Published June 21, 2011
Volume 19, Number 6

High-Tech Company Leader Theodore Head Does Business the Old-Fashioned Way

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

As President and CEO of Silicondust USA, Ted Head is leading a high-tech start-up through the launch of a next-generation product, and it’s an exciting, busy time. The company was formed in 2007 to market HDHomeRun Network Attached Digital TV Tuners to the consumer market. “HDHomeRun products enable viewers to watch and record digital and HD television from any computer within their home network (LAN),” Head explains. The innovative design connects TV tuners to the home router, which allows access from any computer, anywhere in the home.

Head presides over the business end of Silicondust, including international sales and marketing. The company right now has fewer than 10 employees, outsourcing functions such as accounting to stay lean. However, it is growing, currently in the process of hiring additional engineers to support and expand new product lines. Taking its next step up the ladder, Silicondust moved from an industrial area to Hacienda in March, “upgrading our curb appeal,” Head quips.  “At 3,500 square feet, it’s perfect for what we need. We have enough warehouse space to bring product in and ship it out on pallets,” often internationally.

With manufacturing in Asia, Head does his share of overseas traveling. His sensitivity to cultural differences is evident in the thoughtful way he approaches the challenge of making new contacts in other countries. 

“If you travel around the world, you must understand that you don’t travel as an American,” Head contends. Business is not always the first thing on his agenda. “Once you get to know someone, that’s when the relationship starts. Sometimes it takes the first two days just to get to know someone before you can start talking business. Sometimes you can start right away.” 

How does Head know which approach to take in developing new relationships?

The answer is one of the guiding principles of his life: “Networking, networking, networking,” he emphasizes. “For me, networking is the way you find out information and get things done.”

Even as a youngster he was a social creature. “In high school, I never belonged to a clique, but I was welcomed into any group because I always knew someone,” he recalls. “When my voice started to change, I would get caught talking. The teachers could always tell it was me.”

The California native grew up in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, he points out, and always felt the allure of technology.  “I come from a high-tech family, with both of my parents being IBMers.”

He played sports in high school, but he was eager to carve out a place in the wider world. When he was 16, he took a part-time job at the high-end furniture store Breuners, a Bay Area fixture since 1856.  He began in the warehouse and ascended rapidly into positions of increasing responsibility, ending up running most aspects of operations—logistics, quality control, etc. In his spare time he took evening classes at his own pace at Cal State Hayward. He finished with a degree in marketing and business, with a minor in psychology, in 1990. 

He spent 15 years in retail, working in all facets of the store and corporate structure, including management. In 1997, he got restless and struck off on his own, setting up a company that sold hand-made silk neckties to Macy’s and high-end retail shops. The connection came through his father, who, after retiring from IBM, had a circuit board assembly business with a partner. The partner’s relatives in Korea were looking to expand their tie business.

While he enjoyed marketing and launching international products, eventually Head ran into competition from Chinese manufacturers, who entered the market selling direct at a lower price. With the tie business on the wane, his father and partner convinced him to join them in circuit board product assembly.

Once again Head had a business to take to the international level. In the process, he met Nicholas Kelsey, the New Zealander who founded Silicondust and is now CTO.  Kelsey was one of Head’s customers for HDHomeRun components. As they got to know each other, Kelsey offered Head the opportunity to take the company into the mainstream markets and grow the business. They established the U.S. entity in 2007.

Musing about the influences that contributed to his career success, Head cites his father, who “instilled good business ethics and old-fashioned business sense into me many years ago,” principles that still stay with him today.

Head’s interpretation of “old-fashioned business sense” revolves a lot around face-to-face contact. “Today, everyone uses the phone or Internet to get acquainted,” he notes. But even with the possibility of videoconferencing, he prefers to rely on personal meetings to do business.

“If I’m going to hire a rep or a distribution company, I will jump on a plane to meet them. I want to see people, look them in the eye, and shake their hand. If you listen with your eyes, you will always be successful,” he advises. Honesty and integrity are important. “Business is much better with someone you can trust,” Head remarks, noting that he’ll walk away from a deal if he doesn’t feel the potential partner is trustworthy.

These experiences have both honed and confirmed Head’s networking skills. As in high school, operating in the social space has led to “meeting many new people and learning a little about a lot of things. I chose my path toward management early in life as I continued the growth of my network of contacts. Now I utilize those contacts to support and grow mutually within the industry.

He is very clear that networking is a bidirectional activity. “I use it to help both parties mutually grow. It’s never a singular track. There is always a benefit for the person you network with, which makes you both successful.”

He remains modest about this talent. To the suggestion that he has superb people skills, he retorts, “ I would never say that I am superb at anything. I am always evolving at everything I do. There is always room for growth.”

Asked about his biggest business surprise, he replies, “Growth can happen when you least expect it.” Rather than suggesting that planning is not necessary, Head’s answer reinforces how essential it is to be, first, on alert for new opportunity, and, second, flexible enough to capitalize on it. “You can have everything prepared, and then something different happens,” he says. To illustrate, he cites the way Silicondust’s incorporation of a new feature called the lineup server recently generated a big win.

The lineup server, Head explains, identifies and names the channels the television is receiving. It was developed for internal process tracking stations around the country, but it turns out it is something Siliconcust customers use on a daily basis.

“After we introduced it, we made the lineup server available to a couple of tech users. Then the word got out, and now we have broad interest in licensing it, including from some of the major cable companies. Sometimes, the simplest changes turn out to take us to a whole new level. Even the smallest request can snowball into the biggest thing we’ve ever done.”

How did he find out this was what customers were looking for? The old-fashioned way, of course: he listened to them.


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