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The Life and Legacy of Frank J. Annese


A tribute to a remarkable man, whose hard work has inspired a family beyond his own to carry on the legacy he built 40 years ago.

Copyright Š 2010 by Annese & Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Written by: Christina Nordquist, Marketing Coordinator Designed by: Kara Rudy, Marketing Manager Edited by: Yvonne Annese LoRe, VP of Corporate Projects Rus Healy, Chief Technology Officer The book was written to share and commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Annese & Associates. We would like to thank the employees, family, friends, and customers, past and present, for sharing their memories and history of Annese with us. We remember in a special way those who are no longer with us and will use this book to honor their memory.

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Prologue “When he was little, his grandfather owned a fruit and vegetable stand,” tells Michelle Annese, “And every morning my father would go out and work alongside him. He was only six or seven years old, but he’s always had that entrepreneurial bug.” “Then when my father was going to the University of Notre Dame,” she continues, “he would take the train back and forth from Indiana to his home in Endicott, New York. My father would sell sandwiches on the train so that he could make enough money to buy a ticket back to school.” Michelle, the eldest daughter of Frank J. Annese, credits her father’s inherent acumen for business and strong work ethic to the success and continuous evolution of the family owned legacy he began in the small town of Herkimer, New York in 1970; an organization that would become known as Annese & Associates, Inc., which Michelle, along with her three sisters, Yvonne Annese LoRe, Andrea Annese Como, and Francine Annese Apy, share ownership of today. A company that has evolved in tandem with the telecommunications industry, Annese was there from the beginning. Making the necessary investments to adapt to new technologies and industry standards along the way, the company has remained a key player on the industry’s forefront throughout the past 40 years. Built on the foundation of goodwill and an unyielding commitment to customer excellence, the philosophy that Frank pioneered 40 years ago has translated across decades, territories, technologies, and departments, and remains the cornerstone of the organization’s practices, shaping what has become known as the brand of Annese. This personal approach to business is and has always been the differentiating x-factor that most distinguishes Annese & Associates, Inc. from its competitors.

with one office in Ilion, selling a wide array of data processing accessories to businesses in Upstate New York—to its transformation into the fully developed sales and service organization it is today. With a rapidly growing team of 90 employees to date, Annese has emerged to nine offices strategically located around New York State and New England. Annese first made its name selling modems as ICC Milgo’s exclusive manufacturer’s representative for Upstate New York. Today the company is a strategic partner and value added reseller to industry-leading manufacturers like Cisco Systems, EMC², VMware, and Tandberg to name a few, while retaining its own suite of advanced professional services, along with a robust business model structured around unified communications, security, wireless, data center, video integration, and remote managed services. With the significant growth and evolution that Annese has undergone over the past 40 years, and the technological game-changers that will undoubtedly continue to re-shape the company’s strategic initiatives going forward, the fundamental underpinnings remain unchanged. Annese’s guiding principles, strong family values, and dedicated team of people, remain the living pulse beneath an organization well positioned for ongoing business success. Left, Frank was six years old waiting for his grandfather (pictured with him below) in front of the fruit stand.

This is the story of how Annese began—as a two person sales company 4

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Table of Contents Prologue

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

The Early Days Necessity is the Mother of Invention The Funny Company The Pivot Point The Brick The People are the Pulse A Footprint of Service Some Change is Constant The Beat Goes On References

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Entrepreneurial Spirit

The Early

Chapter 1

Days It was the early 1960s and data communications was about to undergo an evolution. From the emergence of dial-up modems and multiplexers, to the “game-changing” router, to PCs and laptops, to local area networks, and then the internet, the field was on the verge of forever changing the way the world would communicate. Technology was a brand new concept at the time and Frank Annese was driven by the seemingly infinite possibilities tied to this exciting industry. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 1961, Frank interviewed for a sales position at IBM, one of the world’s largest computer companies and systems integrators. Frank had known since childhood that he wanted to be a computer salesman at IBM because the company was born in his hometown of Endicott, New York. His mother, Virginia, had been employed there for twenty years, herself. The family lived across the street from a shoe factory where his father and grandfather were employed, but Frank candidly admits that he could not envision himself following that career path. Virginia Annese explains that she was unaware her son had even applied to Notre Dame. The family was poor, and a college education was not something that Frank or his three younger siblings were guaranteed. “I found out when I got a phone call one day from Notre Dame saying that Chick1 had been accepted.” Virginia goes on to say that she was thrilled her oldest son was not only striving to go on to college, but that he had independently taken the steps necessary to achieve that goal for himself. Frank sold what he could to pay his way through, including 1

Chick: Frank’s family nickname. Form of “Cheech” which means, “Frank” in Italian.

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his beloved trumpet in order to buy books for his classes. “He did it all on his own,” Virginia states proudly. Doing things “his way” would become the theme of Frank’s life. After completing his interview with one of the big-wigs at IBM, Frank was told that he was not “sales material.” “That was the best thing he could have heard,” Virginia smiles as she reflects back. She explains that while a remark like that could have been detrimental to someone else embarking on a career in their chosen profession, Frank instead, was now more determined than ever to prove to the executive at IBM, and most importantly to himself, that he would without doubt, find success in a life-long sales career. Soon after, Frank wound up securing a position at a company called UNIVAC, which was the second largest computer manufacturer behind IBM. Working in Syracuse for four years, Frank gained a strong basis of professional, industry experience which helped groom him for his next endeavor. In 1965, Frank accepted a sales position at Mohawk Data Sciences Corporation (MDS), a key-to-tape manufacturing start-up company based in Herkimer, New York, where he spent the first three years working in Syracuse and then relocated to Boston in 1968 to establish the regional office there. At the same time, he and Dominica, a Ukrainian girl he had fallen in love with at a mutual friend’s wedding, were married in 1962 and started a family almost immediately after. Before they knew it, they were raising four daughters under the age of five years old. Dominica did not have a driver’s license at the time, and Frank’s job kept him on the road five out of seven days a week. Despite the toll the constant traveling took on the family, Frank had truly found his calling. He wound up being recognized as the highest selling sales manager at MDS at the time. This accomplishment landed him in a featured article in the national magazine, Redbook, highlighting his self-made success. “It was sort of a rags-to-riches story,” comments Eva Healy, Frank’s longtime secretary and close family friend. When the same executive that had interviewed Frank at IBM half a decade before caught wind 10

F nk’s achievements, chie nt Virgini mb hi ni “I guess of Frank’s Virginia remembers him groaning, we made a mistake.” After three or four relocations in one year, MDS wanted Frank to move his family to Washington D.C. for an undetermined period of time. His daughter Michelle, who was entering into the first grade, had already been to three different schools. After talking it over with Dominica and considering what would be the best decision for his family, Frank decided that it was time to go out on his own. 11


Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Chapter 2

Gall & Annese

Now Frank needed a job. He and a former colleague, Bob Yannover, who had left MDS around the same time, decided to start their own sales and marketing company called 3rd Party Marketing, or 3PM for short. The two men met in New York City to discuss the details of this new venture. It seemed like a prime time to go into business as several new manufacturing companies were producing different technology products that required a sales force to bring them to market. However, before the details were officially ironed out, Bob called Frank to tell him that he was instead, going to start a service bureau and base it in his hometown of Detroit. Frank was reluctant to make another move, and figured that if he was going to start his own business, it would be in his own backyard. So that’s just what he decided to do. Frank’s mind-set was concentrated on launching his own business and growing it, which would allow for more clout in his territory and in regards to his principles. Frank began by positioning nine sales representatives in strategic cities around the country and invested all of his savings into this new company. Around the same time, a friend who owned a software programming firm and shared his office in Syracuse, fell into a financial hardship and looked to Frank to lend him $50,000 to make payroll that month. Frank took out a bank loan to help his friend revive the company, contingent on the promise that he would be reimbursed within 30 days. The investment was lost after the business went under just a few months later. Money and resources dwindled quickly and Frank went out of business six months after that. 13


