“50 years is a long time.”
For a man known for his straight talk, honest dealings and understated class, even that is quite the understatement.[caption id="attachment_3323" align="alignleft" width="320"] Dr. Giorgio Coraluppi founded Compunetix 50 years ago![/caption]
The man is Dr. Giorgio Coraluppi – known affectionately and respectfully by his employees as “Dr. C” – the lone founder and continued inspiration behind Compunetix Inc., which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year as a Pittsburgh technology pioneer and touchstone enterprise.
“The same principles we had when there were just five of us are still in effect today, even as Pittsburgh has seen so many changes,” Coraluppi explained. “I remember many years ago, another young company’s CEO went around to different capital investors to keep the company going, and I told him that during the time he spent looking for capital, I spent it looking for customers.”
“We had to offer something of value to customers and we had to perform,” he said. “In those 50 years, the whole complexion of Pittsburgh has changed. When I started Compunetix, I was told at that time that Allegheny County had 26 steel mills. And you see what we have today. The whole environment completely transformed, and Pittsburgh has done a great job adapting.”
So has Compunetix. At the start, Coraluppi began answering requests for proposals from the federal government and landed his first contract with the U.S. Navy – even though, to prepare for a visit from the Navy representatives, he had to make a last-minute run to Sears to buy enough folding chairs. And it’s been a story of learning, experimentation, setbacks, faith, breakthroughs, expansion and success ever since.
The company of 2018 comprises Compunetix, which develops unified collaboration systems for business, health care and military applications, along with a printed circuit board manufacturer named Compunetics, and its premier provider of high-performing audio and video conferencing services worldwide, Chorus Call.
“Agility is one of our strengths,” noted Jerry Pompa, Communications System Division Manager. “We’re not a startup, we’re more in the medium-sized range with enough critical mass to be world-leaders in certain areas. We’re small enough to be nimble, more so than our large competitors like Microsoft and Cisco. We’re looking for interesting problems to solve. Software success is not possible without great people, and what’s cool at Compunetix is that every person makes a difference, because it’s scaled that way. That drives a lot of pride of ownership and fosters greater professional development.”
Culture encompasses every person, every position, every day – and for good reason. It works.
“You can’t make someone innovative, the spirit of innovation is like a trait – those who have it recognize it in each other and come together,” offered Monica Coraluppi, Director of Special Projects for Chorus Call. “There’s an instinct, a spirit that comes to life when people who share this trait are together. As teams work together the excitement soars and builds upon itself as greater challenges are conquered. Across Compunetix, we share the joy of problem solving.”
“This spirit is breathed by the whole company,” added Giorgio Coraluppi. “Creativity, intuition, resolve and hard work – put them all together and you get champions.”
From that initial success providing support to the Navy, Compunetix has continued to build on its strong reputation of engineering excellence, trust and superior service with the U.S. military. During the NASA Space Shuttle program, Compunetix implemented a large-scale digital conferencing system between the spacecraft and the mission specialists on the ground. That system remained in place for the entire length of the Shuttle program. An adaptation of that system was later adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration, and then brought to the commercial market.
Now representing roughly a third of all Compunetix revenue, the military sector uses the company’s products at such facilities as: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Jet Propulsion Laboratory Deep Space Network; FAA Command Centers; Intelstat; Atlantic Test Range; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Satellite Tracking Center. Compunetix also has strong ongoing relationships with major defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
“Many of our military customers are multi-generational,” said Mike Hockenberry, Manager, Federal Systems Division. “They work with us, they like us, and they want to keep us. We have great relationships with major defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, and have been very successful because we establish partnerships with them.”
Chorus Call may be the company that most people are aware of, as well as being an important revenue generator.
Chorus Call differentiates itself through handling more high-profile type calls, such as hosting major corporate CEOs on their quarterly earnings calls to investment analysts. Millions of dollars in value ride on such calls, so clarity and understanding of the message becomes paramount.
In another actual example, Chorus Call supported a conference of surgeons at a remote resort. A key part of the gathering included live video feeds of actual surgeries being performed at various operating rooms at a number of hospitals. The video quality needed to be exceptional, since colors of organs and other biological elements can mean different things. Such situations cannot be subject to any technical or quality issues at all, and Chorus Call rose to the expectations.
“I remember many years ago, another young company’s CEO went around to different capital investors to keep the company going, and I told him that during the time he spent looking for capital, I spent it looking for customers.”
Clients are willing to pay a premium for this level of service and reliability. This continues to provide the business case for Chorus Call, which also maintains 12 offices in countries around the world.
“After we opened the first Chorus Call office in India, we quickly grew to three offices,” said Jerry Bindra, Managing Director, Chorus Call, India. “We do 97% of all assisted conference calls in India. Every day there’s another challenge to be overcome, but when we get to the end of the road we enjoy it – it’s fun. The fact that employees own part of the company means that our people consider this as committing to our word, it’s a personal perspective applied to the business.”
Thanks to an employee stock ownership plan, the single largest owner of Compunetix (at 40%) is the employee base, which engenders loyalty among employees, said CEO Coraluppi. Growth for the company will be achieved through careful acquisitions and organic expansion, he said. But here again, culture will predominate all aspects of the growth strategy.
“We’re organized in moderately sized groups,” he said. “Each group has ‘human dimensions,’ meaning that we maintain a close relationship between sales and implementation, to appreciate the complexities of the other side. Chorus Call recently acquired a New Jersey-based company, and those people were afraid of being laid off. I went out there and told them not to be afraid. We didn’t acquire your company just to get a list of customers, but to acquire the people who generated that great list of customers. And those people are still there today.”
After a half-century, what’s next for Compunetix? For Coraluppi, it begins and ends with people.
“Every company has its own style,” he said. “I’m not saying our way is better than anyone else’s, but it’s our style and seems to have worked well. You must have good financial stability. Our people know it’s because they’re doing good work, not from some external injection of capital.
“We have many opportunities, the world is always changing and we’re part of the change,” the CEO mused. “Some very large companies are using our solutions and products. There are many opportunities in front of us to allow the company to grow by multiples.”
His board of directors believes in the Compunetix approach, as well. “I’ve known Giorgio for 30 years, have worked with the company closely, and joined the board five years ago,” said Board member Robert Kampmeinert, an experienced investment banker. “What he and his team have done in this business is amazing.”
Let’s allow the founder the last word on the subject.
“Pittsburgh has a few formidable characteristics. People here are not ashamed of working, and of taking pride in their work, which is important. I translate that into pride of authorship for our designs, products, service delivery and customer satisfaction. We’ve been here for 50 years, and we’ll continue to grow here. Our incentives are based on profitability of jobs, not just sales, because all players contribute to profitability in their own unique ways. A company is like a plant – every part of it is a crucial part. And a well-cared-for plant finds its way to the sun.”