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Heres to Sam

When I initially read the press release about Planar Systems acquisition of Runco International last month, the first thing I thought was, Weve just lost a major piece of our industrys personality.

Very few manufacturer executives have the character, larger-than-life attitude, and passion of Runco International founder, Sam Runco. Since the infancy of custom installation, he has provided a special texture and attitude to an industry that has grown more and more corporate through the years. Without Sam, there would be a huge void in the high-end video category. There also would be no Mexico Getaway where top video dealers spend four days together becoming part of the Runco family. Without Sam, there might not be the same level of financial support for the Elf Foundations childrens hospital projects. And wouldnt you miss Sams colorful tequila toast at the end of every CEDIA EXPO banquet in September?

Fortunately, as I learned soon after the announcement, most of these hallmarks of custom installation will remain the same in years to come. Planar, a well-respected manufacturer of industrial video technology for applications such as hospital monitors and ATM machines, plans to let Runco remain Runco, but with additional financial and supply-chain resources.

Before this deal, Planar had been a player in the residential market for just over one year and still faced two more years of an ambitious three-year goal of achieving a number-two market position behind Runco. Plans began to change about six months ago when company executives learned that Runco International was for sale, as long as the buyer provided proper assurances that they would ultimately add value to the Runco and Vidikron brands. Rumor has it that Sam had already rejected a larger offer from another company because he felt that it would provide little improvement to his brands.

Obviously it would now make no sense for Planar to substantially alter Runco Internationals brands in any way. Why spend all of that money just to shut them down or alter their charm and integrity? Instead, Planar apparently gave assurances to Sam and Runco president, Bob Hana, that it would use its worldwide manufacturing and distribution connections to improve their time to market, and provide them with better administrative practices and access to development capital. Product quality has rarely been a problem for Runco International. However, shipment delays and cashflow limitations typical of an entrepreneurial company sometimes were. That is expected to improve with the publicly held Planar Systems at the helm.

Last month, when I spoke to Bob Hana and Planars vice president and general manager, Scott Hix, my first question was about Sam Runcos future role in the company. I cynically asked them if Sams consultant title was anything more than marketing spin for were getting rid of the entrepreneur so we can run things right? They laughed and Hana responded, Do you actually believe that Sam would walk away from an opportunity to play with 40 new engineers? Point taken.

Heres to Sam Runco and all hes done for this industry. May he have more fun than ever before and keep providing great products and personality to this ever-changing business.