As luck would have it, a man by the name of George Cogar who was the co-founder of MDS, was starting a new company called Cogar Corporation, and offered Frank a sales position in Utica. Cogar was one of the early pioneers of intelligent laptop production. The company retained IBM engineers to produce the memory chip that would go into these new types of computers. Since these innovations in technology were still a novel concept at the time, Cogar experienced several manufacturing problems. One morning as Frank was on his way to give a presentation at The New York State Office of General Services (OGS) with a colleague, he made a quick call to his office before entering the conference room. He was informed that Cogar was not able to maintain a competitive advantage, and was as a result, forced to go out of business. After the initial shock wore off, Frank took a deep breath, and went in to give his sales presentation as scheduled. As he and his colleague rode the elevator out of OGS, the other salesman turned to Frank and said, ”That wasn’t that great of a presentation today.” “If you only knew what I know right now,” Frank shot back, “you would have given me an Academy Award for that presentation. We’re out of a job!” Frank was certain that now was as good a time as any to finally make some roots for his family and settle down in the centrally located and family oriented town of Herkimer, giving his wife and four young daughters a more stable foundation. Dominica Annese remembers what life was like when Frank first decided to go out on his own. “I had four girls under the age of five with no car,” she recalls. “I had a bicycle with a basket in front that (my youngest daughter) Franny would ride in. Yvonne and Andrea were on tricycles, and Michelle had her bike, and that’s how we got around. We cut back, and I took a small job in a flower shop. I would even make the girls’ clothes for them.” In 1970, Frank formed his own company in Herkimer, alongside Bill Gall, former Vice President of Marketing at Cogar, which they named 14

Gall & Annese. With a looming bank debt of $50,000 to pay back and a family counting on him, the business formed out of desperation. Gall & Annese sold anything they could get their hands on. Chance being what it was, Frank had a friend named Bill Star who represented Milgo, the leading manufacturer of high speed, dial up and lease-line synchronous modems. Bill arranged a meeting between Frank and Matt Kenney, the Vice President of Sales for Milgo. At the time, the company was recruiting for a sales representative in Upstate New York and soon after meeting Frank, Kenney hired Gall & Annese to represent their product line. Gall & Annese had the Milgo product line for six months when Frank received a call from the company informing him that they were not producing the results Milgo had anticipated and their contract would be terminated. Frank responded quickly and confidently telling them that he was on the road at that moment ready to close on a significant order from Agway. The order would be made for 60 modems at $2,400 per unit. Through this deal, an invaluable relationship would develop with Joe Faucher from Agway that would allow Frank to remain a key player in the communications industry. Agway was the company’s first major account. Frank continued to strengthen his relationship with Milgo and retained exclusivity to their product line throughout Upstate New York. Customer satisfaction was always the number one priority. Frank did not just resell modems to customers; he provided a unique experience that was hard to compete with. “Milgo was based in Miami, Florida,” says Frank as he recalls their unique approach to business at the time. “In the wintertime you would take major customers to Miami, stay at the country club, do a little business, have dinner, play golf the next morning, get on an airplane and come back. So I was proposing a major equipment network for this one customer at a bank in Albany when he asked me who our major competition was. I looked at him and said, ‘well the way we do things— and don’t misunderstand me—we don’t have any competition.’”

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The client wrinkled his eyes in confusion and Frank suggested they pick the conversation back up after they returned from Florida. “So we went down there and had a nice time,” continues Frank, “and on the plane ride back, I said, ‘Hey you remember that question you asked me about whom our competition was?’ The guy looked at me and said ‘Yeah you’re right Frank, you don’t have any competition.’” Because Frank had exclusive rights to the Milgo product line all across Upstate, a company located in Boston, by the name of Codex, which sold Milgo directly, was Frank’s only main competitor. “But where would you rather go in the wintertime,” Frank would tease. “Boston or Miami?”

Frank (featured on his knees bottom center) was “nationalizing accounts” at this Racal-Milgo customer event held at the Doral Country Club in Miami, Florida in the late 1970’s. Milgo would hold events for customers that involved conversations about new technologies they were considering and always allowed for time to mingle. Frank’s customers in attendance included Frank Konczal from the State of New York (featured back row left), Joe Faucher from Agway (featured front row right), and Dick Burtis from Corning Glass (featured back row right).

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The Funny Company After six years, Frank and Bill’s working relationship strained and they decided that one should buy the other out. Frank agreed to give Bill the accounts receivable in a revenue stream from Agway for some Cogar equipment over a three year period, priced at $70,000. Bill accepted this offer. Upon Bill’s departure, Frank offered his youngest brother Dominick, who was living in Saratoga at the time, a job as an account manager in Rochester to focus exclusively on the company’s Western New York territory. In 1977, Gall & Annese was legally changed to Annese & Associates, Inc. This was Frank’s first real opportunity to implement his own vision and creative concepts which would begin to shape the core values of the Annese brand.

Annese & Associates, Inc.

Chapter 3

Dominick Annese Rochester Sales Office

Jack Murphy Albany Sales Office

Joe Faucher Syracuse Sales Office

Eva Healy Finance and Office Administration

In 1978, Milgo came out with a product called CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) to replace Teletype, a paper tape that transmitted messages at ten characters per second by punching holes. The State Police used this asynchronous form of communication to relay messages and keep as records of their reports. Annese got the contract with the State Police to replace their Teletype with CRT across 500 workstations, and this deal became the first home-run that really propelled the company forward. Through this account, Frank was able to pay off his debts and start thinking about expanding Annese & Associates, Inc. In 1979, Joe Faucher was let go from Agway and called on Frank to see if he knew of any available positions. Frank needed another salesperson and decided it would be a strategic move to bring Joe on-board as his sales representative in Syracuse. After all, Joe knew the product, 19


knew the industry, and knew Frank’s customer-first philosophy as he experienced it first-hand as a customer himself. Two years later, Frank hired Jack Murphy in Albany to focus on sales across the Eastern territory of the state. Jack came from Albany BOCES, another former customer of Annese’s at the time. The same year, Frank hired Eva Healy in Herkimer to handle the finances and office administration. Frank and Eva’s working relationship dated back to 1968 when Frank was an up-and-coming salesman at MDS, working in Boston, and Eva was the company’s secretary.

“I was 23 and Frank must have been about 29,” Eva recalls. “He’d come up from Boston for sales meetings and would ask me to change his flight reservations or type something up for him, and eventually when they offered him the position of VP of Sales Training, Frank asked me to be his secretary.” When Frank left MDS to claim the position of VP at Cogar Corporation five years later, “he was gone for about two weeks before he called me up and said ‘Eva, I can’t do this without you.’ The very next day I put in my two weeks notice.” Frank now had a core group of salesmen intact, and Annese & Associates was beginning to feel and operate like a real organization. In the 80s, Milgo briefly entered into the satellite business, purchasing a company called Sky Networks. Annese sold the first system to Agway to replace the modems they had originally put in. After awhile, Milgo decided that they were not getting enough volume in the business and were no longer a real player in this market, so they wanted out. This created a prime opportunity for Annese when Frank petitioned Milgo to turn over Agway’s contract to him. Milgo had confidence in Frank and agreed. A man by the name of Henry Cheli from Milgo accompanied Frank on a meeting with Agway to see if they would sign the contract with Annese in lieu of Milgo’s decision to exit the satellite business. Agway had the trust and confidence in both companies to let Frank assume sole responsibility of their contract. This move would mark the company’s first evolution to be more than strictly a sales firm, as they were now responsible for much more than closing the deal. Niagara Mohawk became another prestigious Annese account, along with Carrier Corporation, Xerox, Corning Glass, Onondaga BOCES, Albany BOCES, and Erie BOCES. “You were talking about big dollars at the time,” says Frank. “They liked our approach to business.”

Now obsolete, the teletype (a picture of the inside of a teletype typing-reperforator machine is featured above) was the typing machine before typewriters and computers to transmit messages. The teletype produced paper tape that transmitted messages at ten characters per second by punching holes.

