Kirby makes the call

Wednesday, July 6, 2005 at 1:00am

Your family background is in road construction. How did you end up in the voice processing technology software industry?

From my engineering days, I went into the investment banking business. I was with a small boutique company specializing in underwriting industrial development bonds for major corporations. In the early 1980s, it became apparent the industry would be a casualty and our small company decided to look at venture capital. There was a vacuum of venture capital in the South at that time. I was introduced to voice processing technology - basically, a talking computer. The technology involved interfacing with touchtone telephones and began to emerge in the 1980s. I raised seed money in a father-son invention in Franklin. Everybody involved took a flier in investing in a talking computer. We were probably a little early technology-wise, but we raised about $750,000 in 1981 to start DCC. And we raised an additional $1.2 million to help advance the company. We got venture money from the local Massey Burch [Capital Corp.] office and from additional angel investors.
Gene Kirby, CEO, Dialogic Communications Corp.
Hometown: Nashville
Age: 61
Education: Vanderbilt University, B.E. in civil engineering
First conventional job: Allis Chalmers Corp., application engineer
Hypothetical dream job: Teacher on college level
Since 1981, Kirby has built Cool Springs-based Diologic Communications Corp. into a national player, earning contracts with heavy-hitters within influential government sectors and private industries. Interestingly, Kirby's family history involves road construction. And Kirby himself has a degree in civil engineering, a field very unlike the voice processing technology software industry in which he now works. Despite a background that would not suggest his now-established career that covers, among other things, emergency notification, Kirby has adapted well enough to guide 128 DCC employees in a successful business.

And now you're thriving?

I have roughly 110 stockholders. It's a private company, but run very much like a public company.

It seems DCC has found a home in the cable television industry.

We were the first to get into the cable television industry in the early 1980s. The industry needed to automate its customer service, and our product could handle large volumes of phone calls in a short period of time. The product could handle inbound and outbound calls simultaneously using a computer. The outbound was for the cable company to call to see if you would be home to schedule a truck to visit. The inbound involved customers reporting outages. Now we supply roughly 26 software applications to cable operators. We're in front of about 40 million cable subscribers using our products.

What can you say about emergency notification technology?

It's very popular in the fire and police worlds. We got into ENT in 1986 and started by learning how to automate emergency response for the nuclear power industry. Soon after that, oil spills became a problem and "big oil" heard about us. Suddenly, we were automating emergency call-outs for the oil industry - chemical plants, refineries and headquarters. We were with every major oil company. Soon after that, the military downsized and the armed forces started buying our technology to do call-ups and to offset the loss of manpower.

And then the technology explosion hit, which likely helped DCC?

When Y2K came along, we were embraced by brokerage houses, banks, financial institutions. Then the events of 9/11 brought all of that together. The White House offered to send a plane to fly our people in and install a system. Today, the White House has three of our systems, the House of Representatives has a 500-port system, the Senate has a 300-port system, the Supreme Court has a 72-port system, and the Library of Congress has a system. We have roughly 1,400 clients worldwide covering 26 countries with DCC emergency technology notification products.

You are moving more into the corporate sector.

We have clients in just about every industry in the U.S. and also globally - banking, manufacturing, health care, pharmaceuticals, insurance and technology.

Where does DCC rank nationally within the industry?

We are the largest in the industry and lead our nearest competitors by a factor of 10. We expect to be a large benefactor of homeland security investment where communications will be critical. So we believe DCC has a bright future.

What are DCC revenues like?

We will be up 20 percent in revenues this fiscal year and generate between $20 million and $30 million in revenues.

How are personnel and turnover?

We have 128 employees. It's interesting work, particularly for our programmers. The DCC retention rate is fairly high, so there is nothing to alarm me.

Do you foresee additional satellite offices?

We have satellite offices in Orlando, Boston, Washington, D.C., California (two) and Louisiana. These are mostly one- and two-man operations. I see possibly three in the next 12 months and expansion of those we already have to some degree. We could open facilities in Texas, Chicago and Seattle.

Any updates locally?

We have a hosting center in Franklin, which we're in the process of moving to downtown Nashville. Fifteen minutes after the first World Trade Center tower was hit, we did 106,000 phone calls. We handled about 140,000 in the 2003 blackout. Last year, we assisted Florida clients during the hurricane season, processing about 400,000 phone calls. Because of the growth of our hosting center, we need a larger facility. The move should be completed by the end of August.

What is your challenge as a business leader?

My challenge is in trying to keep up with the technology changes. I'm a 61-year-old person trying to stay on top of changing technology. I'm not a computer engineer. It's self-taught.

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