ECI Software Solutions
4400 Alliance Gateway Freeway, Suite 154
Fort Worth 76177
When Ron Books was hired as ECI’s 32nd employee in 1999, ECI had no customers or incoming revenue. That was an opportunity through work to put ECI back on the map, his nomination for this award said.
Under his leadership alongside President and COO Trevor Gruenewald, ECI has grown from a startup with no revenue in 1999 to a booming $200 million company today and continues to grow revenues and EBITA year-after-year.
Books became vice president of sales and then, in 2004, senior vice president of operations in 2004. Two years later Books would be promoted to ECI’s COO, and then three years later to CEO.
In the last year alone, Books has led the company to make five acquisitions, adding more than 150 new employees to the global ECI team and expand the geographical reach in Canada and Australia.
Books holds a bachelor’s in accounting from the University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio.
Both Books and his wife, Jennifer, volunteer and financially support The Gatehouse, a supportive living community in Grapevine for women who are in crisis, and Unlikely Heroes, a nonprofit fighting against human trafficking.
They are avid animal lovers who support several animal rescue organizations and regularly adopt pets in need of a home. They currently have five rescues, including a blind pug named Chunk.
– FWBP Staff
When was your company founded?
Type of Business
ECI Software Solutions provides industry-specific business software solutions and services, focusing on cloud-based technologies. For 30-plus years, ECI has served small to medium-sized manufacturing, wholesale/retail distribution, building and construction, and field service organizations. Privately held, ECI is headquartered in Fort Worth, with offices throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, England, the Netherlands, and Australia.
What differentiates your company from others?
There are two major things that differentiate us from other software providers. First, we are experts in the vertical markets that we serve. We have developed purpose-built solutions specifically tailored to the markets where we are focused. Our employees know these industries and deeply understand our customer’s businesses. Secondly, we specialize in serving small and medium size businesses and have been serving this market since the inception of ECI. We now have more than 13,000 small and medium size business customers across the ECI portfolio.
What was your greatest challenge and how did you respond to it?
I took over as CEO at the end of 2008/beginning of 2009, which was right in the middle of the recession. We realized at that point that getting small and medium size businesses to invest in brand new software was going to be challenging. That is when we launched our business application strategy, which consisted of developing or acquiring value-add applications (e-commerce, sales analytics and CRM, integrated credit card processing, mobile applications, etc.) and cross-selling those into our existing customer base.
This new strategy allowed us to accomplish two goals. First, these products helped our customers operate more efficiently and do more with less as they also couldn’t afford to throw additional headcount at problem areas in their businesses. Second, it allowed us to increase our recurring revenue per customer and enabled us to grow through the economic downturn. This strategy still continues to be very important to ECI’s growth initiatives.
The business climate is changing rapidly. What do you foresee as challenges?
Access to capital: We are private equity owned, so this is extremely important to our business. I can say that, from what I have experienced, the amount of available capital/dry powder has never been greater. I think it is generally a good thing, but it does have a number of implications, with most of those being related to increased company valuations. As an active acquirer, it can be a little challenging for these businesses that have to put their capital to work. Therefore, the market is very competitive and valuations are definitely very high.
On the flip side, and being privately owned, we will experience change of controls as well, which will increase value and benefit shareholders. I think the bottom line is to just be aware of these implications as when the world shifts, your business needs to be able to manage to those changes.
Access to labor: It is an extremely competitive labor market especially as it pertains to the United States. I recently was asked to serve on a panel for the Dallas Committee on Foreign Relations specifically on this topic. While ECI was having our own experience, preparing for this panel forced me to dive in even more, which led me to discover some amazing data.
Basically, the supply vs. demand delta from both a “skilled” and “unskilled” worker perspective is significant. Right now, the available workforce vs. the demand is making hiring and, even as important, retaining employees more challenging. We have really been focused on our culture at ECI over the past few years and these are the times when it really pays off.
If you could make one and only one change in the present business climate, what would it be and why?
That is an interesting question. I guess I would try to remove the tribal, political environment that exists today. If we could eliminate that, everyone would then work together on policies and issues that would positively affect all businesses and people without the underlying tension. Otherwise, I truly don’t think about waving a wand to change anything. Really what makes running a business exciting is that you do have to constantly adapt to achieve success.
Do you see the present business climate as challenging, uncertain or optimistic and why?
All of the above. You like to think that these are the times that make executives less of a commodity. Everything is a balance and it all starts with your people/employees. While I would love to take credit for building a great company, there are so many people that contribute to a successful business and I am