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“We used to call each other the Funny Company,” recalls Frank of the early days. “Every time we got together for a meeting, it was a joke. 21


Everything was funny. We would argue. Dominick would come up with crazy ideas. It was democracy; we would vote on things. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t the only guy pulling the wagon.” “We were in a little world of our own in Upstate New York,” he continued, “and it was so spread out that no one could really capture the market, so we had a niche territory. We stayed loyal to Milgo. We were doing more business than the guys in New York City and more business than the guys selling direct in Boston and Connecticut. We were always number one.” At the time, Milgo supplied the engineers to come in and install the technology that Annese sold. They would also handle all the preengineering work if need be. “Even if we knew the solutions, it was nice to bring somebody in from the home office to bless the network,” remembers Frank. “It was a value-add.”

Frank, together with Dick Burtis (sitting left) of Corning Glass signed their modem contract. Also present for the signing were Milgo employees, Matt Kenney (standing left) and their president (standing right) at the time.

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Frank, his brother Dominick, Jack, and Joe were unique from all other sales reps at the time; they believed in a customer intimacy approach and extended it not only to their clients, but to the engineers that Milgo would send them. They would pick the engineers up from the airport, treat them to dinner, and drop them off at their hotels. “That was just our nature,” replies Frank. “It’s the way we were built.” “We were the funny company, but we were the funny company getting it done, that’s for sure.”

The Carrier Corporation communications center that featured the Milgo modems is depicted above.

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The Pivot Point In 1984, Frank purchased a villa in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, right around the corner from the Milgo headquarters to stay close to his principle and provide customers an opportunity to visit the plant. At this time, Annese & Associates’ biggest account remained the State Police. There was a clause in the contract that when the time came for them to upgrade to a new technology, Racal-Milgo2 would be the one to provide the solution.

Chapter 4

NY State Police

500

NYSPIN Terminal Installation in Rochester, NY

Frank had invited three couples to spend the weekend with him and Dominica at their new home in Florida. He was just getting ready to hit the golf course when he received the call from Matt Kenney informing him that Milgo was going out of the terminal business. “I remember this as if it were yesterday,” Frank shudders at the thought. This bombshell dropped at the same time that the State Police were getting ready to migrate their workstations to PCs—a multimillion dollar project. To lose this account would surely bankrupt Annese & Associates. “I saw my whole life flash before me,” said Frank, knowing that he was on the brink of losing everything he had worked for. Frank’s wheels began spinning and after careful consideration he presented a business plan to Milgo petitioning them to assign the State Police’s upgrade contract over to Annese to assume full responsibility. Milgo agreed, contingent on the State Police accepting the offer. “Frank called me up and said ‘Jay, I have bad news. Our vendor is going out of business,’” remembers Jay Campbell, the head of the State Police at the time and longtime Annese family friend. Jay was an old 2 Racal Electronics Ltd., a British-based manufacturer of radio communications products, purchased Milgo in 1977 for $60 million, and became known as Racal-Milgo.

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customer of Frank’s back at MDS in 1966 so the two men went way back. “Frank told me, ‘I have an idea,’ and I told him, ‘It better be a good one!’” Frank informed Jay that he wanted Milgo to transfer the contract over to him. “I had never heard of this being done before,” admits Jay. Normally the state would want the project to re-bid, but both men knew the time and costs associated with doing that would be heavy. Jay sold the idea to the attorney general’s office and the state controller. “We did wind up pulling it off and it worked out well for everyone involved,” affirms Jay.

In regards to Jay’s influence, Frank acknowledges, “He really went to bat for me and for Annese & Associates.” Frank now needed a partner to manufacture the PC and a partner to provide the maintenance, in order to present a strong team to the State Police. When word got out, a company called Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in Philadelphia contacted Frank and said they’d like to partner with Annese and develop the software to lease to the State Police. RCA was owned by General Electric (GE) at the time. This was significant because it was unheard of for such a large corporation to be so eager to partner with a little company like Annese, but since Frank controlled the contract, he was granted significant leveraging power. Annese selected RCA to provide the hardware as well as installation and maintenance services to support the State Police. They entered into a five year contract renewable for another five years after that. By the time the contract was renewed, the equipment was paid for, and the company was bringing in a constant revenue stream every month. Because of the scope of the State Police project, Frank brought on a man by the name of Domenick Petucci in 1985 and designated him the Project Manager to the State Police. “Frank always had his finger on the pulse of his customers,” recalls Jay Campbell. “He was always very attentive and kept abreast of what his customers needed. The secret to any organizations’ success is keeping the customers happy, [and Frank did that very well].” Annese was able to overcome potential disaster by securing a deal that would prepare the company to transition into a systems integrator. New operations included buying equipment, putting a value add on it, boxing it, shipping it, invoicing it, and soon, maintaining and supporting it.

In January of 1984, the 500th NYSPIN terminal was activated for the State Police in Rochester, NY, marked by a ribbon cutting ceremony (shown at chapter opening). Shortly after, Matt Kenny of Milgo signed the State Police renewal contract over to Frank at Annese & Associates (shown above). Representatives from Milgo, Annese, and the State Police were all in attendance.

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A Customer Focus

Chapter 5

ted fro Illustration adap

m drawing by Ly

nette M. Bingha

The Brick

m, 1979

“Frank’s motto was, ‘The customer’s always right,’” remembers Eva Healy. “He had this brick in the corner of his office with a sticker on it that read “face smasher”. If a customer ever called up to complain about one of his salesmen, Frank would tell the customer, ‘I’ll smash them in the face!’” Frank also admits to conducting his new hire interviews with that same ominous brick in hand. Picture a protective father greeting his young daughter’s first boyfriend. Now just substitute the daughter for the customer, and the brick for the gun collection. “I’m entrusting my customers to you,” Frank would say in his interview process, “and if you ever do anything to mess up these relationships, I will hit you in the face with this brick.”3 Even though he made light of the situation with humor, Frank’s high expectations were clearly understood by all. Frank made certain that anyone who was brought on to represent Annese & Associates understood the value of the customer relationships that he and Dominick, and the early salesmen like Jack Murphy and Joe Faucher had worked hard to establish and cultivate through the years. These relationships were worth their weight in gold to Frank, and if anything was done to harm one of them, he would threaten to “bring out the brick” until the damage had been repaired. It was always about that extra personal touch, as Frank himself has said many times. “He would send handwritten letters, even when he had a secretary and typewriters,” remarks his daughter Michelle. “It all 3 Today, Frank keeps “the brick” in his home office in Cooperstown as a fond recollection of the fierce customer commitment that the company has always upheld.

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depended on what the customer needed and what best served them. He would never go see a customer without a little treat for them. When he walked in, everyone was excited to see him. They appreciated the attention he gave them.” “Frank worked so hard,” his wife, Dominica, adds, “and he thoroughly loved what he was doing. He didn’t care if it was a $2,000 order or $200,000 order; he treated every customer exactly the same, and they never forgot him. I think that’s what has made him so successful.” Frank’s nephew, Tony Annese, who has been working at the company for the past 25 years, currently serves as the Eastern Regional Sales Manager. He acknowledges that when it came to emulating customer intimacy, he couldn’t have asked for a better education. “We learned customer service from watching leaders like Frank, Dom, Joe, and Jack,” says Tony, “and we strived to provide that same

level of service—we took it personal.” That phrase would become the company’s unofficial tagline—the motto that seems to perfectly capture Annese’s approach to business. “We make mistakes,” Tony continues, “but because of the foundational relationships [we have built with our customers] we can still stand tall.” “We grew up with customer intimacy,” echoes Frank’s daughter, Yvonne Annese LoRe, the company’s current Vice President of Corporate Projects, explaining that her father’s influence rubbed off even at an early age. “I was home from college one weekend in Herkimer and a customer in Syracuse had called needing a part delivered, so Joe (LoRe) and I jumped in the car and drove it out to him. It was never a question—never a hesitation.” “Our customers would tell us back in the day that we protected them from the vendors that manufactured the products,” Yvonne continues. “They could have bought directly from the manufacturer but chose to do business with us because we made sure that they stood behind their word.” Former vendor and later employee, Henry Cheli, imparts what he learned from Frank after working at Annese for five years: “The first thing you do is take care of your customers. His customers respect him and respect the company. In the end it’s all about helping the customer achieve their goals. [That’s what] I learned from Frank Annese and I take into every job I have.”

