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Vizio Vaulter

Kurt Binder knew the books on Vizio Inc. well before he joined the company as vice president and corporate controller in April 2010.

It was the allure of working with founder William Wang in a culture that promoted entrepreneurialism, though, that won him over in the end.

A lunch meeting with Wang at Charlie Palmer’s at South Coast Plaza sealed the deal, prompting Binder to leave an 11-year career at Ernst & Young LLP for his first corporate position outside the giant public accounting firm, where he oversaw Irvine-based Vizio’s audits for three years before joining the company.

“William was not only a good client but a good mentor during that time,” Binder said. “This guy really gets it. He’s a pretty humble guy and has a lot of fun, but certainly driven and focused.”

Promotions

It didn’t take long for Binder to move up through the ranks at Vizio, which competes annually against the world’s largest consumer electronics company, Samsung Electronics Co., for the U.S. market share lead in smart-TV sales.

He was promoted after a year to vice president of partner management for Vizio’s non-TV lineup, responsible for assessing new products and business initiatives, plus existing devices, such as soundbars, PCs, tablets and accessories.

He was promoted after two years to chief financial officer, overseeing a team of more than 35 in the accounting and human resources departments.

“I wear many hats,” said Binder, who was in Taipei, Taiwan, when he was honored Feb. 4 in the privately held companies category at the Business Journal’s CFO of the Year Awards dinner at the Hotel Irvine (see related stories, pages 1, 6, 9 and 10).

The Business Journal tracked him down during his trip to the key Asian country, where he was meeting with suppliers and other TV partners on short-term and long-term initiatives.

“We spent the better part of four days meeting with them and talking,” Binder said in a phone interview.

The discussions centered on Vizio’s product road map and promotions this year, as well as a look into what 2016 will hold for the company.

“Planning is a big part of what we do,” Binder said.

And a big reason the company has succeeded against the world’s largest consumer brands in hotly contested segments.

Vizio has linked its deep connections with Asian suppliers, such as Foxconn/Hon Hai, Wistron, and TPV, with distribution agreements with big-box retailers Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, Costco and Sam’s Club.

Growth

The marriage has been rock-solid, propelling Vizio from an unknown startup in the early 2000s to a market leader in soundbars and smart TVs. It shipped about 1.4 million units of the audio devices last year on its way to $3.5 billion in annual sales, up from $2.5 billion the year Binder joined the company.

“We’re very focused to continue the growth of the business,” said Binder, who restructured Vizio’s non-TV business line after the segment generated losses in 2011 and 2012.

Soundbar unit sales have grown more than 40% annually under his watch, topping that of Samsung, LG, Bose and others.

Binder also played an instrumental role in bringing Best Buy into the fold in 2012 as a major customer for TVs, fueling a 30% revenue jump from 2013 to 2014.

Vizio sold more than 11 million flat-screen TVs and accessories from 2012 to 2014.

He was a chief negotiator in developing contract terms for Vizio’s national Rose Bowl sponsorships from 2011 through 2014 and the college football BCS National Championship last year.

Challenges

It hasn’t been all roses for Binder and Vizio, which now employs 450. About 200 work in Irvine.

The Business Journal in August reported that the company halted production of PCs and tablets as it weighs a product strategy forged two years earlier when it entered the declining market.

Vizio also sought a foothold in the LED lighting market in 2011 as the industry tried to capitalize on businesses and consumers replacing incandescent bulbs with the more energy-efficient versions, but the company pulled the plug on those efforts.

“The biggest challenges in day-to-day operations myself and the rest of the executive team deal with is just making sure we have the right platform for growth,” Binder said. “Maintaining a strong growth trajectory in this industry is not easy.”

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