Michael Sigourney founded AVTECH Software Inc. in 1987 after moving to Rhode Island from California. Since the company’s inception, Sigourney has handled responsibilities in nearly all aspects of the business at one time or another. Currently, the president and CEO focuses on sales, marketing and general management.
Sigourney talked to Providence Business News about his company’s recent visit from state lawmakers and the U.S. Small Business Administration, its historic mill location and the evolution of his company in the technology industry.
PBN: Recently, some Rhode Island lawmakers and VIPs from the U.S. Small Business Administration toured your Warren facility. How did that go and why did they visit?
SIGOURNEY: We were pleased to host a special visit from the Small Business Administration last Friday by Deputy Administrator Marie Johns and District Director Mark Hayward. Deputy Johns is the second in command at the SBA and visited AVTECH along with U.S. Sens Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, among others.
The tour objective was to learn more about AVTECH’s manufacturing and marketing process. The primary interest is based around learning how we have achieved success selling internationally into 177 countries when there are only 196 worldwide. AVTECH is the market leader in our niche with 110,000-plus customers worldwide. We estimate that people in the U.S. are exposed to one of our customers every 5 seconds.
We manufacture all of our products here in the U.S.A. and believe the tour was a huge success.
PBN: Can you tell us a little about your headquarters and why you decided to move into a historic mill?
SIGOURNEY: AVTECH’s office and manufacturing facilities are located at Cutler Mill in Warren. Built in 1868 to house Cutler Mills it was once the largest employer in the East Bay and is one of the best examples of a manufacturing mill of its time served by rail.
I purchased the mill in December 2008 just after the financial downturn because we needed a larger facility to grow into for at least the next 5-10 years. Being founded 25 years ago, we had to move every few years to accommodate the growth of our team and allow expansion of manufacturing and fulfillment.
The mill is an incredible space with 22-foot wide hallways, restored antique mill lights inside, stained glass, antiques, large mill windows and other comforts not found other offices. I wanted something that our team would love working out of and that would create both interest and credibility with business partners. We nailed that goal and continue to do more whenever possible.
Warren is the perfect location for us because it is close to Providence/Boston while being one of Rhode Island’s most interesting small towns.
PBN: AVTECH sells to some pretty big names, what do you think has helped lead to your success?
SIGOURNEY: Teamwork sums it up for me. Anyone who knows me understands that I value our people above our products and profit. I expect them to operate at their best-ALWAYS. They should be proud of what they do because they do it to the best of their abilities. I expect them to be proud and confident, although modest enough to know there is still more to learn. We work hard to build people up and know that they will not all be with us forever. I explain on everyone’s first day that we know that day of separation will eventually come. Until then, we want to work together for mutual benefit and that starts by successfully developing products of the highest quality/benefit and backing them with service from the absolute best people support we can offer.
We are not perfect although I will put my team up against any other and usually win. Our support team is entirely U.S. based.
Customers who buy from AVTECH typically stay customers for many years. That brings me great pride. The only thing better is seeing someone join our team and really grow into a leader or expert at what they do. I have people who left AVTECH over 10 years ago and still contact me periodically to say it was one of the best experiences of their life and one of the key measures they use to evaluate other companies. That humbles me and it is something my team can be very proud of.
PBN: What makes your software so popular and different from others out there?
SIGOURNEY: People come to AVTECH for our hardware monitors. They are reliable, flexible and meet the primary needs that our customers seek to address... at a fair price they can afford.
We back that with real people support and continue to upgrade the firmware and software on a regular basis. We even provide a 100% hardware monitor replacement anywhere on earth if it fails (and nobody else does this). The reason we have 3-4 times more customers than our nearest competitor is our 25 years of experience developing software and that we include our advanced monitoring software for free with every monitor. Basically, it blows people away and once we get them to work with it, they don’t want to let it go. It’s not magic, good product and good people working to please the customers we serve.
PBN: How has your company grown since its inception and how have you seen the Rhode Island technology community evolve during that period? (Background: when were you founded?)
SIGOURNEY: AVTECH grew fast when it started and as the industry changed, we reduced down to just one person in 1993-me. That is when I moved from Irvine, California to Newport.
I rebuilt the company on our core technology slowly and surely. By focusing on quality people who could help me build the company, we have created a team that is not afraid of challenge or change. We’ll be different in 5 years. That’s okay.
In terms of the technology community, it is much bigger than Rhode Island and we work closely with partners all over the world. I sometimes fear that because we are located in the smallest state, businesses tend to think we cannot compete. Nothing could be more untrue.
Some examples are our development efforts with other Rhode Island companies like Northeast Manufacturing out of Portsmouth. They are a great company and build many of our advanced sensors, prototypes and more. Our relationship with fresh air cooling experts Schroff Technologies in Warwick is helping to put AVTECH monitors in every cell tower across North America and in every shelter the FAA has.
In several years you will not be able to fly on a plane or make a cell phone call in North America without going through a system monitored by AVTECH technology. As we assist medical companies in making their medical devices wireless, AVTECH will soon be monitoring millions of devices that keep people alive and ease their distress in many ways. AVTECH is up to the challenge although cannot do it alone. We recognize this and value our partnerships with other leaders in the technology field. These relationships will be a defining part of our future success.