The original sales team (featured above) included Joe Faucher (left), Dominick Annese (standing), Frank Annese (center), and Jack Murphy (right).

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“Frank worked it both ways though,” Eva justifies. In addition to his customer-is-always-right mindset, “he always had his employees’ backs. That was the salesman in him.” She notes that while Frank was adamant his customers’ needs remain top priority, he dispensed an equal amount of attention and care to the people he had working for him, treating them as an extension of his own family. “In all the years I worked for Frank, he never once made a selfish decision,” Eva states with certainty. “He is the most down to earth, warm, generous man I have ever known in the business world. He didn’t 31


think in terms of how he could make himself richer or more prominent. He made decisions based on what was best for his customers and for the people who worked for him. “ “He would walk by my desk,” she continues, “and say ‘Eva, when was the last time I gave you a raise? Give yourself a raise today.’” “Frank and I worked together for close to 40 years, and we only had one disagreement,” Eva shares, “and it was when he stopped smoking.” She explains that in order to try and kick the habit, Frank would chew on straws that were cut to the size of cigarettes. “I would take a pack of cigarettes,” she describes, “and cut the straws down to the exact size of the cigarette for him. One day, Frank called me into his office and told me the straws were not cut right and that he couldn’t use them. He was a real bear,” she laughingly remembers. “I went home in tears and told my husband I had lost my job. The next morning Frank called me up and said, ‘Well, are you going to come in now?’ And I told him, ‘I’ll be right there.’” Frank’s daughter, Francine Annese Apy, the company’s current VP of Human Resources, adds, “I always tease my dad because I think he was really an HR person at heart; his philosophy at the beginning was very HR centric. If you take care of your people, you pay them well, you give them good, meaningful work, and treat them with respect, they will in turn take care of your customers. It’s a pretty simple model, but I think for 1970, that was a pretty progressive thought process. My dad wanted to be able to provide for the people working for him in the same way he provided for his own family.” “I got up every day, and went to a job that I loved,” says Eva. “Every day I went to work with the attitude, ‘What can I do today to make Frank proud and to make our customers happy?’ When he succeeded, we succeeded. You wanted to work hard for Frank Annese.”

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The People are the Pulse Michelle Annese Frank’s oldest daughter Started at Annese in 1985, Returning in 2009 Currently, Sales Representative

Yvonne Annese LoRe Frank’s second oldest daughter Started at Annese in 1987 Currently, VP of Corporate Projects

In 1986, Joe LoRe joined the sales force in Syracuse, reporting to Joe Faucher. He was responsible for developing new accounts across the healthcare and education markets in the Central New York region. “I bought a little Mac computer with PowerPoint,” recalls Joe, “and got us off the ground generating proposals.” Joe restates Annese’s straightforward sales strategy he soon learned after coming on-board: “Know the product, research and understand it, and call on the customer.”

Chapter 6

The Four Daughters

Andrea Annese Como Frank’s second youngest daughter ught ug hter er Started at Annese in 1989 Currently, Operations Representative esentative

In 1985 the next Annese generation set foot into the expanding business. Frank’s oldest daughter, Michelle, joined her cousin, Tony, hired in Albany and Rochester respectively. Michelle went to work under Jack Murphy immediately after graduating from Siena College in 1985 with a degree in Marketing Management. She proved to be a skilled salesperson, accruing a million dollars in sales her first year of employment.

Francine Annese Apy Frank’s youngest daughter Started at Annese in 2000 Currently, ently, VP en VP of H Human Resources

combined years of service

In the late ‘80s, Frank had decided to invest in a voice messaging service bureau called Voice Memo, Inc., or VEMO. PBX phones did not inherently offer voicemail as a feature and the idea of being able to leave a message on a tape with the exact recording of your voice was appealing, especially to a busy professional looking for a more efficient way to communicate with clients or colleagues, or broadcast a voice message to a team of several employees. The service required a stand-alone system that was large enough to take up an entire room— much like how a data center is housed today—and the messages were retrieved by dialing a number and entering in a password. At this time there was no integration between voice and data, so 35


investing in voicemail was a completely separate product set for Annese; however, Frank was eager for the opportunity to expand the company’s sales portfolio, and figured it would be more cost-effective to invest in the larger (and more expensive) system. In 1987, Frank’s next daughter-in-line, Yvonne, joined the business after graduating from Russell Sage College with a degree in Marketing and Economics, as a full time salesperson, and Frank assigned her with the responsibility of selling this new voicemail service across the state. “She was as good as it gets,” acknowledges Dominick Annese of Yvonne’s natural sales abilities. Welch Allyn in Skaneateles became one of her big accounts. However, despite Yvonne’s skills as a salesperson, it proved to be a challenging task trying to educate people about this new service, and even more challenging, was getting people to adopt it. “We started to hear that voicemail was going to become a commodity item, an add-on feature, and here we are trying to sell this $250,000 investment,” remembers Frank. “I should have said, let’s walk before we run; I made a mistake. It didn’t work out but it didn’t make us go broke either. We learned from it.” Voice Memo, Inc. was sold to a Rochester based company in the mid ’90s, but the relationships that Yvonne built while she was selling the service would last decades later. “When I first met with Yvonne,” remembers Timothy Casey, one of the company’s early voicemail customers at Skidmore College, “I was not 100% convinced that a ‘data’ company would be a good fit to support our voice environment. After a long evaluation process, I gained confidence that Annese had the appropriate knowledge of the product as well as the technical expertise to do so. I also felt that company continuity was of importance, and that the company representative I was working with would be there to support us. At the end of a long process, we selected Annese as our agent and have been very much satisfied with the result. Our voicemail system ran successfully for 15+ years until the product end-of-life, and the service and support from Annese allowed us to realize a significant return on our investment.” After spending time in Rochester learning the ropes from Dominick, 36

Tony took the opportunity to relocate to the company’s Clifton Park office and work under Jack Murphy. “Jack was a really good mentor and slowly gave me more and more opportunities,” credits Tony. “There was a trial period; you had to be trusted to handle some of our longterm customers that were established by Frank who handed them down to Dom or Jack, or Joe Faucher. Jack would bring me along to appointments, and then eventually with confidence, let me go alone, and make those sales calls by myself.” Tony’s main responsibility at the time was to sell MCI mail, the predecessor to email for public usage via the internet, which Annese pitched as “the sensible choice for your everyday business communication needs.” MCI mail is credited as being the country’s first commercial email service, and was operated under MCI Communications Corporation from 1983 until 2003. Tony recalls a memorable moment on January 28th, 1986 during a live demonstration of MCI mail that he was giving to a school in Buffalo. All of a sudden a news alert of the now historic Space Shuttle Challenger

The Annese sales staff poses for a photo in 1987. Featured in the back row, left to right: Jack Murphy, Joe Faucher, Joe LoRe, Tony Annese, and Dominick Annese. Michelle Annese sits left to Frank Annese and Domenick Petucci, respectively.

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that had broken apart 73 seconds after lift-off, transmitted across MCI mail in the middle of the presentation, just minutes after it had happened. “It was kind of nerve-racking and shocking,” remembers Tony. “Students and teachers were being exposed to the outside world while still in class.” This was an extraordinary milestone since that kind of instant global awareness would not have been possible prior to this time or technology. The birth of the world-wide-web and the concept of being “connected” was about to take off and Annese was prepared to enhance their product line to correspond with an advancing technological landscape. Becky Gawlik was hired in 1986 in Rochester as the Administrative Assistant. At just 19 years old, Becky thought that Annese & Associates would be a good starter job for her, but she has ended up building a career at the company that has spanned the last 24 years. She describes the changes that the company experienced over the years— from obvious workflow advancements to restructuring the operational dynamic. Becky explains that when she was first hired, there was one typewriter in the office, and everything had to be done manually. She goes on to describe how each territory functioned separately with employees reporting to their office’s designated sales manager. (Not until 2003 would employees begin to roll up under a manager specifically designated to an individual department). However, Becky notes that the intimate holiday party gatherings and family oriented work environment never wavered throughout the years, even as the company began to expand and reorganize.

