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Playing Small, Winning Big

By William Atkinson | Aug 15, 2015
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Lloyd F. McKinney Associates, Hayward, Calif., may be a small business, but in the eyes of project manager Ty McKinney, its size is one of the company’s major strengths. However, the company isn’t small because it’s a new business with plans to expand. The company was started 54 years ago and has made a conscious decision to remain small ever since.


Ty’s grandfather, Lloyd “Bud” McKinney, started the company in 1961, a time when virtually no one even knew about low-voltage work.


“He had a background in radio and electronics,” Ty McKinney said. “In fact, he built the first wireless network for the Berkeley Police Department prior to World War II.” 


After the war, the U.S. government offered Bud a job taking care of its overseas communications network. However, he turned it down and opened his own business, specializing in low-voltage installations.


“Back then, not a lot of people were doing this kind of work,” Ty McKinney said.


The technology was indeed new. Bud taught electronics at the University of California, Berkeley, without having earned a college degree himself.


“For him, it was a simple love of electronics,” said Betty Harmoney, the company’s president and CEO, and Bud’s daughter. “He loved wiring things and working with electronics.”


When the university administrators found out he did not have a degree, they were ready to let him go, but they changed their minds once they realized the depth of his knowledge and the fact that virtually no one else was qualified to teach the subject. Instead, they gave him an honorary degree so he could continue to teach.


The company’s age is another benefit.


“Our relationships with our manufacturers go back decades and generations,” Ty McKinney said.


Besides having the competitive advantage of its years in business, Ty McKinney also considers the company’s small size to be an asset. Today, the company operates from a single location with a total of about 20 employees.


“We are not the biggest, and we don’t want to be the biggest,” Ty McKinney said. “We are a true boutique-style specialty contractor, and we like it that way.”


The work environment is very conducive to dynamic teamwork and coordinated communication. However, with the small team size, flexibility is key. While Ty McKinney allowed that his title was project manager, he doesn’t believe in titles.


“I know that a lot of markets demand it, but I don’t think they’re appropriate for us,” he said. “When you focus on titles, people start to believe that certain things are their responsibility and other things are not. Since we are a specialty low-voltage ‘boutique’ contractor, everyone wears multiple hats, and that’s the way we want it.”


Almost everyone plays a part in contract development, system design, scheduling, ­procurement and project management.


“Another one of our strengths is that all of us on the team have been in this industry a very long time,” Ty McKinney said. “The majority of us have well over 20 years each in experience.”


Ty has been with the company for 25 years.


“We are all under one roof, so our knowledge pool is very strong,” he said. “As long as we all continue to work together as a team and don’t separate ourselves by titles, there is not a problem that we can’t solve when we all work together.”


The company focuses on a specific market niche. While it will work for any number of clients, most of its projects involve educational facilities.


“The education market is big for us,” Ty ­McKinney said. 


Specialty areas include classroom audio/video and integrated intercom and public address systems.


While the company knows the educational market well, it realizes that customer needs and wants are always going to differ.


“Another one of our values is our ability to listen to our clients,” Ty McKinney said. “We have competitors, of course, who may do the same kind of work we do. We don’t focus on the competition, though. We focus on the ­client—what they need, what they want and how they explain things to us.”


One satisfied client is Moreau High School in Hayward, Calif. The company and the school have a relationship spanning many years. So when it came time for the school to undertake a major remodel, school administrators called Lloyd F. McKinney Associates. The challenge: The work had to be completed in less than a month—including the procurement and installation of the systems—before the school’s grand reopening. The company’s teamwork and decades of experience definitely came into play on this project.


The company installed a video entrance system at the front door to allow monitoring of all visitors during nonschool hours. The monitoring station has a built-in intercom, which can view and communicate with visitors, then grant entrance using an electronically controlled lock release. Inside the front entrance, a 50-inch plasma monitor was installed to display school-selected programming.


In the library, the company installed three video projectors and two plasma monitors, which are set up in a matrix to allow either single use or a combination into one larger presentation when appropriate. Technicians created pathways for the required cables to a new control rack that was included in the project.


The science classroom was designed with plasma monitors mounted on cantilever arms on each side of a video projection screen. A teaching lab area in the back of the room includes a projector and screen. Audio for the room is handled through a combination of wall-mounted and ceiling-mounted loudspeakers. Media distribution and amplification are achieved using a series of devices for computer-driven video, a DVD player, amplifiers and a visual presenter.


The media classroom includes a high-end audio/­video surround-sound system, which enables instructors, students and other staff members to preview media created by students for possible broadcast over the school’s internal channel. The room also includes a video projector, a screen, and a 50-inch plasma monitor, two loudspeakers, a subwoofer, power amplifiers, and a DVD/CD player, all run through a multimedia room surround-sound processor. 


Once Lloyd F. McKinney Associates knows what the client wants and needs, it educates the client on the available options and how they can best be installed, coordinated and used.


“We give them all the information they need in order to make the best decision,” he said. “Then we come up with solutions that meet their needs and wants.”


About The Author

ATKINSON has been a full-time business magazine writer since 1976. Contact him at [email protected]

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