Inside Look into Event Tech with Steve and Tom Alford

Inside Look into Event Tech with Steve and Tom Alford

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This week we celebrate Alford Media’s 35th anniversary! In honor of this milestone, we sat down with Steve and Tom Alford to learn how and why they founded Alford Media, what’s changed in the industry, and what they’re most excited for going forward.

Q: What motivated you to start Alford Media?

Steve Alford - Early Alford Media

Steve Alford: I was working for another audio/video company. I was doing pretty well, and I basically had a chat with the owner to see if there was an opportunity, either then or soon after, to be brought in as a partner. At the time he wasn’t open to that. After a talk with the wife and a prayer with the Lord, I decided it was time to go my own way. I was just a week short of turning 30 when I did it, with a one-year-old son, but I had developed a loyal client base for a number of years that had encouraged me to go out on my own. They indicated they would work with me whatever my decision was. I just kind of took a leap of faith and it worked out.

Steve - Early Alford Media

For the first 5 years it was just me. So, survival was key at that point. Leaving a well-paying job with a well-known company was somewhat daring, I guess you would say. When we incorporated 5 years later, it was Tom, me, and 3 other folks. We were focused most on putting the customer and show first, and to do whatever it took. We knew that’s what got us to the point that we wanted to start our own company.

Tom Alford: I had graduated college and didn’t have a job. Steve was already a programmer in the business. The company he was working for, prior to starting Alford, was way over booked and they didn’t have anyone, so Steve asked me if I could come up for 4 days. I did, for $8 an hour, worked 80 hours the first 4 days, handled a lot of emergencies, and found out I was pretty good at it. I stayed on and I’m still here in the industry today.

Tom Alford - Early Alford Media

The part I like about it is the ability to handle emergencies, look at available resources, make quick decisions. The calm out of the chaos. I like to do that.

I joined Steve to incorporate Alford Media in 1989. We took everything we knew about the industry and started a company that would allow us to do our best work.I worked for another company for 8 years and was manager of the rental staging area for over 5 years. During this time, I learned both what to do and what not to do. One of the main issues was the company had grown so quickly and unfortunately the owner did not know how to handle the growth. Gear was becoming obsolete and I was being forced to work people insane hours and days. It was not unusual for us to work 18-hour days for more than 30 days in a row, be expected to be back in the office Monday, and do it all over again. It was not only taking a toll on me, but on all those I cared about. I knew that, given the chance, I could make a better place for myself and others to work and do great shows.

Q: What keeps you motivated today?

TA: More than anything else, it’s the people. I love the chance to work with both employees and customers and to see them succeed in the career or on their show. I also still love the problem-solving aspect of the business, whether I’m working on how to grow the business, helping an employee grow in their job, finding a way to make a client’s vision come to life, or just taking care of a last-minute, seemingly impossible show problem. The other motivating factor is in the future, when I do retire, to leave a legacy of great people to carry on the business.

SA: It’s seeing the younger employees here find satisfaction and rewards in the job and working for us. It’s great seeing the old timers like me on a daily basis, and working with them, but the future of the company is with the younger generation. To see so many folks contributing in such a significant way to us is really rewarding.

Q: How can we scale our culture and take it forward as we grow?

Steve Alford

SA: Obviously, we’ve grown for 35 years and the culture’s grown with us. A company culture isn’t something you can wave a wand at and say that’s what it’s going to be. It evolves with the people. While leaders are important to the culture, they can’t force it upon the rest of the company. It’s about empowering the employees to decide what’s in the best interest of the client, the show, and the company. Then we must support them and hold them accountable for their decisions. Yes, we work hard, but we also play hard. We’re supportive as a family and enjoy doing non-work things together. We want to be sensitive to our employees’ needs, in return they go way above and beyond for us quite often.

TA: It sounds simplistic, but it’s always about keeping God first, family second, and work third, with the realization that they have to get out of order sometimes. as well as continue to find great people and give them the trust, information, and tools they need to do great work.

Q: Who do you find to be the most successful in the event tech industry?

SA:  Along with many technically inclined folks, the industry attracts the creative type. There’s definitely a tie-in between many artists and musicians finding their way into this industry. Our industry continues to become more important, especially in supporting corporations and businesses with event technology and creating experiences. That’s kind of what’s kept it going with certain individuals, that if you find this niche and you like it, you don’t do it for the great hours or the great money, it’s just in your blood. It’s almost artistic. You’re driven to do it, just like an artist is driven to write and perform music or act. You never know what each day is going to bring. It’s always different. It’s exciting. It’s challenging, and it’s not for everybody. You have to be gifted to stay in the business, I think.

Tom Alford

TA: The most successful people in this business are creative problem solvers who never give up no matter the problem or the hours and take great pride in a job done right. 

You have to be careful about trying to fit people into a box. You have to be willing to let creatives be creative. On the one end you have the technical element of AV, in which you truly need an engineer. But can you, at the same time, give creatives the time and space to develop big ideas? That’s just as important for a successful event.

Q: What has surprised you most or changed the most in the past 35 years?

SA: One of the things that’s surprised me most looking back has been that a lot of fine companies that have joined the industry, both our clients and competitors, are still viable and have been in the industry as long as we’ve been. Looking back there’s a continuity in the industry that’s helped evolve it and that’s been great to see.

Steve and Tom Alford

TA: That we, AV/Event tech, are truly a professional business. We’re more of a known industry now, other than a bunch of people who do magic stuff. One of the other big ones for me is the reliability of the gear. There was a time when we were surprised if it worked, and today we’re surprised if it doesn’t.

Q: Looking forward what excites you most for the company?

Tom Alford - Looking Forward

TA: Discovering new technologies and new ways to enable people to provide great live experiences excites me the most. I also want to continue finding talented people and encouraging them. I want to give everyone the room to work the way they want to work and have the freedom to try new things, as long as the end result gets the job done to Alford standards. With that, I look forward to expanding our culture and having it valued as the company grows.

SA: The growth for our digital offerings is exciting. For example, our new client portal, Alford Access, I’m extremely excited about. It’s a real differentiator for us and takes communication between everyone in our company and our clients to a whole new level.

Steve Alford - Looking Forward

One of the biggest joys I continue to get after 35 years, is seeing employees’ personal lives changing and growing. With some employees who have been with us for as long as 20 and 30 years, I’ve watched them move up, grow, and make Alford their workplace for their lives. That’s something I don’t take for granted; I cherish it. Every person at Alford has a story and I love to see all our people grow. It’s equally great to have so many new hires and fantastic additions to our team. It makes me confident in Alford Media’s future and gives me encouragement for our culture going forward.

Alford Media