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In 1989, Frank asked his second youngest daughter, Andrea—who had graduated from Russell Sage College with a degree in Marketing and Economics, and was employed at Ethan Allen at the time—to help out at the company after his Administrative Assistant had left. Andrea asked for a leave of absence from her job and willingly lent her efforts to her father’s company for what she thought would be a three month stint. However, three months would turn into a career spanning 21 years as Andrea engaged in numerous roles and special projects along the way. “As a kid I always worked for my dad in the summers,” she recalls fondly, “and even though I wasn’t a technical or salesperson, I wanted to fill in wherever I could. I was impressed with how my father grew the business and I wanted to help carry that on. I carved my own path and created my own niche at the company doing everything from order entry and maintenance renewals, to travel arrangements and administration tasks, to organizing the offices.” Andrea worked alongside Jack and Tony in the Clifton Park office, sometimes accompanying them on sales calls. She would travel to Herkimer to help Eva Healy and Cindy Brown with administrative and financial tasks, and would later assist her sister Yvonne with marketing initiatives such as tradeshow planning and promotional items. As the business continued to grow steadily, so did the company’s responsibilities; this resulted in the need to bring on more people who were equipped to handle everything from IT and operations, to the engineering and technical side, to the administration and financial duties. In 1996, Dominick hired Jefferson Wilson in Rochester as the demand for a Systems Engineer became essential. Annese had begun to take on the additional knowledge of both routing and switching at a time when Racal-Milgo was slowly starting to fade out of the industry and companies like Wellfleet, Bay Networks, Synoptics, and Cisco, were paving the way for a new era. In 1998, Frank hired John Cole in Herkimer as a Systems Programmer to bring the company’s technical support in-house. At the time, the State Police account remained the company’s bread and butter, and John’s primary responsibility was to provide support to them and eliminate the unreliability of outsourcing 39


the service to the manufacturers. In the mid ‘90s, Yvonne shifted her focus to Annese’s marketing strategies and began participating in a number of yearly tradeshows around the state, which helped to solidify Annese’s presence in the marketplace, and promote the company in a wider scope. Prior to this time, Annese was a manufacturer’s representative to Racal Milgo, so any marketing that took place was geared toward promoting the credibility and expertise of the manufacturer. Once Annese started representing Bay Networks, this paved the way for the company to market itself and really bring to light its own unique brand. Yvonne met with Syracuse advertising agency, Eric Mower and Associates, who came up with the company’s first branding initiative. They developed a tagline for Annese, dubbing them the “Communication Specialists Since the Beginning” which was depicted in black and gold with two tin cans connected by a string. The image and accompanying slogan signified Annese’s longevity and expertise in the field. This decade marked the foundation of the “New Company” at Annese, with 18 employees spread out among several different departments. In 1998, Ray Apy, the husband of Frank’s youngest daughter, Francine, was recruited by Joe LoRe to join Annese as a second Systems Engineer in Central New York. “I didn’t really know much about our technology, or our industry, or our customers [when I first started],” admits Ray. “But Joe took the time to really explain local area networking and wide area networking to me, so I gained an understanding— initially through Joe—about what our company does and how we executed. From there, I engaged in a Cisco technology training program and advanced through the CCNA and CCNP track, which then got derailed about a year and a half later as I moved into sales and moved to Buffalo to open up a sales operation for the company there.” “What excited me the most,” continues Ray, “was the art of closing the deal. I really loved working in sales and working directly with customers, especially finding new clients that I could relate to, and helping them understand what their business challenges were and how 40

Developed by Eric Mower and Associates, a Syracuse Ad agency, Communication Specialists Since the Beginning, became the Annese tagline; this laid the groundwork for Annese’s marketing platform going forward.

they could be solved with communications technology—how we could either save them money or better their workflow. That made me excited to learn our technology even more so that I could bring more to them during those conversations.” In 2000, Frank’s youngest daughter, Francine, was ready to come onboard. She joined Ray in opening up the Buffalo office, and based the company’s Human Resources department out of there. Francine graduated from Le Moyne College with a degree in English and Communications, and had accumulated ten years of experience as an HR professional for five other companies prior to beginning her career at Annese. Francine explains, “I didn’t really consider working for Annese because 41


it was a small company at the time with less than 30 people, and (an organization that size) doesn’t usually require an HR department. But we got to the point in 2000 where we were growing. It seemed like a good opportunity to bring Annese up to standards relative to HR practices.” “Coming on-board that first year was about creating the structure of an HR department. You have to put in the groundwork first,” continues Francine. “That meant creating a process around recruiting and retaining the best talent in the industry—how do you first identify the correct people and then what do you do to ensure that they stay with you? That’s where HR focuses our energy. Then if someone does need to leave, it’s about figuring out how to move forward. You have to know your people to understand why they come to the company and why they stay.” Annese was taking steps to strategically position itself for long-term sustainability. At this time, Frank was transitioning out of the company’s day-to-day practices, turning the acting presidency position over to his old friend and colleague, Henry Cheli, who would spend the next five years launching Annese to the next level of operational excellence, and helping the organization prepare a clear outlook for the future.

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A Footprint of Service

Chapter 7

Annese4Service

Henry Cheli and Frank Annese’s relationship dated back to 1977 when Henry was covering the northeast territory for Milgo. “’You’re going to learn to sell from the best,’” Henry recalls his manager telling him. “So he assigned me to Frank.” Prior to Henry joining Annese, the company’s five sales offices ran autonomously, essentially as their own businesses, with the sales manager at each location leading the pack. “Henry came on-board to develop processes, align departments, and put the company under one corporate umbrella,” explains Yvonne. He was named President of Annese in August of 2001 and immediately focused in on the standardized procedures that the organization would need to implement in order to successfully operate as one team with a unified vision and mission. Annese needed to be, as Frank later explained, “one company playing the same tune.” Initially, Frank assigned Henry specific overarching goals to complete before his five year term of presidency was up. “The first one,” Henry remembers, “was, ‘Don’t screw up my customers.’” The second was to help move the company in a new direction with a clear business plan firmly in place for the future; this would include a succession plan as Frank was nearing retirement and many of the other longterm employees were coming to the end of their careers. It was a realistic concern that the organization would need to find a way to strategically move forward while maintaining the same level of service their customers had come to expect. Henry would be responsible for managing day-to-day operations in addition to developing an in-house service organization. At this time, Annese had retained a few of their own engineers 45


including Jefferson Wilson, Brent Jones, Fred Greco, and Jon Leach who provided many of the customer installs. However, the company still had to sub-contract a number of outside organizations, one of which was IPLogic—a current competitor—because they simply did not possess enough of their own inside service capabilities to keep up with customer demand. The main problem was that many customers began to complain about the service they were experiencing from 3rd party manufacturers who really had little knowledge as to the customer’s unique requirements. Annese was finding this to be the common thread across the state, and under Henry’s guidance, Frank knew that being able to deliver service in-house was a good business move to pursue. Henry started with Annese just one month prior to the infamous attacks on September 11th that rattled the world. He, Frank, Jack, Tony, and Dom Petucci were in the midst of putting a plan together to create an Annese service organization when the economic climate went into a sudden downswing. “Much to Frank’s detriment,” acknowledges Henry, “we promised our customers more services so we were going to deliver. Other resellers were pulling back, but Frank kept his commitment, as always, to his customers. He always stood by them, even if it cost him personally.” In particular, one notable customer expressed their frustration in regard to the quality of service they were receiving as a result of having to rely on engineers from 3rd party manufacturers. This account was the catalyst for the beginning framework of an internal service organization to be developed from the ground up, so that Annese would possess the capabilities to provide break/fix maintenance to their customer base. This led to the birth of the Annese4Service Organization in 2001. Frank delegated the ownership of this new organization to his four daughters—a move that later set the stage for the transition of power that would occur when Frank eventually moved into his next phase— retirement. Rocky Luppino, who started his career with Annese in Herkimer in 46

