Caribiner International, Inc. History

Address:
16 West 61st Street
New York, New York 10023
U.S.A.

Telephone: (212) 541-5300
Fax: (212) 541-5384

Website:
Public Company
Incorporated: 1989 as Ingleby Enterprises Inc.
Employees: 3,680
Sales: $342.26 million (1997)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: CWC
SICs: 7359 Business Services

Company Perspectives:

The mission of Caribiner International, Inc. is simple but powerful: to help a company achieve its business objectives by using the power of communications to connect more effectively with its key constituencies.

Company History:

Caribiner International, Inc. is a global, fully integrated business-to-business communications company. Caribiner offers a wide range of business-communications services, including conceptualization, planning, and production of corporate meetings and events. Caribiner also creates interactive trade show exhibits, providing all the required audio-visual equipment. The company develops training and educational materials related to new job skills, products, systems, organizational processes, and internal corporate communications. The company's services can be delivered in any configuration of media, including film, interactive technologies, videotape, slides, computer graphics/animation, print, or multimedia. Furthermore, Caribiner offers a full spectrum of state-of-the-art presentation technologies for sale or short-term rental. For rental needs, more than 200,000 pieces of presentation equipment can be tracked in some 500 inventory locations ready for immediate delivery by 350 delivery vehicles.

The company has offices throughout North America as well as in Australia, Hong Kong, England, and New Zealand. Caribiner's client list covers a number of industry sectors, including automotive, consumer products, information technologies, insurance, pharmaceuticals, financial services, fast-food, government, insurance, lodging, petroleum, and telecommunications. Typical clients are among the world's largest companies in need of ongoing communication with sizable internal and external constituencies. Among Caribiner's clients are American Airlines, ARAMARK, Dow Chemical, Eastman Kodak Corporation, Ford Motor Co., Holiday Inn Worldwide, IBM, McDonald's Corporation, Parke-Davis, Sears, Shell Oil Company, Shering-Plough, and State Farm Group. The company's revenues grew from $21.76 million in 1992 to $342.26 million in 1997.

Founding a Business-Services Company: 1989-95

The roots of Caribiner International, Inc. are in northern England where, in 1985, Raymond S. Ingleby was chairman of an advertising company engaged in the installation of advertising display units in hotels. He rapidly acquired other companies and was soon the owner of one of the United Kingdom's most successful media sales companies. Three years later, Ingleby sold his company and, having agreed not to compete with the new owner, immigrated to the United States in search of a company he could eventually take public. In 1989, in New York City, he founded Ingleby Enterprises Inc. and began to build a new empire by acquiring Ray Simon, a business-event company.

In the early 1990s providers of business-communications services were part of a young and still very fragmented industry that consisted mainly of mom-and-pop operations. A slowing down of the economy caused many businesses to "cut back on all their corporate events--ranging from small meetings for sales people to major new product announcements for clients and suppliers," according to Emily Denitto in a 1997 article in Crain's New York Business. "Dozens of event producers went out of business, and the few that survived brought in much money," wrote Denitto.

Tough times notwithstanding, in June 1992 Ingleby obtained financial backing from Warburg, Pincus Investors, L.P., for the acquisition of Caribiner Inc.--a rival firm founded in 1970 in New York City to provide staging and production resources for corporate events. Ingleby changed the name of his company to Business Communications Group, Inc. He then carved out an industry niche distinct from firms that helped businesses to communicate with, or through, the news media. His company was also unlike advertising agencies that created advertising and marketing campaigns to reach out to consumers.

Caribiner zeroed in on the large-scale events and programs vital to a company's communication of corporate information to its constituencies. The unique skills needed to develop, produce, and stage such events were not usually part of a company's core businesses. Since large corporate events tended to occur sporadically, depending on the timing of product introductions, changing competitive environments, and shifts in corporate strategy, it was relatively costly for companies to maintain the internal resources required for effective corporate communications. Caribiner astutely capitalized on the fact that many companies had to compensate for the lack of these skills by engaging outside firms. "Major companies will always need to communicate with their employees and their clients. But there are big savings to outsourcing the work to an operation like ours," Ingleby told Denitto in 1997.

Caribiner focused on increased penetration of existing accounts; the development of new large accounts; diversification into areas of training, education, and corporate communications; the acquisition of other companies offering business-communications services; and the opening of new offices. Sales and marketing activities targeted "million-dollar clients" with significant recurring needs for business communications services. When Caribiner recognized notable opportunities to expand relationships with potentially large accounts, it increased resources devoted to the servicing of these accounts.

