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Imago ScanSource's Ian Vickerage: Yorkshire's Silicon Valley entrepreneur
As a coal miner's son who passed A' Levels in Latin, Greek and Ancient History, winning a place at Exeter College, Oxford, the lad had already done well as that fellow Yorkshire inquisitor Michael Parkinson might have said.
"My plan originally was to become a lawyer. At the time, people wanted to be doctors or lawyers. If you wanted a good career I was told the best way to do it was to take the A' Levels I did and then law at college," recalls Vickerage. "Post Oxford, Plessey made the best offer and gave me a chance to learn about the different functions within a company. I quickly realised that the guys who got the best deal worked in sales."
Joining a small breakaway team of former Computervision's top technical people who had formed their own fledgling company selling PC emulation software, Insignia Solutions, Vickerage entered the cut and thrust of venture capital politics. "I was the only marketing person among fifteen engineers," he adds.
The company's US customers included Silicon Graphics, Sun Microsystems and Apple. "I met lots of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and VCs as we tried to raise money over there. This was before the Googles and Facebooks had really emerged. But you could smell it in the air. Their attitude towards business was very different. Their level of ambition was massive compared to what we were used to in the UK and in Europe," says Vickerage.
"There are ambitious companies and financiers this side of the pond but there's no comparison with the way it works in Silicon Valley. So that was a great experience, something that's stayed with me and definitely influenced me. If you want to be a business person in technology really anywhere in the world, certainly in the UK, you need to spend some time in Silicon Valley to see what opportunities really do exist."
Moving on, Cameron Communications was one of the early AV distributors based in Reading. Its biggest brand was Barco and the company was eventually sold for cash to Barco with Vickerage becoming its managing director until 1991.
"I really enjoyed working with the VCs because I learned a hell of a lot. But I'd decided whichever business I joined next I needed to run myself which is what drove me to start my own company. Imago is Latin for image. Larva is the first stage, then comes the pupa, and the third stage before the insect becomes a butterfly is imago, hence the company logo," adds Vickerage.
The company became Polycom's largest distributor. ScanSource bought Imago with an ambition to be as big in Europe as it was in the US. "We weren't in any kind of crisis but the time for a company like Imago was ending and we had to move on and do something different (as a multinational businesses with US connections, for example). My dream partner was ScanSource. I'd met the ceo (Mike Baur) six years earlier and he approached us. Then we'd asked for more money than he wanted to pay," says Vickerage.
"In the western world ScanSource is huge in video communications - by far the biggest player. Nobody comes close. The original plan was ninety per cent of the cash would be paid up front and the remaining ten per cent over the following two years. But after a few months I suggested we integrate sooner. I felt we were missing a lot by having the companies separate."
Post acquisition, customers will now see more products being made available through Imago ScanSource. Imago was known for Polycom, Barco, Samsung, NEC and Revolabs among others, but now Avaya and Unify have entered the portfolio.
The company also recently launched Array Telepresence whose US developer created Polycom's first telepresence system - the RPX. "The first big system after Cisco. He'd sold his company, Destiny Conferencing to Polycom," says Vickerage. Array's image processor is designed to upgrade video conferencing endpoints to immersive telepresence at a fraction of the costs usually associated with high-end systems, and makes use of customers' existing vcon platforms and furniture. Equal-i technology combines image improvement algorithms with an image processor which sits between a specially designed camera and the video conferencing codec.
Array's DX Camera is concealed at perfect vertical eye-line between dual displays and is connected to the 2SImage Processor which plugs into a videoconferencing codec as a camera. The 2S Image Processor improves both the scene being sent and the scene being received by the codec even if the other side doesn't have Array.
The same scene captured simultaneously using Array's DX Camera and Image Processor (Top) and a conventional Pan-Tilt-Zoom Videoconferencing Camera (Bottom). Participants are lifesize, Equal-i-zed in size, camera concealed, eye-line improved, and meeting format improved.
"Very few people these days will spend a quarter of a million on telepresence. As the new kid on the block in telepresence Array is $15,990, something which still leaves you breathing after hearing the price. It's got a very strong technology base and they understand the market, know what customers want," says Vickerage.
Concluding, he says: "We have a bit more scope, more power in the market. But the secret of business for me is to hire a bunch of good people, committed and motivated. Get excited about what you can do, and you can't go wrong. This is the fun part and what this job boils down to for me. We also need to listen more to our customers, because ultimately that's what matters."
1994: Vickerage began his working life
as a management trainee for Plessey, the telecommunications company, and then worked his way up the corporate ladder at Unisys (Burroughs) and Computervision Inc, largely focusing on sales and marketing management.
1986: One of four entrepreneurs at Insignia Solutions, a computer software provider, and responsible for the successful launch of the company in the US, and its subsequent IPO on NASDAQ. Post Insignia Vickerage joined Cameron Communications, an AV distributor which was taken over two years later by Barco. Vickerage was appointed managing director.
1991: Vickerage set up Imago Micro,
a specialist graphics distributor, with one exclusive partner and a small team of just three employees. The company established a reputation for technical expertise and rapidly grew its portfolio of products. Imago Group PLC became the largest video communications distributor in Europe and partnered blue chip companies including Sony, Polycom, Panasonic, Canon, Philips and NEC.
2014: Imago was acquired by the US value-added distributor, ScanSource and rebranded
as Imago ScanSource. Vickerage is now responsible for running the ScanSource Communications business in Europe, focusing on France, Germany and the UK.
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