1983, became the focal point for customer contact and relationship management in the service organization. Rocky, (who incidentally is Eva Healy’s brother), was responsible for dispatching engineers and manning the electronic help-desk from the Herkimer office. His support was instrumental to the inception of this new endeavor. Albany BOCES became the first customer to convert to Annese service versus the manufacturer’s service, and with a purchase order from the Department of Social Services in motion, the new company began to acquire additional service customers little by little. In union with the new business developments that were occuring, there was a company in Albany called SKO Consulting, which was owned by Rob Scott. Rob had partnered with the Annese sales team in Albany on several customer implementations after Tony had first engaged him to help Annese roll out a Bay Networks routing and switching network for Canajoharie National Bank. The Albany team spent the next few years retaining Rob and his staff at SKO in a number of installations and network maintenance projects. “Rob became the go-to-guy for Albany,” remarks Tony, noting that Fred Greco and Brent Jones saw the early value of Rob’s services, as it was no longer feasible for pre sales people to go out and perform installations; the sales cycle simply would not support that way of business for much longer. The company continued to contract more and more work out to SKO, which accounted for about 65% of Rob’s business. “This spurred a meeting of the minds,” remembers Tony, and the company recognized their need to capitalize on Rob’s expertise and sought to be able to spread those capabilities to their customers, not only in the Albany region, but throughout the entire state. This led to the acquisition of SKO in 2006, which provided the same service structure to extend across the company acting as a resource to both pre and post-sales support. Subsequently, new services were developed. Annese Remote Managed Service (ARMS), which is currently led by Bill Leinauer, was created to provide customers with proactive, daily network management and 47


maintenance. Joe Bleichert, who began his career at the company in sales in Albany in 1997, was promoted to Service Manager and reported to Dom Petucci; he focused on helping bring this new organization up to speed, and is “to date, the most proficient Annese4Service maintenance salesperson,” working at the company, acknowledges Tony. Joe would later move into sales, and as Dom transitioned into retirement, Frank’s daughter, Yvonne, officially took over the management of Annese4Service. In order to gain a perspective of the circumstances surrounding the industry during this time, we must digress back to the mid ‘90s when Racal Milgo began to slowly fade off of the scene, as they were too late entering into the router market. The industry was in a transitional period as Nortel (which acquired Bay Networks, and before that, Wellfleet) and Cisco emerged as the two dominant players in the field. Since Annese was a reseller of Bay Networks for several years, it was a natural decision to choose the Nortel product line over Cisco’s. At the time, Nortel was a very channel oriented company and Annese played a significant role in helping Nortel grow its business due to their commanding footprint in Upstate New York. It wasn’t until Nortel made a strategic decision to start selling directly to customers that Henry began to steer the company in a new direction. After examining Nortel’s new way of conducting business, Henry was about to make a strategic decision of his own that would leave a lasting impression on the future of Annese & Associates. Henry described Cisco as the “800 pound gorilla” in the room; he determined that Annese would be switching gears and picking up the Cisco product line exclusively. The decision to choose against a manufacturer that they had represented for over a decade was neither embraced warmly nor quickly by the Annese sales team. “It took a long time to turn that ship,” admitted Tony, and understandably so. Annese had picked up a little Cisco equipment here and there, but the company had tens of millions of dollars invested in Bay Networks (Nortel) equipment that had been successfully implemented throughout their customer base over the years, and the customers were accustomed 48

to the specific technology and training aligned with that manufacturer. A total shift to a new company was a monumental shock to the system. Annese’s first entrance into the Cisco product line was through a deal that Ray Apy and Dominick Annese had secured, selling an IP telephony solution to Amherst Schools in 1998. Annese used that contract as a launching pad to begin building a practice around assessing, implementing, and optimizing IP telephony and selected Cisco as their partner of choice, primarily because—as Henry explains—even though Nortel had a strategic plan around IPT, “We felt Cisco would win the long-term battle, so we committed ourselves exclusively to them, which I don’t think any other reseller in the country had done at that time.” As opposed to dividing their attention among several manufacturers, the reason behind putting all the company’s eggs into the Cisco basket was simple; “We needed to be the best,” Henry stated matter-of-factly. “We would win together, or we would lose together.”

John Andolina, Cisco Channel Account Manager (right) presents Frank Annese with a plaque. Annese was awarded the SLED (State and Local Government and Education) Partner of the Year for the Eastern Region of U.S. and Canada, in June of 2008.

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The Western side of the state, with Ray and Dominick particularly trumpeting the partnership, was beginning to promote Cisco over Nortel. The real push occurred from 2002 to 2003. “The first year we sold from Cisco,” Dominick recalls, “we sold 20 million dollars worth of Nortel equipment and somewhere near 1 million dollars worth of Cisco. It was a hard decision to make the switch, but we had to do it. We would not be who we are today if we hadn’t.” Dominick goes to share a memory he has of a customer who stayed true to Annese despite their realignment to Cisco; “I had a customer who moved from Rochester Community Savings Bank and he took a job with Rochester Gas and Electric,” he begins. “This guy had an order on his desk for $650,000 of Cabletron equipment but he didn’t want to sign it [before he was educated on the Cisco product] even though he knew he was going to get arrows in the back. We had a lunch meeting and I brought in John Kittrell who was and still is a Regional Sales Manager with Cisco.”

that Annese served. He reorganized the sales team and delineated them to specific territories and markets in an attempt to better streamline corporate goals and metrics. He solidified the IT and operations department, and put structure around the company’s back-office procedures, and sales training. “We were finally singing from the same hymnal,” Frank acknowledges, thinking back to the end of Henry’s term as President. He had laid the necessary groundwork that would allow the company to rise to that next level of organizational success. In 2006, Francine hired Rosemary Smith as the company’s HR Manager. At that point there were 47 people actively employed at Annese which made it necessary to establish a stronger HR presence across the organization. “Physically I couldn’t do it all from Buffalo,” Francine states, “so I thought it made good business sense to recruit someone from Central New York to balance out those efforts.” That same year, Francine and Ray moved to Hudson Valley where they opened another office and entered into a new territory for Annese.

Subsequently, Annese and Cisco secured the deal and within one year of having the contract, the project brought in nearly $700,000 for Annese. “This put us in a really good position with Cisco,” adds Dominick, “because they could see that we were a serious player and that we had control over the account. It just skyrocketed from there.” In this instance, the customer demonstrated their loyalty to Annese by changing companies and taking Annese with him. Dominick shares what he feels to be the secret behind the company’s success; “Some of it’s luck, some of it’s hard work, and some of it’s timing—but it’s really about sticking with your people and being good to them.” Another one of Henry’s objectives was to standardize how the departments operated. He hired additional service engineers to compliment Annese’s sales force; he determined that acquiring more sales was contingent upon a strong service organization. Henry was also an advocate for a formalized corporate marketing strategy and developed custom messaging geared towards the different markets 50

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Some Change is Constant Yvonne Annese LoRe VP of Corporate Projects

Andrea Annese Como Operations Representative

Francine Annese Apy VP of Human Resources Upon Henry’s departure, the company did not immediately identify another acting president. While Frank was still recognized as Chief Executive Officer, the organization’s day-to-day procedures were being run by the Senior Leadership team—comprised of, Yvonne Annese LoRe, Andrea Annese Como, Francine Annese Apy, Ray Apy, Joe LoRe, Tony Annese, Dominick Annese, Rus Healy, and Rob Scott—who functioned as a collective group. Within the next year, Annese added more people, established new departments, and took on new offerings. It was becoming less and less clear to the growing number of employees, who was officially steering the ship.