From 1993 to 1995 the number of Caribiner's clients grew from nine to 12. Ford Motor Co. and IBM accounted for approximately 34 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of Caribiner's revenues in 1995. For Ford Motor Co., Caribiner executed more than 175 projects of various sizes for 13 Ford business units. Caribiner also obtained agreements from several key accounts, including Ford Motor Co., Holiday Inn Worldwide, and ARAMARK, for a variety of business-communications services. The company, whose fiscal year ended on September 30, had seven such agreements in place with clients by the end of fiscal 1995, compared to two agreements of this kind in 1994, and none in 1993.

Caribiner broadened its product portfolio by offering services sold in conjunction with, and separately from, its meetings business. This included the training and education of employees and programs for corporate communication. Revenues from the "non-meetings" business increased from a relatively insignificant amount in 1993 to about $18 million, or 22 percent of total revenues in 1995. Caribiner also implemented its growth strategy by taking advantage of the fragmented nature of the business-communications industry. From 1992 to 1995, Caribiner acquired five other companies related to its services. These acquisitions expanded the company's existing client base, brought in additional large-account clients and experienced personnel, and allowed for the opening of offices in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Houston.

During the early 1990s, despite the faltering economy, Caribiner's revenues increased from $21.76 million in 1992 to $81.13 million in 1995. Increased sales to the Ford Motor Co. accounted for approximately two-thirds of the revenue growth in 1995. Additional clients in the information technology sector contributed about 25 percent of the increase.

Continued Domestic and International Expansion, 1995-97

Caribiner was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1996, trading under the symbol CWC. The company wanted to tap opportunities for growth in the emerging international market for business communications, especially because of the global marketing approach undertaken by many of its clients. Caribiner planned not only to pursue opportunities for the acquisition of foreign-based providers of business-communications services but also to open foreign offices.

To this end, Caribiner acquired Spectrum Communications Holdings International Limited; Wavelength Corporate Communications Pty Limited; WCT Live Communication Limited; and Consumer Access Limited. Ownership of Wavelength, a leading provider of business-communications services in Australia and New Zealand, enabled Caribiner to extend its "relationships with a number of existing clients while inheriting new relationships with several multi-national companies.... We are now particularly well-positioned to serve Asian markets due to the combined resources of our existing Hong Kong offices and the addition of Wavelength's operations," commented Raymond Ingleby, Caribiner's chairman and chief executive officer. WCT Live, a 20-year-old business engaged in creating, producing, and consulting for live media events, reinforced Caribiner's presence in Europe and expanded the capabilities of Caribiner's London operations, initiated in June 1996. Through the acquisition of Spectrum, the operations of Hong Kong-based Consumer Access Limited were integrated into Caribiner's office in that city.

On the domestic front, in 1996 Caribiner acquired Atlanta-based Koors Perry & Associates, Inc.--a regional provider of business communications services--and integrated that company into Caribiner's Atlanta office, which became a base for marketing in the southeastern United States. With the purchase of Lighthouse, Ltd., Caribiner established a relationship with Motorola, Inc., among other clients. The company integrated its Chicago office with Lighthouse's headquarters in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, which became a base for operations in the Midwest. With the purchase of Total Audio Visual Services (TAVS), a leading provider of hotel audiovisual outsourcing services as well as of audiovisual equipment staging services, Caribiner no longer had to rely on third-party vendors to obtain its audiovisual equipment and services. The acquisition of San Francisco-based Rome Network, Inc. expanded Caribiner's presence in new geographic areas and strengthened ties with various corporate clients, including Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., SAP America, and Sun Microsystems, Inc.

In 1997 acquisitions of seven other domestic companies further extended Caribiner's reach in the national market, added new clients, and strengthened the company's ability to serve clients more efficiently by operating in regional offices closer to clients. These acquisitions included Projexions Video Supply, Inc.; Blumberg Communications Inc.; D&D Enterprises, Inc.; Watts/Silverstein, Inc.; Bauer Audio Visual, Inc.; Envision Corporation; and Spectrum Data Systems, Inc. The operations of Projexions, Blumberg, D&D, Bauer, and Spectrum were integrated with those of TAVS to provide more comprehensive service to the southeastern, Midwestern, and southern United States. The Bauer acquisition allowed Caribiner to enter several new markets, including Mexico. The purchase of Watts/Silverstein resulted in the establishment of a digital-media group within Caribiner. Watts was integrated into the company's Communications division and served to expand operations on the West Coast as well as to bring in new clients. Envision was integrated into Caribiner's Boston office, strengthening the company's resources and giving it access to a new group of clients.

In 1995 Caribiner designed and developed a series of training tools for Key Pharmaceuticals' UNI-DUR product launch. Training tools included computer-based learning modules, a series of video presentations, and a continuous computer-based learning competition that required the sales representatives to demonstrate their mastery of the UNI-DUR product platform. In another market sector, Caribiner designed the structure and all visual elements for Philip Morris's exhibit at the 1995 American Wholesale Markets Association's trade show. An oversized booth featured light-boxes, motion message signs, a video wall, and interactive kiosks.

