Small Product, Big Effect
The demand for this company’s rugged, embedded computer devices keeps growing
by Anne Averyt
Roland and Lisa Groeneveld’s business, Logic Supply, was born in 2003 from the need for a motherboard. Now their South Burlington company, with $15 million in revenue last year, makes small, powerful, high-end computer systems for industrial embedded applications.
It’s not often that a business defines its bottom line as its core values, but that’s what Roland and Lisa Groeneveld say about theirs. They say they have turned values, hard work, and vision into the competitive edge at Logic Supply in South Burlington. In the process they’ve built their company into a leading global provider of embedded industrial computer systems as they’ve earned the respect of their employees, business associates, and colleagues.
Nine years ago the couple was struggling to start a new business, working out of their small Boston apartment. Even then they knew exactly what kind of company they wanted to create: the same kind of company they would like to work for — one built on “openness, fairness, independence, and innovation.”
“The reason I work here is because of how Roland and Lisa run their business,” explains Mark Heyman, the company’s human resources director. “From the get-go they’ve had a clear vision of the kind of company they wanted to build and they’ve succeeded.”
Business associate and consultant Ben Anderson-Ray agrees. “Roland and Lisa have built a dynamic and creative organization by being intentional about their values and about how they do things.”
Both Groenevelds have had a lot of exposure to various business styles. Lisa, a Barre native, studied business administration with a concentration in marketing and international business at Northeastern University. She is fluent in French and studied abroad in Switzerland and Paris and worked for major European telecom companies in Paris and Amsterdam.
She met Roland, a Dutch electrical engineer, when she was working with WorldCom in the Netherlands. They married in 2002 and moved to Vermont. Roland spent much of that year building a home on Lake Eden. Lisa found a job in Boston, and when the home was finished, they moved to Boston for Lisa’s work.
One day in their Boston apartment, Roland was researching components for small-form-factor computer systems (designed to minimize the volume of a desktop computer) and came across the Mini-IXT motherboard. When he found out it wasn’t being sold in the United States, the couple decided to start a company to distribute Mini-ITX motherboards and other small-form-factor computer components.
They put $40,000 of their savings into seed money to finance the project, and Roland turned their 1,400-square-foot apartment into his office. They started small and launched a website and e-commerce platform to sell computer components. Gradually, their vision became a reality. “You wouldn’t believe our shock when people started ordering from us,” Lisa says.
“We basically wanted to be an engineering company,” Roland explains, but the cost and necessary resources were “way too big for us.” They began with a very stripped down version of where they wanted to be, he says. Where they wanted to be “is where we’re getting close to now, nine years later.”
Lisa adds that the apartment where it all began would now fit into the foyer of their 15,000-square-foot facility in South Burlington.
Roland’s instinct was correct about the potential for small, rugged, embedded computer devices. The demand and number of uses for the product has grown dramatically over the past decade, and so has their company. Logic Supply now provides custom engineering services and manufactures small-form-factor industrial embedded computer systems.
In South Burlington, the company employs a workforce of 40 full-timers, one regular part-timer, and several paid interns or on-call computer production employees at any given time. It has adjunct offices in Europe and Asia and soon will open one in Latin America. Over the last five years, overall sales have increased by 95 percent, and in 2012, the company posted revenues of $15 million, with a 10-year goal of $350 million. Plans are to double the size of the existing facility in the next couple of years.
The embedded devices Logic Supply produces are powerful small computers that are efficient, reliable, and especially suited for use in difficult-to-access spaces. They can withstand adverse environments and can function for long periods with almost no maintenance.
Logic supply analyzes customers’ needs, engineers the appropriate hardware, and builds and tests the systems. “We are a solution provider and engineering firm,” says Roland.
The devices, ranging in cost from $500 to $4,000, have a wide variety of uses in locations ranging from hospitals, helicopters, dump trucks, and meat processing plants to traffic control centers and production lines. Among Logic Supply’s commercial customers are Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, and XM Radio, and universities including Harvard, Cornell, and MIT. Government customers range from NASA, the Air Force, and the Navy to the Forest Service and departments of Energy and Agriculture.
As chief executive officer, Roland leads the management team and directs the departments. Lisa, chief operating officer, manages the company’s operational aspects and supervises sourcing and supply chain management. It’s an effective division of labor.
“That they share the same vision for their company as well as their style of leadership, provides a really powerful asset for the business,” says Beth Demers, director of workforce development programs with the Vermont Department of Economics, Housing and Community Development.
Outside of work, family is what is most important to the Groenevelds. Their daughter, Lily, is 7 and son, Sander, is 5. “We put in a good many hours at work,” Roland says — he’s usually at the office from 7 a.m. to 6 at night — “so we want to make sure the free time we have is with the kids.” The family spends leisure time on Lake Eden, their summer home since moving to south Burlington. They enjoy skiing, bike riding, working with computers, and cooking. “I love to cook,” Lisa says; “Roland putters.”
Lisa and Roland agree that it’s important to leave their work at work. “To our kids, we don’t want to be parents who are always talking about work,” Roland explains. “We look at this company not as a family business but as a business that we happen to own and run. We’re not looking at our kids to succeed us.”
The Groenevelds admit they agree much more often than they disagree. “We aren’t really a dramatic type of couple,” Roland says, “We don’t need a lot of conflict. We have our disagreements but we talk those through and we figure stuff out.”
Of course, agreeing and thinking alike isn’t always good for business. “One of the bigger threats to our business was that, for a lot of years, Roland and I didn’t have enough conflict,” says Lisa. “We tended to agree on everything.” It was becoming, she says, “The Roland and Lisa show,” so it was important to bring in additional senior managers to ensure they had different perspectives on how to grow the business and not become too insular in their thinking and business strategy.
“One of our biggest accomplishments in recent years was bringing on a really skilled team that adds a lot of different ideas and helps Roland and me to think outside our box,” Lisa says. Too much conflict, she adds, isn’t optimum, but neither is too much agreement. “We’re trying now to make sure we don’t get into too much ‘couple-think.’”
Having a “top-notch support team,” one that understands and shares the company’s goals and values, is essential to success, Lisa points out. But putting it together has also been one of their biggest challenges.
“It’s difficult finding quality people,” Roland explains, “not just here in Vermont but in our other offices.” What the business owners want are “really smart people who are the right match for our company.” Running a business, he says, is a series of small challenges.
But, adds Lisa, “with the right people any challenge is surmountable. You don’t worry about any challenge when you have the right team to deploy.”
After all, Roland continues, “solving challenges is what makes it fun; it really is what it’s all about.”
One of the ways the Groenevelds attract top-notch people is through their commitment to core values. “Open and fair go hand in hand,” Roland says, “and openness means complete transparency.” At Logic Supply that translates into an open-book, open-salary policy.
“Everyone knows what everyone makes, including management,” Roland explains, and the policy “brings value to the organization. The ultimate purpose is that everyone has the information to be most effective at what they do.” This translates into a higher degree of accountability in the workplace and gives employees a true understanding of the opportunities available to them in terms of value and professional growth.
Not many companies publish all their salaries, Demers points out, “but it’s typical of the way Lisa and Roland run their business and why they have been so successful. They are open to new approaches and are focused on continuous improvement that not only grows the bottom line, but helps the people they work with grow as well.”
Which is why, Heyman says, “It’s a joy to work here. It’s nice to be in an environment where everyone’s best parts get to be unleashed. This is a special place.” •