Senior Leadership

Chapter 8

Ray Apy President and CEO

Dominick Annese Regional Sales Manager

Joe LoRe Chief Financial Officer

Rus Healy Chief Technology Officer

Tony Annese Regional Sales Manager

Rob Scott VP of Service

It was announced in late 2007 that Frank Annese was set to officially retire from the organization he founded almost four decades prior, by the year’s end. It quickly became imperative to distinguish one person as the organization’s leader. To aid in the implementation of a succession plan and develop a five year Strategic Plan for growth, Francine and Joe LoRe interviewed three to five different consulting firms, but ultimately felt as though the Hartman Group in Rochester, was the most dynamic, and would be the best fit for helping Annese not only survive, but thrive, in the years to follow. “One person who was really instrumental in helping us move out of that smaller family management team concept, and move toward this next phase of a strategic business leadership model, was Sue Hartman,” acknowledged Francine. “We needed to make sure we could not only maintain what we currently had on our plate but that we were well positioned for growth in the future.” The first course of action was to identify a new President and CEO 53


to succeed Frank. It was agreed upon that there was enough talent within the organization to assign the position internally as opposed to bringing someone in from the outside and having to teach them the “Annese way.” Sue Hartman shares her comments on the direct experience she had working with the company’s leadership team to put these future plans in motion: “In late 2007, Annese was like many other companies – strong in tactical implementation but not so strong at setting future direction,” she recalls. “Fortunately, Annese wasn’t satisfied with status quo. The Senior Leadership team wanted to ensure continued growth and viability for the company by developing and implementing a comprehensive Strategic Plan. By following the plan, Annese successfully navigated through the recession and continued to prosper.” Frank identified Ray Apy as the new President and CEO at the close of 2007. This choice was based upon Ray’s experience in both the sales and service departments as well as his extensive knowledge base of the company’s mission and vision. In conjunction, the entire senior management team was re-structured to better align departments and provide a clear means through which to streamline the company’s overarching goals and objectives. In a letter that Frank sent to Annese’s partners and clients informing them of the change in management, he credits, “Ray’s work ethic, business acumen, strategic decision-making, and leadership skills” as important components in guaranteeing the on-going success of the company. “I know that he will work hard to ensure that you will always receive the best from us,” Frank assured. “I plan to work with our leadership team, managers, and employees to deliver on the promise of our corporate mission and core values, and will oversee the successful execution of our strategic business plan,” Ray affirms. “The results of those efforts over time will be customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and the achievement of revenue and profit goals to drive the growth and sustainability of the company.” The succession plan would transfer sole ownership of the company 54

to Frank’s four daughters, Michelle, Yvonne, Andrea, and Francine, ensuring that the family owned organizational dynamic remain intact. As a result of the strategic plan, the company as a whole, outlined and agreed upon the new vision for Annese. The vision stands as the ideal and desired future state of the organization and provides a clear sense of the direction the company will head, and what it will strive to become. At the highest level, the vision states—One Company, One Team, One Plan. Joe LoRe, current Chief Financial Officer, comments on the vision statement and its significance; “Formulating the Annese vision as a company brings unity among employees, departments, and teams within the organization. It provides a direction and a plan for the company to grow and evolve to the next level of organizational success.” The last objective outlined in the plan was to launch a new mission statement for the company—one that accurately portrayed the company’s true purpose. Annese opened the channels of communication and each employee had an opportunity to define their version of the Annese mission statement. As a united team, the company publicly launched the new mission at the beginning of 2008, which states, “Our mission is to provide an excellent customer experience as we meet our client’s evolving business needs through comprehensive, industryleading technology solutions delivered by a caring and talented team.” In true Annese fashion, it was important that the company’s public assertion highlight its resounding commitment to customers. Acting with support of the senior leadership Team, Ray picked up where Henry left off and began to turn his focus again to the employees and their satisfaction. As Frank once said, “Take care of our people and they will in turn take care of our customers.” Annese’s reputation in the marketplace as an employer of choice, solidified. These efforts paid off when the organization landed on the Best Companies to Work For in New York State list two years in 55


a row. In 2009, Annese moved up from 7th to 2nd place in the small to medium size business category which was a rewarding accomplishment as the recognition was determined by a series of employee surveys. Francine and Rosemary utilized the feedback as areas to improve upon workplace policies and practices. HR also tried to separate Annese from other companies by ensuring that hard work and dedication would not go unnoticed. Managers are able to nominate employees for Personal Service Awards when they have gone above and beyond their job description and exemplified one of Annese’s core values: Integrity, Innovation, Excellence, Teamwork, Leadership. Annese’s core values are the guiding principles that the company designates to their employees as “words to live by.” “I think integrity is at the top of the list,” comments Ray. “If you want to be a good person for your family, a good person for the community, and a good person for your company, then you have to lead with

integrity. If you do that, the business will succeed because it becomes recognized for the people.” “We operate very well as a team,” Ray continues as he makes his way down to the remaining values. “We execute as a team, we team or partner with our customers by helping them accomplish their mission. We build teams in many ways—sales teams, project teams, management teams. Excellence is also an important core value because we have to distinguish ourselves from our competition and deliver on the promise to our customers.” With the rollout of the strategic plan, the new mission, vision, and core values, the brand of Annese needed now to be clearly communicated externally. This was achieved through the growth and development of the company’s internal marketing department. “We take it personally,” says Kara Rudy, current Marketing Manager. “The momentum in 2007 for our company growth and employee excitement was evident in all we did, and my task in marketing was to promote the Annese brand for exactly what it was—a personal approach to business, extending the family feeling we have as employees out to our customers would truly define the Annese brand. In the reseller business, selling the same piece of hardware for relatively the same price makes for very steep

In 2009, Ray Apy accepts the award on behalf of Annese as the company was named the 2nd Best Company to Work for in New York State. Depicted right are the Annese employees in attendance at the awards dinner: Rosemary Smith, Francine Apy, Dave Como, Kara Rudy, Ray Apy, Andrea Como, Joe Bleichert, and Scott Dion.

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competition; and for Annese, the true differentiator has and always will be, the people.” Ray echoes these sentiments. “In order to remain relevant to our customers,” he explains, “we must strive to bring new solutions to them. We’re not a manufacturer, but we are constantly evaluating the products and solutions that are out there and seeing which ones we should bring back home to our team to try and incorporate into the solution sets we provide. We are constantly injecting innovation and creativity into our solution stream.” Annese formalized the innovation process by identifying a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and developing a business development team to ensure that the company remain on the cutting edge of technology by planning and strategizing for new offerings and solution sets. Rus Healy accepted the position of CTO at Annese, after joining the company in 2006 as the Senior Marketing Engineer, working as a ‘jackof-all-trades’ relative to technology throughout the years. He gained a broad range of experience, moving into the Principal Sales Engineer position in 2007, and then into his current role in 2008. Rus currently acts as a liaison between the company and its business partners, in addition to working to develop and implement strategies that improve upon the customer intimacy model, as well as sustain and build upon the company brand. The first incarnation of the business development team began in 2007. It was comprised of about 15 people, and at that time, there was not yet a strong strategy in place for business growth or business optimization. “We realized we needed to do more strategic work,” recalled Rus. “But the team was so large and there wasn’t a single, strong leader, so we didn’t achieve very much. When I became CTO, we re-vamped the team to be much smaller with representation from each of the key functional areas in the company.” A move which really helped to kick-start the business development initiative was a strategic decision that was made in 2007 to become an angel investor to Ensemble Video, a video-on-demand product that was developed by Andy Covell at Syracuse University, belonging to 58

