Why Management Matters in Lending
Lenders need to be comfortable with those who lead your tea
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Rather than simply meeting market needs, technology consulting firm GraVoc used home-grown talent to carve out its own niches.
In 1994, Dave Gravel found himself at a crossroads. As the CFO at a company that had just been acquired by GE Capital, he could have moved to the firm’s Norcross, Georgia, headquarters, but with family in Massachusetts, two mortgages, and four young children, he chose to stay in the area and start his own business.
When he and his wife Cathy were considering directions, Dave says he had “no vertical or horizontal in mind. Solving problems was going to be our mission statement, and it remains so today.”
As a CFO, Gravel consistently found himself in a position to solve complex operational problems through the development of systems. “I learned that the one thing that always helped improve operations was technology. It was consistently key to building a process map for an overall solution,” he says, “And I’d developed a good skillset when it came to implementing accounting systems, so technology consulting made sense to me as the basis for a problem-solving business.”
Gravel’s flexible approach to the market panned out, earning him a diverse array of clients, from plumbers and roofing contractors to physicians, a banana company in Chelsea’s Bread Basket fruit district, and many more. It’s also served to fuel GraVoc’s steady growth. Today, the company has 45 employees, serves more than 500 clients, and has seen year-over-year growth of about 17 percent since 2012, with continued success in 2017.
When flexibility extends to family
While technology consulting firms aren’t necessarily unique, GraVoc’s growth and development as a family business serves to set it apart. All of Dave and Cathy’s kids—Brian, Nathaniel, Sarah, and Katrina—have worked at GraVoc, “starting from the ground up,” notes Dave. For Brian and Nate, the company became a permanent home.
Here’s the twist: As opposed to most businesses, where there’s a needed skillset and people are matched to it, GraVoc owes at least part of its success to matching its direction with the kids’ skillsets, which, in a fortunate turn, helped the company grow in new directions and meet burgeoning market demands.
Brian went to college for communications, majoring in video and media. He and a colleague started a media production company while at the same time, GraVoc was experiencing a growing need for media and web development.
“So, we acquired Brian’s company and built a division called ‘creative technology’,” Dave says. “What we wound up with was much more than just the ability to create dynamic websites and media. We now produce training videos, we’re doing aerial photography with drones, and we have full studio capabilities. That wouldn’t have happened if we’d just hired a web developer.”
Nate, who had an undergraduate English degree and a Master’s in Spanish, “planned to write the next great American novel and teach,” says Dave, found an interest in GraVoc almost by accident. When home on vacation, he would edit his dad’s work on disaster recovery and business continuity plans.
“At one point, he came to me and said he wanted to take a deeper dive into information security,” Dave says. “We broke it off as a separate IT security practice, put Nate in charge, and it’s since become key to our business, supporting both customers and our in-house IT needs.”
It’s been a combination of organic growth and shifting the company toward market opportunities at just the right time. And, says Cathy, it’s been a built-in succession plan. “We want to continue to look at growth of the company beyond us, and be able to depend on our family to carry the company forward when and if we are no longer able to do so,” she adds.
And, with four grandchildren, all under the age of three, Dave and Cathy—who have no plans to stop working anytime soon—just might be able to count on successive generations to keep GraVoc growing.
‘A truly symbiotic relationship’
Close relationships clearly matter to the ongoing success GraVoc has achieved. One that Dave says has paid dividends is the relationship GraVoc has with Salem Five.
“We’ve worked with other banks in the past, but Salem Five has captured something in the relationship that I was always looking for,” he says. “Rather than just having us fill out loan applications and go through laborious processes for funding, Salem Five started out seeking to understand what we’re doing as a business and they saw a thread in all the things that we did that made sense to them, which was their basis for working with us.”
During the course of their seven years together, states Dave, the bank has continued to advise GraVoc beyond just financing. “Salem Five looked at our business plan and offered sound, smart insights,” he says. “Together, we’ve explored everything from our pricing to the way we approach our markets and we get very useful feedback, often based on the work that other, similar customers were doing. It’s a truly symbiotic relationship: Salem Five guarantees its own future success by ensuring the quality of the loans they put together by helping us—and other clients—become better businesses.”