Although Dave Bright thought Kramer Electronics would find his successor a few months sooner than it did when he announced his retirement last summer effective at the end of this year, he’s never given a second thought to the decision he made to walk away from the company for which he was the first employee in 1997.
“Once I made my decision and announced that I’d be retiring at the end of 2016, there was no going back for me,” says Bright, who turned 65 in January. “I was always an analog guy, a box guy. The technology is such that it’s harder for me to keep up.”
Bright begins his transition into retirement just a month short of his 40th wedding anniversary, which he celebrated with a surprise party thrown by family members and friends this week. His wife Debbie has been healthy for more than 18 years after several battles with cancer and Bright himself has spent the past decade fighting what doctors call “a disease of unknown origin.”
He had his worst stretch of health from November to January but says the symptoms have come and gone over the past 10 years. That battle contributed to his decision to retire, as did the fact his brother and two close friends are “three of the happiest retired people I know.”
Bright started a division of Mitsubishi from scratch and ran that for more than a dozen years before starting another company. That entrepreneurial spirit was what attracted Kramer ownership to him, but he downplays his reputation as a “startup guy.”
Kramer has transitioned into the future of integration by buying a wireless collaboration company and a simple control business in recent months and the company is slated to have the fifth-largest booth at InfoComm 2016 “even though there’s no way we’re the fifth-largest company in the industry.”
“It’s almost like the company is starting over again,” says Bright. “I wasn’t going to stick around for more than two or three more years. Rather than have someone come in midstream to replace me or pick up where I left off, it made sense for the company and for me to do it the way I did it.”
That doesn’t mean Bright’s decision to retire was easy though.
“I had been wrestling with it for a long time,” he says. “I love this company and I want to leave it in the right hands. When the idea of retiring hits you and you realize it’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it, you get such clarity.”
Going Out On Top
Bright will cap off a career that’s stretched back several decades by adding one more piece of hardware to his trophy case at InfoComm 2016 as the winner of the Mackey Barron Distinguished Achievement Award.
“Mackey was like a second father to me,” says Bright, who visited the late founder of HB Communications at his house about four or five times every year. “Getting an award like that is validation of your career, although that’s not something I was looking for.”
Kramer VP of marketing Clint Hoffman nominated Bright for the award and he got support for the annual InfoComm honor by PSNI executive director Chris Miller, among others.
“It’s always nice to have somebody validate what you’ve done as something that’s important to them,” says Bright.
But that doesn’t mean Bright is continuing to wield all the power at the company. In fact, he’s already given up his corner office at Kramer headquarters to his successor, Steve Biegacki, former senior VP of global sales and marketing at Belden, who took over as CEO May 1.
He’ll also remain Kramer’s acting chairman of the board for Kramer until his retirement at the end of this year. Kramer had what Bright described as “false starts” with two other potential candidates to take the baton from him but “things have a way of working out.”
Biegacki retired from Belden a couple of years ago and emerged from a group of about 50 resumes only a few weeks before he got the job.
“He came in and really blew us away,” says Bright, who was part of the team that found his own replacement. Biegacki will commute between St. Louis and New Jersey before he and Bright hit the road for meetings with key integrators and organizations including PSNI, USAV and InfoComm International who work with Kramer.
“He’s going to have to become the face of the company,” says Bright of Biegacki. “It’ll be fun saying goodbye and handing off the reins. Steve doesn’t want to be looking over his shoulder and I’m perfectly fine with that.
“After 19 years of running the company one way, I wanted someone with new ideas. Many of the companies Steve has dealt with are IT-based. We’ve got a family here and I wanted someone who would respect that culture. We’re a funny, wise-cracking, sarcastic group and Steve has fit right in with that too. The real secret to all of this is to surround yourself with great people.”
Busy in Retirement
Bright and his wife took a three-week trip to Australia and New Zealand this past winter and he notes “we have a lot of travel planned,” some of which will be with his brother and his brother’s wife. Bright and Debbie will drive cross-country to Denver and Scottsdale in February, returning by going through New Orleans and the Florida panhandle before heading home.
He’ll continue playing in a men’s-only hardball league and will be part of a New York Yankees fantasy camp in January. He may get involved in a friend’s sporting goods store and will definitely do some coaching, he says.
“I’ve got a bucket list a mile long,” says Bright. “I hope there’s enough time to get it all done.”