Ascent Solutions, a cybersecurity firm, wasn't always a cybersecurity firm. In 2014, it was actually a hosting company. Shortly after JD Harris came on board, he says it was painfully clear that things needed to change. So, moves were made to buy out the founders and sell off the hosting business, which he says was at the time 95 percent of the company's revenue.
"So, took a bit of a risk there," Harris says. "But basically, re-centered us on a pure consulting services firm from that point forward. Initially doing a lot within mostly a Microsoft ecosystem, from a consulting perspective, as well as just IT advisory. And then over the years, we gravitated more and more towards cyber security solutions. And a few years ago, we decided we were just 100 hundred percent cyber firm."
Now the chairman and CEO, Harris says it was a necessary move because largely because of what he calls cultural differences between partners within the firm and what they wanted to be as a firm moving forward compared to what it so far had been.
"And so there's a couple of ways to accomplish those things," he says. "You can have departures — I could have just left, hung my own shingle and brought those with, if you will, that wanted to move. The best thing for the people though, honestly the employees, which we call stewards at Ascent, the best thing for the stewards was to figure out a way to redo the ownership. And I had an opportunity because of some earlier success at another firm that got bought by Amazon, fortunate to be able to buy out the founders and become — my wife and I become — 100 percent owners at that time. But it's complicated. There's a lot of emotion."
Harris says the transition could not have happened without an "amazing" attorney and the team around him — great leadership that were very supportive of the transition, as well as one of the other partners who was keen on making it happen and was very helpful in the process of convincing the other partner that it was the right thing to do.
By 2020, the company was well-positioned for what happened. Between the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, there's been an uptick in cybersecurity incidents. And the problem is only getting worse.
"And so, all of those things positively affect us from a business and business opportunity perspective," he says. "But we're not immune to all the other challenges that the pandemic posed as well for businesses. You still had to navigate those waters. Undoubtedly as a CEO, the hardest time of leadership in my entire career."
Harris spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast about ownership transition at Ascent as well as the switch that was made in its business model.