Q&A: Peter Wellikoff, CEO, Meridian America

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Last December Meridian acquired media server innovator, Sooloos, then led by Peter Wellikoff. Over the last couple of months, as the companies have coalesced, roles have shifted and efficiencies have been streamlined, including last week's announcement of Wellikoff as Meridian America's new CEO. I spoke to Wellikoff last week about what this new role means for both companies going forward.

What does your new position as CEO of Meridian America mean for the Sooloos brand?
It does and it doesn't have a lot of influence on the Sooloos brand, because prior to this announcement, over the past two months we have been working on the integration of the two brands, both here in the U.S. and internationally. I am very with how smoothly and successfully that has gone, and it was most evident at the Consumer Electronics Show. We had a fully integrated presentation, the two staff were working together seamlessly, and we had a very positive response from both sets of domestic and international dealers that attended the show. We have already started the complete integration and co-branding, and the initial reaction from the marketplace globally has been overwhelmingly positive. So that has gone actually very much according to plan. ...It was a pretty big undertaking to do in such a short period of time. I would say it is a credit to the people and there enthusiasm to getting it all done.

Have you made an leeway in your thought process around distribution and your collective distribution networks? And will Sooloos be absorbed into the Meridian brand?
We are committed to continuing and maintaining the Sooloos brand. It will not fully evolved and digested into the Meridian group. Sooloos over a short period of time has created a vert strong brand name within the server market, both here in the U.S. and overseas. So there is a real benefit and equity in maintaining that, but at the same time there is also the benefit of the Meridian group and their global presence and the enormous strength of the brand name, which is why we are going to co-brand it Meridian and Sooloos.Overseas, we are committed to successfully integrating Sooloos into the international distribution network. So, Sooloos, going forward will use Meridian distributors overseas. ...Here in the US, there won't be the same level of wholesale change. Sooloos is now being offered, where appropriate, to the Meridian distribution and to some degree, vice versa. If there is a really good Sooloos account that qualifies to become a Meridian dealer we are pursuing that. But the two are not dependent on each other. There will be some exclusive Meridian and exclusive Sooloos distribution going forward. We recognize that the brands, the market segment is, in fact, different. And there is far greater opportunity on the Sooloos than on the Meridian side, in part because not only of the Meridian brand which is 30-plus years old versus Sooloos which is two years old, but also because the categories are a bit different. So the two are not mutually exclusive.

In terms of your role, what are some of the things that you are now charge with as CEO?

Here in the U.S. there are no other personnel changes. The entire integrated group stays intact. My role is to continue to ensure, over the short term, the integration of the two group, the transition of certain departments down in Atlanta up to New York. Once that is done, we are going to use the New York office more as the North American headquarters, while we use Atlanta as the logistics, operations center. I am charged with dealing with the two brands more on a strategic level than operational. Obviously, because of my experience, I will be getting involved with the operational side to a limited degree, ensuring that all departments are functioning according to my strategic plans and my objectives and goals. And also, being able to make some strong contributions to each department and the way they are structured and function, and ensuring that they are looking to aspire to what I am trying to achieve in the overall group. That is really my primary objective. I see this as a great opportunity with one prestigious brand and one new, young and very dynamic brand. We have fabulous products. I am very much into achieving greatness. I think we can take this far beyond where we currently are. We might have to expand our offerings, we might have expand our operations and services and support to our dealers, but i am aspiring to be the best possible vendor to our respective distributions and have the best possible product offerings in each product category and have each brand achieve greatness in every capacity. Through that, empowering staff in each department to take ownership within their function and achieve greatness, and not to be satisfied with where we are now. I sincerely believe that we can push the envelope, and take this here in North America and globally, to a whole other level.

What are some of the strategic things that Meridian intends to do to get over this economic challenge we are facing?
I think we first have to look within our own operations and be very careful about how we are functioning, where we are spending our money, to ensure that we are getting the maximum return on our investment; carefully targeting our efforts and the investments we are making. If we were talking two, three years ago we can be broader and much more liberal on our efforts, but now we have to be much more cautious and much more responsible in what we are executing.
Also at the same time, we have to be way more supportive of our distribution network. It is much more challenged now than ever before, both on a personal and a professional level. I don't think any of us has experienced anything like this. I don't think any of us are old enough to say, "I have experienced the Great Depression." But on a personal, professional level I don't think any of us will experience as challenging times that we are currently going through. Be that as it may, if we are very supportive of our dealers on myriad levels, not only with great products but support, services, programs across all disciplines, i think we can help our distribution ride through this, continue to be successful and profitable, and then come out of this with a very strong, strategic relationship with our business partners. ... I think if both sides are smart, creative, and strategic, we can come out of this successfully. I am still expecting this year, albeit modest, growth. If i can do that this year, I will be enormously proud of those results.

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