Linear LLS Gathering Brand Momentum
Linear LLC's consumer technology brand acquisitions started quietly in 1999, with Xantech and Multiplex Technologies. Then they gathered steam in 2003 with the addition of SpeakerCraft, Elan Home Systems and gate/door control manufacturer Operator Specialty Company (OSCO), followed by the purchases of OmniMount and M&S Systems in 2004. This year, Linear's acquisition of Panamax in April and Niles Audio Corporation in July got everyone's attention.
Linear, as a brand portfolio, is gathering market clout. Its parent company is Nortek Inc., a Providence, R.I.-based manufacturer/distributor of residential, light commercial and commercial building products. Formerly a public company, Nortek is now privately-held—through Nortek Holdings, by management (including Nortek Chairman Richard L. Bready) and its current equity shareholder, Thomas H. Lee Partners of Boston. Hoovers Inc. describes Thomas H. Lee Partners as a friendly leveraged buyout firm that takes a stake in companies with a potential for growth, courts management cooperation and then sells the revamped companies or takes them public.
Linear LLC is part of Nortek's residential systems group, which also includes Broan-NuTone, a global producer of residential and light commercial building products.
Riding herd on Linear's evolving portfolio of brands and businesses is Grant Rummell, the subsidiary's chairman and CEO. Rummell is chairman of all Linear companies, each of which has an operating chief. "My role is to coordinate and supervise all of these operating heads," Rummell says.
Linear recently announced a structuring of a joint field sales force for the Linear, M&S Systems and Multiplex Technologies brands (the latter including ChannelPlus and OpenHouse), but Rummell avoids using the word "group" to refer to the Linear companies as a whole. "We're not into uniformity at all," he says. "We're trying to encourage as much entrepreneurship as possible. I don't have a plan to smash together any of the brands or to make them march in lockstep together.