ARC Document Solutions (NYSE: ARC), serving the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries, helps more than 90,000 customers reduce costs and increase efficiency in the use of their documents and improve document access and control and offers a wide variety of ways to print, produce and store documents. ARC provides its solutions onsite in more than 8,000 of its customers’ offices, offsite in service centers around the world, and digitally in the form of proprietary software and web applications. Kumarakulasingam (“Suri”) Suriyakumar co-founded ARC Document Solutions in 1989 and serves as the company’s President and Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors. Please follow and engage with ARC on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner and how have you met that challenge?
Without a doubt, the biggest challenge in our business has been managing change. From acquiring and integrating 160 different companies into a single operating organization to transforming the way our customers communicate using cloud and mobile access as a medium, driving change has been at the heart of all our efforts at ARC. Immediately after purchasing our first company, we ran into the S&L crisis. Shortly after that we began an incredibly dynamic period of growth through acquisition. As we approached the new millennium, new technology drastically changed the way we produced documents throughout our service centers, and the rise of the Web came right on its heels. All these events required our staff and our business to adapt to new and challenging environments. For more than 30 years, managing change has become part of our culture, but it has never been easy. People naturally resist change. It’s frightening and disruptive. But I’ve found that by seeing change as an opportunity as opposed to a threat, I can drive excitement. My goal has been to constantly communicate, to help employees understand our vision, and to outline each step along the way. We’ve got more than 2,500 employees, but I make a point to reach out and get in front of them whenever I can.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and business owners? What do you wish someone told you?
The advice I would give to anyone who is attempting fundamental change—especially technological change—in a traditional industry is to be prepared to address resistance. In an industry like construction that has been slow to embrace and adopt change, abandoning proven but outdated solutions can be daunting. Even when all the advantages of a new approach are well-understood and recognized, some companies will stick to old-school solutions simply because they find technology intimidating. Here at ARC we are successfully leading the paper-based construction markets in adopting cloud solutions. The key to our success has been continuously helping our customers overcome the “intimidation factor” by focusing on the many benefits technology provides. As I mentioned before, seeing change as an opportunity versus a threat is important; communicating that to our customers is vital.
What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
The biggest risk of my career was probably in the beginning, when I chose a non-traditional path to a career in business. My father was the first person from his village in Sri Lanka to get a college degree, and all of my siblings followed his lead, pursuing college degrees. But I bypassed the college and business school route and attended a marine academy so I could sail the world. I found that I liked to lead but not necessarily from a ship’s boiler room! So, I joined an executive training program at an international conglomerate and had the benefit of a wonderful mentor who helped me grow, drive new projects, and make my way rather quickly to a directorship. When the civil unrest broke out in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s, we decided to move to the U.S. That was another big risk – I had $4,000 in my pocket, a one-year-old son, and no idea how to run a reprographics business. However, my partner and I learned quickly, saw the opportunities within the industry, and had a hint of what we could accomplish if we were bold enough. In the end I guess we were! ARC grew fast, we took the company public in 2005, and now we’re helping to transform one of the largest and most important global industries.
What is the most significant change facing your target market?
The emergence of cloud technology is transformative—it will permanently change our industry. Today ARC is leading the efforts to manage and distribute documents and information for the construction industry using cloud services. The use of this technology will reduce the cost of documents, help eliminate delays and cost overruns, and significantly improve the speed and efficiency of construction. While the industry itself is large and old-fashioned – and deeply entrenched in the use of paper – the use of cloud and mobile access will improve the way our customers communicate and share information and deliver unprecedented value and return on investment for design and construction companies around the world.
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