To mark the milestone of his 20-year anniversary with SOS Technologies, we sat down with David Lipman, President, and CEO of the company, to chat more about the changes and evolution he’s experienced over the last two decades at SOS as well as what the next 20 years might bring to the company too.
David, you originally joined SOS Technologies in January 1998 as a salesperson, correct?
That’s right. I came to SOS with about a decade under my belt in account management and sales. To me, this was a real opportunity in the form of a sales apprenticeship on the path to being an owner. My purpose was clear – I wanted to get my feet wet and understand the industry inside and out for a period of time with the intention of taking over the business one day when the time was right. In the interim, I was looking forward to growing the business in a lot of exciting new ways.
And then…life threw you a bit of curveball, didn’t it?
Definitely. Our owner was a terrific man who, if you expressed a passion for going after a new product or industry category, would often support you 100%. It was a great environment for a salesperson like me to flourish in and I was very happy.
Tragically, out of the blue on a Friday, the owner suddenly passed away.
The following Monday morning, I had to walk into his office and take over SOS Technologies. Fortunately, I had learned plenty enough by then to step in and keep the business going.
With ownership being a completely new experience for you, how did you navigate through that challenging time?
If there was one thing that helped, it was leaning on my previous experience of being in the field. I knew what it was like to interact with the customer, to listen to their needs intently and then deliver a solution made just for them. I then used that approach of doing more listening than talking toward our internal team.
I continue to follow that path today and it hasn’t steered me wrong. If you can learn to listen and get out of the way as a leader, some really great ideas can rise to the surface and we’ve got awesome people here to ensure those ideas aren’t in short supply.
Now that you have the advantage of many years of perspective, what do you value most about being a business owner and in owning a company like SOS?
Being a business owner has its own rewards, even with the wild ups-and-downs that come with it. But in addition to that, I feel that SOS gives me an opportunity to make a larger impact on people’s lives. You know, you hear people say all the time, “It’s not like what we’re doing is a matter of life and death.” Well, in our case, many times it really is about saving lives! To us, it’s more than an AED or CPR training or first aid supplies that we’re equipping people with. It’s about being there to help that loved one or co-worker who is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, stroke, heat exhaustion or any number of medical challenges.
That’s the bigger picture behind what you do.
Absolutely. When you lose someone valuable in your life at home or at work, obviously there’s a big, gaping emotional hole that’s impossible to replace. The whole environment feels the effect of that for a long time. So if we can transform more family, friends, and co-workers into first responders through training and the right equipment close at hand, we can put the odds possibly back in the victim’s favor. Many people will dial 9-1-1 and wait for the paramedics to arrive, but the reality is that a sudden cardiac arrest victim may only have 10 minutes maximum to be resuscitated. At that very moment, it’s all about our products and education working through someone who never hesitates to act. So we can never just sell. We have to educate at the same for maximum results.
What do you believe separates SOS from the competition?
I truly believe we have built a team here at SOS that has the highest level of knowledge about our product line. Ask any staff member about our AEDs, our batteries and pads, our CPR training and our first aid supplies. You will not find a group more informed or committed to a high level of customer service and responsiveness. That, in turn, positions us to give our customers solutions that are well customized to their every need.
What’s the biggest change that you’ve seen in 20 years at SOS?
There have definitely been several.
When I became the owner of SOS, the Internet was just starting to take off but online marketing was essentially nothing at the time. It was all about using traditional media to get the word out. Times have changed plenty on that front. We have a full eCommerce website and we’re actively blogging, on social media and sending out monthly eNewsletters. Next month, we’re going to be involved in our first Facebook Live session highlighting a CPR demonstration. So I’ve learned that the type of media is constantly changing and we try to stay on top of that to see what’s a great fit for our purposes.
As far as how our brand has evolved, many years ago, I think people saw us exclusively as an AED distributor and maybe a CPR instructor. Now, we’re doing a lot to change that perception to be more of a true safety consultant for companies. Our people can step into an office or warehouse facility and do a detailed assessment of what the company needs (and doesn’t) from a product standpoint and provide CPR training. That’s a big difference than merely showing them a product catalog.
One of the biggest changes in the last 20 years to our inventory is happening this year as SOS is now carrying our widest variety of quality brands ever. In addition to Philips, we will have products from HeartSine, Zoll, and Physio-Control in stock. I’m really excited by what that gives our customers in the way of more options around their needs and budget so they can select the ideal fit. Having such flexibility of options also opens a lot up for our salespeople to align with our mission of being a truly consultative organization.
Finally, this company has probably accumulated quite the high amount of “Saves” over the course of 20 years. What does that cumulative number mean to you?
Emotionally, it gets you every time. It’s a victory unlike any other and we all get to share in that. We can rarely talk about specific individuals very often but our company, through our products and training, has been responsible for helping people get another chance at life when it seemed like there was little hope. That’s where our tagline of “It’s A Matter Of Life And Life” comes from – when you have our products, supplies, and training on hand, a victim may yet have another chance at life. So we get to hear about Save after Save after Save. Knowing you had a hand in that? It doesn’t get much more gratifying and inspiring. In fact, it makes you want to save even more of them, which is what has inspired me for the last 20 years and I’m sure will fuel me for many more.