Robert Cashion East is the former CEO of Advanced Cabling Systems of North Little Rock, recently purchased by ADT Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida, which plans to combine Advanced with its Red Hawk Fire & Security. Advanced Cabling employs 180 people and is one of the largest installers of cabling, fire alarms, CCTV and entry access systems in North America. East is a member of the Bank OZK board of directors.
East grew up in Little Rock and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance and administration from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1970. He was a sergeant in the Army combat engineers, 1970-1972.
What drew you to construction?
When I was 15 years old, I started working during the summers for a contractor in Little Rock and continued that through college. When I got out of the Army in 1972, I started full time for the same contactor working in the field and learning the business. I loved working outside and watching a building take shape. I worked for that company for 18 months, then quit and started my own business at age 26.
What do you enjoy most about construction?
As contractor for a building project, you are required to become intimately involved in that particular business, in order to learn the most useful, efficient and cost-effective structure for the owner. I’ve learned about so many businesses, how they operate, what is successful and what is not, gaining insights that are invaluable in my business operations, and really interesting case studies.
Why did you decide to buy Advanced Cabling?
In the 1990s, I owned, with a partner, a company in northwest Arkansas that sold electrical supplies. The buzz at that time was fiber optics, fiber cabling and delivery of bandwidth. I wanted to get into a business that would benefit from the coming age of computers, so I purchased controlling interest in Advanced in 1999, with three employees and a yearly revenue of $400,000, and the only line of business being low voltage cabling. My plan was to add several new lines of business, offer great training for our employees, and become a one-stop shop for all technology infrastructure needs.
I knew from my experience in construction that contractors, owners and subcontractors would embrace a company like this, and it would fulfill an obvious need.
Why did you sell Advanced?
It was an exceptionally difficult decision. We were constantly approached by private equity companies to purchase our business, but Red Hawk and ADT sought out our company, made us a very clean offer and wanted to really expand their capability in the commercial security integration business. They offered great career opportunities for our employees, excellent benefits and a way for me to cleanly divest my interest.
While I would have loved to keep the business forever, I had seen so many businesses have difficult and even fatal transitions from owners, and since I had no family members who wanted to work in the business and take it over, I saw this sale as a chance to give the company a huge advantage in the market and have an orderly and successful transition of ownership.
Best advice you ever received?
I’ve received so much career-saving advice, it’s hard to pick one thing. I’d say the most important thing to do is to listen!
Best mistake that helped shape your career?
One of the biggest mistakes we made several times is taking construction work at a very low cost, just because we needed the work. We always lost more money than we thought, and we would’ve been better off dealing with the loss of revenue.