worked with Terry Coen to learn the high-level RIM industry and business, and turned to Jim Teske, who was with O’Neil Software then, to understand the inventory management systems we operated under. As I reflect back, it was an opportune time to start with the business because I was there through a progression from a DOS to a Windows system and using hand-held multifunction PDT scanners instead of the old, single-function, pen-style scanners.
In the 1990s, FARM was sold—as many RIM companies were then—to Iron Mountain. As part of the acquisition, I became an Iron Mountain general manager in Southern California. That’s were I met my wife, Pamela, who was the West Coast HR representative for Iron Mountain. I left the company in 2001 to help another entrepreneur grow his RIM company, including managing acquisitions across the United States.
In 2004, I founded Access Information Management with the help of Housatonic Partners, who were my funding sponsors, and one of their key staff, John Chendo, who ended up being the president of Access and is now my business partner for all of our companies.
My first acquisition was RecordXpress in Livermore, CA, from a couple of old industry friends, Richard Bernstein and Joe Moscuzza. My second acquisition was Fileminders in Hawaii, where I met Rob Alston, who was one of the owners. Rob and I ended up being good friends through the years and now we are business partners. He took over the CEO role of Access in 2010 and also joined the OASIS board. It has been because of our partnership that I have been able to continue our growth through new brands and locations outside of the Americas. Rob and John now have built the second-largest RIM company in the world with Access.
I moved to Europe in 2009 to lead the OASIS Group and its growth strategy, and now, in 2016, I am leading ZircoDATA in Australia. To this day, John, Rob, and I are all partners in Access, OASIS, and ZircoDATA, and we still have a standing meeting every Monday to ensure we keep our partnership and our brands aligned. We also have Brian Connolly, CEO of OASIS in the European Union (EU), who has been with me since the first month we moved into the EU market and now leads the standards for OASIS.
You mentioned your newest acquisition, ZircoDATA. What is your vision for this new company?
We are looking to take what is a well-run corporate company and make it more entrepreneurial, agile, and in tune with the clients we serve. We are looking to add to ZircoDATA’s operations the standards Access and OASIS have developed but also find new services that the Australian market and our clients want. We have a large national client base that has asked for more digital and business process outsourcing–related services; we are looking to satisfy those needs while still keeping the excellent work that already has been developed by the team.
You’ve led several acquisitions over the past 10 years. What affects your decision to acquire a company?
There are too many factors to list here, but I will say most deals are outlined by a single conversation and an agreement, in principal, on terms. I like to be known as a person who keeps his word to the principal agreement and by that I simply mean we do what we say we are going to do. Not every company has the same value, monetarily or strategically, to us, but there is always a specific reason we believe it is a fit. Generally, we look for strategic operations and locations with the right client profile that compliment our business and growth strategy.
Each individual company fills a unique need for your business and growth strategy, but what sets your companies apart from others in the marketplace, either individually or as a whole?
We strive to be a unique supplier to the markets we serve by listening to the clients, no matter the size, and providing more flexible solutions and services. We always are looking to be the ones who go the extra steps and fulfill their needs. Many people have asked what makes us different, and the real value we add is decentralising many of our decisions and empowering our local teams to react, respond, and satisfy our clients’ needs. The people closest to the clients know more about what they want and need than someone sitting in an office a few states, or even countries, away. We also aid our clients’ decisions on which new processes and technology will help them internally, while also staying aligned with us.
What role do you play within each of your companies?
I hold the founder and director roles, typically, but as I move to each new market, I take on the overall leadership as CEO while we set up the company.
At ZircoDATA now, I am the group CEO and executive chairman. As I work with the company and team, I strive to build strong leaders and ultimately make myself redundant so that others can step up and lead the company after my initial setup of organisational infrastructure and operational excellence. It has been a good model so far and has proved successful with Rob and John at Access and Brian at OASIS. They have taken a solid foundation and then vastly improved on it with their own marks. I am now looking to ZircoDATA and working with an excellent team on what we can do together over the coming years.
What do you see happening with your companies’ growth, in the next 5–10 years?
We likely will continue to see a moderate decline in the pure paper storage industry, unless traditional RIM companies transform to a true “information management” company offering more than just one service and helping the clients understand the available RIM technologies that fit their needs and the overall costs of the alternatives. Many companies we acquire are experiencing slower growth, and they do not want to invest in new technology or people to offer additional services. We keep ourselves relevant by offering additional services and solutions as our clients’ needs evolve. To understand those evolving needs, we are conducting more surveys, holding client workshops, and just plain talking to them and listening.
Evolving alongside clients and at their same rapid pace is a challenge everyone in this industry can relate to. What other challenges have you experienced with your companies?
My personal challenges may be unique because I have had to deal with several countries, currencies, languages, and cultures. In addition, between all of the companies, we now have completed more than 125 acquisitions, and that presents unique challenges in terms of integrating them all onto the same systems and creating standard operating procedures while also letting local management be agile and able to react to their specific local client and team needs. If you break it down, for me, it’s all about team building and developing standards without taking away the local knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit that the clients like from their local provider, although we are national and international brands. My challenges will remain the same as I enter the Asia Pacific region, but I am looking forward to this next adventure; my family and I—just shortly after becoming dual citizens by attaining our Irish citizenship—now are relocating again, this time to Melbourne, Australia.
That is so exciting! Speaking of your family, what is your life like outside of work? What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I spend a lot of time keeping track of the family and spending time with them. I keep busy just finding time with my wife and five boys, ranging from 10-year-old twins—who attended their first PRISM conference in Geneva at 4 months old—to a 26-year-old, all living in three separate countries. When I do see them, we travel, ski, and motorcycle ride as much as we can. Lake Tahoe is where we all meet up, including when we spend time with Rob and John and their families, to recharge our batteries.
What is your favourite part of your job and of being a part of the RIM industry as a whole?
My time in this industry has been fun and exciting from a business standpoint. I personally enjoy that across the three companies, we employ more than 2,500 team members, and that we have so many personal stories where their employment or relationship to the company has helped them and their families. It is with pride and a sense of responsibility that we take care of our teams and the communities in which we operate. We don’t spend much time talking about this, but the people involved are well aware that I am proud of them and appreciate their efforts.
Article originally published in Prism International’s inFocus Quarterly Journal – Winter 2016