Andy’s parent company, Symphony Video, Inc. In addition to a financial investment, Annese resides on the company’s Board of Directors and is one of only a select few authorized resellers of Ensemble Video in the education space across New York State. “When we first met Andy Covell of Symphony Video, Inc., we knew immediately that he had a great idea that would prove to have broad utility and value across a wide segment of buyer groups,” remembers Ray. “We saw a software development process mature enough to quickly deliver a product for consumption. We saw a pricing strategy that would hold no barrier of entry for interested buyers, and a small group of very dedicated, serious, and highly skilled entrepreneurs capable of delivering on the promise. We saw a winner, and we were pleased to be invited to the table.” “Annese & Associates has been an incredible partner for Symphony Video, Inc.,” echoes Andy Covell. “Annese’s financial investment and its sales and marketing support have enabled us to take a software system developed at Syracuse University and successfully move it into the commercial sector as Ensemble Video, now a leading video content management solution. While this collaboration is a fundamental underpinning of our success, the relationship has also enabled Annese to demonstrate technological leadership and value to its customers. The vision, leadership, and professionalism of Annese executives and staff clearly sets it apart as a leading technology company in the Northeast.” Michelle Annese reprised her role as a Sales Representative when she re-joined the company in 2009 to focus primarily on commercializing the Ensemble Video solution to K-12 districts, and higher educational institutions across Annese’s territories. Each of the four sisters held a seat on Annese’s Board of Directors, but this was the first time that all were actively employed within the organization, which would lead to a monumental company milestone at the start of 2010. Another of the business development team’s objectives was developing a new green service offering designed to highlight the company’s commitment to its customers as well as the environment, called Halo Energy Solutions. The vision of this new offering is to save customers 59


money by reducing their operating costs, optimizing their energy usage, and helping them become more environmentally responsible for longterm sustainability. “We just started out with the concept of, ‘What can we do that is a unique value from Annese that we could offer to help our customers be more relevant to their business and let them save operating costs and be more green?’” Rus explains. “It became more and more obvious that this is a real opportunity—especially for organizations that have mandates to reduce their emissions; and reducing costs is a key driver, or side benefit. What we have found is that it is extraordinarily difficult to take something from a concept to a product in a reasonable timeframe with low cost without a lot of people dedicated to it. That has been our biggest challenge until now…but we will get there.” Halo will officially be released in 2011. In 2007, Jamie Aiello was hired as the company’s IT Manager. Jamie was aware of Annese from his previous place of employment, Skidmore College, where he worked as a Network Engineer. Skidmore College was a customer of Annese’s in a large Cisco upgrade from hubs to switches. Tony Annese, Dave Como, Brent Jones, Fred Greco, and Rob Scott’s company, SKO, managed the implementation. “We felt the whole customer intimacy approach,” remembers Jamie. Prior to this point at Annese & Associates, John Cole was the only person designated to handle IT related issues, and as the strategic plan for growth went into full swing, the increasing number of employees spurred the need for a more formal department to meet the escalating internal IT demands, with a more defined emphasis on operational excellence. “We’ve always been a sales driven company and now we’re dedicating resources to the other departments that support them,” commented Jamie. “As the company grows, the resources need to grow as well.”

at Annese in the company’s Syracuse office in 2002, started her career as Joe LoRe’s Administrative Assistant. At this time, the Administrative Assistant offered support to the Sales Manager at each office supporting customer quotes, contracts, and office duties. Heather took the time to create an organized and more efficient procedure to maintain the specific details pertaining to each customer’s unique contract. In an effort to continually streamline processes, Heather saw the need to establish an additional team to focus exclusively on serving as the direct point of contact for customer contracts and renewals in order to ensure accuracy and precision. “Each office individually handled their own contracts,“ she explains. “Some had good processes, some didn’t. It was all over the board— no real good documentation. So we decided at that point to establish a new department to handle all renewals, process new maintenance, and grow existing maintenance business.” As a result, the contract services department was formulated in July of 2007, and Heather’s title changed to Contract Services Supervisor. Jamie Aiello oversees the department currently. As 2008 came to a close, Annese solidified new departments, systemized procedures, and a streamlined the organizational structure which helped the company operate more efficiently and truly as one team working toward one mission. “For Annese, the future has never looked brighter,” credits Sue Hartman. “It has been a true pleasure to work with a company that is rapidly moving from good to great!“

Between 2007 and 2008, the company doubled in employee size. With this growth sparked another departmental transition for Heather Golden and the contract services team. Heather, who began working 60

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The Beat Goes On

Chapter 9

The Same Beat

For those loyal associates who have been working at Annese for over 20 years, such as Rocky Luppino, Cindy Brown, and Becky Gawlik, the company’s transformation has been incredible to witness, and to experience. They have watched the organization’s size triple at least three times, and mature into a “well oiled machine,” as Frank refers to it. While he admits that the thought of most of his family “eating off of the same table” was a daunting concept which generated an enormous amount of pressure to succeed, Frank confidently asserts, “I am proud of the team we have in place to take the company forward.”

Dave and Andrea Como, and Tony Annese beat the drums at the All Employee Meeting in June 2008. With the new company vision as the theme, the employees were given musical instruments to focus on playing together in unison.

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In January of 2010, Annese & Associates became officially recognized as a Woman Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) in New York State; and later the same year, they received WBE status in the state of Vermont, with plans to gain additional certifications throughout New England. As owners, Michelle, Yvonne, Andrea, and Francine have taken the leadership model they learned from watching their father, Frank, and applied those lessons to the continuation of this business that has meant so much to their family, to their employees, to their customers, to their partners, and to their communities throughout the last 40 years. “[My dad] has always promoted the concept that great people are what make companies successful,” imparts Francine. “At Annese, we provide communications technology solutions but the only thing we manufacture is goodwill; we couldn’t wish for a stronger foundation.” Ray adds, “Today what excites me the most is watching the organization grow, having a direct influence on the direction of the organization, executing on our business strategy, and seeing success come out of that. I love working for this company and I know I always will. I hope I can be a part of it until we at least get to our sixtieth anniversary,” he laughs. “Maybe even a little longer.” “Ray reminds me of a young Frank,” states Eva Healy fondly. “When Ray walks in a room, he automatically demands respect and attention, and that’s how Frank was.” In 2010, the company expanded outside of its niche territory of New York State, opening up an office in Rhode Island to cultivate a New England presence. Within the past two years, New York City, Binghamton, and Long Island have been added to Annese’s sales map and nearly 25 new employees have joined the family. Despite the new geographies, new solution sets, and number of other changes that have impacted the company throughout its duration, Francine makes one thing certain. “The more we change, the more we stay the same,” she affirms. “Looking back 40 years ago, it was about the people, and today it still is.” “Five years from now we will be focused on the same thing we are now—how we can add the most value to our customers and be most 64

relevant to their business,” echoes Rus. Now that he has turned the organization over to his daughters, Frank imparts what he has learned to be true; “If you keep doing the right things and take care of your customers, take care of your employees, and take care of your principles, companies will seek you out—that’s how we got here.” “Stay close to your company and stay close to your customers and the rest will follow,” adds Dominick, who in June of 2010, officially retired from his position as Western Regional Sales Manager, after 33 years of dedicated service to the company. “I’m going to miss Dom Annese’s presence in this company more than words can express,” Ray warmly conveys. “I’m also going to try to keep him plugged into what we’re doing with the business, and find ways to

Dominick Annese poses with Becky Gawlik (left) and Francine Apy (right) at his retirement party in June of 2010.

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gain exposure to his personality and client relationship experience for all employees of the company, for as many more years as he can stand it!” The company will continue to retain Dom as the Customer Intimacy trainer in a program designed for new hires to get a true understanding of Annese’s Customer Service policy. The birth of this company with its success and evolution throughout the years can be credited, like many other companies, to a variety of different factors, to countless noteworthy names, to a handful of lucky breaks, and certain fortunate happenings; however, the root of all those elements, remains the uncompromising diplomacy and steadfast determination that Frank J. Annese cemented into the organizations’ building blocks from day one. “Since Frank’s been in business, he’s always thought of others,”

acknowledges his mother, Virginia. She goes on to say in regards to failed attempts, missed opportunities, or having his generosity taken advantage of at times along the way—“He never talked about it; he just started over again.” Eva shares Virginia’s sentiments; “As far as Frank Annese goes,” she remarks candidly, “there will never be another.” “You can’t fool people for 40 years,” Frank resolves, as he sits across from a tape recorder heavy with memories, in the conference room of the Syracuse office on a cloudy August day in 2010. After spending the last three hours alongside his brother Dominick, retelling the company’s historical narrative, he takes a long pause and breathes in the palpable scent of nostalgia that has crept out from underneath each anecdote, leaving a distinct imprint on the room, on the people in it, and ultimately on this book. He speaks. “As for the rest of the story, you’ll have to wait for the movie.”

Dominick Annese poses (denoted with the red rose) with his family at his retirement party in June of 2010. Yvonne and Joe LoRe pictured with Dominica Annese (left) share in the celebration with Andrea Como, Dominick Annese, and Tony Annese, featured right.

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His Way