Caribiner personnel worked closely for eight months with Ford Motor's management and product teams to prepare the automobile maker's message to its dealers about the complete line of 1996 Fords. For the introductory show, 8,000 dealers met in San Antonio, Texas, for a three-week period in August 1995. Caribiner designed and constructed all sets and stage layouts, drafted corporate speeches made by Ford's management, composed several original songs, choreographed the unveiling of the new 1996 vehicles, produced several audiovisual presentations, and arranged for live entertainment. Caribiner also designed and developed a glove box video for each of the 1997 Ford Expeditions, Mercury Mountaineers, and Lincoln Mark VIIIs. The video accompanied the sale of each new vehicle and demonstrated the features, advantages, and benefits of the vehicle.

Caribiner served ARAMARK on site at its corporate headquarters in Philadelphia. Work produced for ARAMARK included trade-show design, training, application of interactive technology, video production, brochure design and printing, and ongoing communication services. Caribiner also became the preferred in-house provider of rentals for audiovisual equipment in some 475 hotel properties, including hotel chains, such as Westin, Doubletree, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Red Lion, and Sheraton, located throughout the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Additionally, Caribiner struck agreements with the Westin Hotel Company and the Doubletree Hotels Corporation pursuant to which these companies would promote Caribiner's audiovisual operations to hotels operated or franchised under their respective flags. Caribiner also secured an agreement with Starwood Lodging Corporation that allowed TAVS to become the preferred in-house provider of audiovisual services to various hotels owned by Starwood. The company also supplied audiovisual equipment and services to other business-communications companies for use at meetings, events, presentations, and training programs.

Caribiner differentiated itself from other providers of services for business-communications and corporate meetings by the quality of its customer service, its breadth of creative and technical expertise, its ability to execute programs successfully with complete backup system technology, and its established expertise in producing a broad range of projects of all sizes across a number of industries. Caribiner benefitted from having a full range of business-communications services, a sound reputation for continuous investment in new technology and equipment, organizational breadth, and an international presence.

Since its inception in 1989, Caribiner sought to be "a dynamically different kind of company." The degree towhich Caribiner succeeded in reaching that goal was borne out, in part, by its financial success and the growth in the number of clients serviced by the company. In 1993, Caribiner revenues stood at $50.1 million and reached $342.26 million in 1997. Through continued acquisitions and internal growth, revenues for 1997 increased 130 percent over 1996 revenues of $148.33 million. The integration of recent acquisitions in the meetings and events, audiovisual equipment rental, and exhibition services industries, as well as improved cross-promotion and operating efficiencies across these businesses, led to increases of 138 percent and 160 percent in 1997 gross profit and earnings, respectively. The company, which ended fiscal 1993 with 65 accounts, had more than 300 accounts by the end of fiscal 1997.

Toward the 21st Century: 1998 and Beyond

In 1998, Caribiner remained committed to growth through acquisitions, consolidation, and internal expansion. In November 1997 the company acquired Visual Action Holdings plc, one of the largest providers of audiovisual equipment rental and exhibition-support services in the United Kingdom and the United States, thereby adding considerable support to Caribiner's marketing position in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Southeast Asia. In January 1998 the company purchased Right Source, Inc., a marketing support and training services company that focused on product launches for the information technology industry.

In March 1998 Caribiner signed a five-year contract with Inter-Continental Hotels Corporation to be the preferred provider of in-house audiovisual equipment rentals and related services to the corporation's managed hotels in the United States and Canada. Caribiner chairman and CEO Ingleby commented that the company is "very pleased to form a relationship with Inter-Continental, one of the world's premiere global hotel companies .... The partnership will form the foundation of Caribiner's international expansion in hotel audiovisual outsourcing."

In the same month, Caribiner also announced that its Hotel Services Group would provide computer workstations, referred to as the Nomad system, to select hotels and resorts in 19 cities across the country. The Nomad system was a portable workstation that could be wheeled into a hotel room, enabling business travelers to have an in-room office on a daily- or hourly-rental basis. Nomad users received on-site technical support from Caribiner's hotel-property representatives and could use a toll-free number to call Hewlett Packard for solutions to hardware and software problems. Caribiner planned to have more than 100 four- and five-star hotels offering the Nomad service by year-end 1998.

As Caribiner prepared itself for the 21st century, the business-communications industry was very competitive. Caribiner's revenues had grown significantly through internal growth and acquisitions, and the company had become a global leader of services for business communications. The company's growth strategy was on track and remained focused on building an infrastructure capable of supporting the geographic diversity of a dynamic business.

Further Reading:

  • "Caribiner International, Inc.," New York Times, December 21, 1996, p. 39.
  • Denitto, Emily, "Meeting the Street: Little-Known Planning Firm's IPO Stars," Crain's New York Business, April 14, 1997, pp. 3-4.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 24. St. James Press, 1999.