September 18, 2006

Navigational Sciences restructures for growth

Sheila Watson  /  Charleston Regional Business Journal

For most people, a vacation is refreshing, relaxing and rejuvenating. For Eric Dobson, a recent vacation was life changing. Or at least company changing.

"I took a short vacation and came back and called the executive group together to talk about how to restructure the company so we can transition from a research and development company to a product sales and marketing company," he said.

Those discussions led to a restructuring of the company to form teams that concentrate on segments that will take NavSci's key product into manufacturing and support. The company's core competency is helping businesses track and monitor their large physical assets such as cargo containers, trucks and trailers.

Having researched the best methodology and techniques, work that was funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security under its research program to increase monitoring security and visibility of shipping containers, the company is now poised to gear up for production. The impetus for the restructure, Dobson said, was the recognition that "operations is not my strong suit. I'm much more of a visionary, an architect more than anything else." Nevertheless, he said the restructuring "was certainly a group decision."

For the last three years he has been raising additional funding for the company, he said. "But there are other people who do that much better than I do," Dobson said. "The simple solution was that we had to create a natural business flow."

The executive team spent some time researching how to position the company, and the information was brought to the board in late June. By mid-July, the board had made the decision. The restructuring replaces the traditional hierarchy of CEO/president, vice presidents and managers with teams led by officers such as chief information officer, chief financial officer and so on. Dobson, formerly the CEO, will assume the role of chief scientific officer and will maintain a seat on the board. "This (restructuring) manifests our true product flow and the work flow in the company," he said.

Charleston businessman and attorney Antony M. Merck, elected to the role of non-executive chairman of the board, praises Dobson's vision. "Eric Dobson has built an exciting company with extraordinary growth potential," said Merck. "As part of the long-term vision, he recommended that we separate the commercial marketing and manufacturing division from the research and development efforts. Our board and the management team have embraced this vision and are enthusiastic about setting up a new management structure to further grow the organization."

Other members of the team include Bill Crowe, chief operating officer; Steve Hiott, chief financial officer; Scott Blair; chief product development officer; and Joseph Blankshain, chief technology officer.

"This is the best way to operate," said Dobson. "You put the right people in the right positions and let them do their jobs."

Dobson recognizes that there will be challenges and growing pains associated with the change. "There are always some challenges, the chief of which is how to grow the company without sacrificing the corporate culture," he said. "But this has been largely well received by our commercial partners and friends of the company. Everyone salutes a company wise enough to look inward and see whether it's well positioned for the future."

Dobson said the restructure "basically puts accountability and responsibility in the hands of those best able to perform that task." Instead of the CEO making all the calls, he said, the chief officer in each area has the right to execute that area's mission. "It's a more entrepreneurial and growth-oriented structure," he said. "Instead of always asking permission, they're given the ability to do what they need to do."

The company ultimately may diversify with several subsidiaries, but for now, he said, "we want to be the best we can be at this niche."