Having entered the industry with a background in finance, Claire Scholes has found herself “pulling wires through ceilings and terminating Cat-5 cable” as MD of Truro, Cornwall-based custom installer and home automation specialist LairdKing. Now, learns David Davies, she hopes to ring a few changes at CEDIA, having joined the association’s Region 1 Board last month.
Your background is firmly in finance and accountancy, so how did you come to be the MD of a custom installation company?
It started in 2002 when I joined LairdKing as a part-time bookkeeper, just working a day or two each week. Some time later, I took a year out to study chartered management accountancy. Upon rejoining, I was pretty determined to push my way towards a managerial role! It was also clear that the company needed a person who could drive it forward. Ultimately, I took co-ownership of the company and became managing director in August 2009.
Pulling wires through a ceiling and terminating Cat-5 cable are possibly not things that I expected to do in my working life, but they have helped me to realise how much I enjoy working in the CI industry. It’s a fantastic business to be part of.
Although I became MD during one of the worst times economically, my background in accountancy means that I am not really scared of those challenges. In fact, I think [the downturn] constituted a good opportunity for smaller companies to promote themselves and win jobs that they might not tender for in normal circumstances.
One year on from taking leadership of the company, how is the business faring?
As an industry, it feels like we are turning a corner – I hear a lot of people muttering that things are getting better now. In terms of LairdKing, growth is slower than I would like it to be – we have taken a few hits from developers – but we have come out of it OK.
One of the things that we have tried to do is differentiate our offer from that of other CI companies by working more closely with architects. We have also sought diversification and now have a broader range of projects. It used to be that you would have a lot of £250-300K home automation projects; now it’s more of a mix, with some in the 5-10K bracket, some in the 20-30K range, and then others above that.
We have just picked up a really exciting project and, overall, I am quietly surprised by the [strength and] diversity of the order book for next year.
LairdKing has a small team of only five employees – including yourself – but now you’re adding to your workload as a member of the CEDIA Region 1 Board...
To be honest, I had always been a bit of a cynic about CEDIA. I wasn’t sure that it always represented good value for its members. Over time I built up quite a long list of questions about the organisation, and it was suggested to me that I might want to apply to be on the Board in order to [effect change].
I have just taken part in my first Board meeting, which was very constructive; more so than I had ever thought it would be.
There are a lot of positives about CEDIA membership – the training is very good and I know for a fact that LairdKing has been shortlisted for some jobs on the basis of being a CEDIA member – but I do think that we should think again about membership benefits. We need to find out what members really want from [the association]. CEDIA also has to ensure that it acts like an organisation that is selling [the benefits of CI].
I am glad to say that CEDIA is conducive to hearing new ideas, although it’s not an overnight process. And with just under 400 members, you certainly don’t want to be making changes for the sake of it!