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Forging business ties is music to his ears

The Rochester International Jazz Festival is back for its fourth year, beginning today, and one of the local magicians responsible for bringing the musicians here is Marc Iacona.
Iacona, 42, is executive director of the festival and president of Simcona Electronics Corp. on Mt. Read Boulevard.
He is essentially a professional collaborator, in every part of his life.
Iacona and festival founder and producer John Nugent are partners in a limited liability company they formed for the annual jazz-a-thon, the Rochester International Jazz Festival LLC. The festival’s audience has grown more than 250 percent since its debut in 2002, from 15,000 people to 55,000 last summer.
Iacona and Nugent are the sole employees of the festival, with all other services contracted out. The festival has some 125 volunteers.
Simcona is a partnership among Iacona, Angelo Casciani and Blanche Fenster. The trio bought the company seven years ago from Iacona’s father, Louis, and Simon Braitman. The electronics distributing firm was founded by the elder Iacona and Braitman in 1962.
Marc Iacona oversees sales and marketing. Casciani, CEO, is the operations manager. Fenster is Simcona’s product marketing manager.
Other parts of Iacona’s life are also collaborations. He and his wife, Ann, support cultural, educational and human service programs around the area.
And he is eager to partner with anyone who works hard and has a vision.
“Do you have your son-in-law’s business card?” he asks during an interview for this story. “I might have some work for his business.”
Reaching out is Iacona’s stock in trade. Often, the contacts are successful.
One night, for example, he had an appointment to meet a business associate at the Lodge at Woodcliff. When the colleague stood him up, Iacona says, he stayed for a drink to listen to local jazzman Gap Mangione play.
“We started talking during a break,” Iacona remembers. “I liked his ideas.”
The result was a new CD for Mangione, “Planet Gap,” with Iacona helping with the cash side of the production.
“The conversation led to my Big Band and how I longed to record them,” Mangione says. “But it wasn’t just a financial relationship. We’ve gotten to be good friends.”

Heading into business

Iacona did not intend to become a second-generation business owner. He graduated from Pittsford-Sutherland High School in the early 1980s, then studied business at Rochester Institute of Technology.
When he graduated in 1985 with a bachelor of science degree in business, Iacona headed north in Monroe County to Xerox Corp.
“My father never encouraged me or discouraged me from joining Simcona,” he says. “But it seemed to me it would be better to try something else.”
He held a variety of sales and marketing jobs at Xerox before joining his father’s company in 1989.
He entered Simcona’s sales division, but as a salesman, not a leader. He was expected to work his way up in the company.
Eventually, he was able to bring some tactics he learned at Xerox into the small company’s sales culture. Simcona had been created as a small local company. Iacona brought a more regional focus to the firm.
“It was great that I had the experience at Xerox,” he says. “I got to see how the big guys work. And it helped us at Simcona to look at sales in a larger way.”
Simcona sells products used in voice, video and data communications. The firm does not manufacture parts, although it does do some valued-added assembly for customers.
Being a distributor means relying on ethical and successful interactions with buyers and parts suppliers, Iacona says. Creating strong relationships is paramount.
“Service and goodwill are our most important tools,” he says.
The privately held Simcona does not release any financial data. But the company has been profitable every year since 1962, Iacona says.
“Of course, some years are not as highly profitable as others,” he says. “We grew 20 percent in 2004. In the year or two before that, we saw a smaller profit.
“But other companies like us either folded or got smaller in that time and we stayed and then grew.”
Simcona has 65 employees and is planning to add more in the next year.
“The average number of years of employment for our staff is 10 years,” he says. “That means our employees are satisfied here. And if they are feeling good, they help our clients and suppliers feel good.”
The company has branches and sales locations in Florida; New Jersey; Massachusetts; London, Ontario; and Asia.

Expansion and upgrades

A year ago, Simcona bought Ferrotronic Components Inc. in Montreal to expand its sales and service reach into Quebec.
“We wanted to strengthen our position in the Canadian marketplace,” Iacona says.
And the firm recently upgraded its computer and network infrastructure.
Competition is keen in the electronics parts industry, he says. To stay ahead, Simcona must make the best use of its 85,000 square feet of space (up from under 2,000 when Iacona’s father and Braitman founded the company.)
Casciani coordinates a just-in-time electronic warehousing system. Simcona knows at any time just how many parts it has in stock, where more parts can be found and where they are all to be shipped.
Part of the company’s service is to act as a warehouser for clients, to help keep clients’ inventory costs lower.
Par Technology Corp., a $186 million enterprise software firm in New Hartford, a suburb of Utica, has been Simcona’s client since Louis Iacona owned the company, says Charles Constantino, Par Technology executive vice president.
Simcona always has been a good supplier, he says.
“But Marc has taken it to the next level. He has a great sales style and knowledge about the industry. He sells solutions,” Constantino says. “We have a lot of vendors who sell parts, but he goes a step further, wants to know how you’re going to use the part and thinks of ways to make it better.”
Iacona was an early investor in PaeTec Communications Inc., PaeTec founder and CEO Arunas Chesonis says. And PaeTec and Simcona have done business together.
“Marc is open-minded to new opportunities, but he doesn’t get so caught up in strategy that he misses anything,” Chesonis says. “Some people run the business so tightly, they don’t look at the big picture.
“It’s not often people who run the second generation of a business are as good or better than the first.”
Iacona values the history of Simcona. He talks of the legacy of retaining employees to help them and their families make good lives for themselves. The company makes employee training a priority, he says.
And he sees his relationship with Casciani as similar to the partnership his father had with Braitman.
“It worked well for them,” Iacona says. “They respected each other’s different abilities and made a great company.
“Tony and I operate the same way.”

All that jazz

But Iacona is not satisfied with simply running a healthy, ethical business. His dedication to growing a respected jazz festival is as strong as his commitment to Simcona.
Iacona attended a presentation by John Nugent following the first year of the festival in 2002, he says.
“I was really behind John’s vision,” he says. “And I listened to the numbers and they made sense.”
In the first year, when Nugent and his festival production and management company, NY JAM Inc., brought the concept of a jazz fest to Rochester, some 15,000 people attended the seven-day festival.
Following the event, Nugent said a second festival would need at least $300,000 in corporate subsidies and some commitments from local government officials to happen.
Simcona committed money to the second year, along with other local companies, including Wegmans Food Markets Inc., Constellation Brands Inc. and the Rochester Business Journal.
More than 40,000 attended in 2003, when the festival was lengthened to nine days.
Following that, Iacona and Nugent formed a limited liability company, and Iacona, a corporate supporter, also became an official partner in and employee of the festival.
The festival company is a private organization and will not reveal revenues or budget figures. But last summer, the crowds hit 55,000, a sign of growing success, Iacona says.
Iacona sees his and his company’s investment in the festival as a chance to help build Rochester.
“We want Rochester to be a community that offers our employees the best of everything,” he says. “And it’s a small way to keep the community from getting smaller. If the festival and the RPO help attract new companies here, then we are all better off.”
Mangione, who has been involved in Rochester’s music scene since he was a child, says the festival has filled a cultural need in the area.
“The first year, there was concern about its survival,” Mangione says. “I wasn’t sure it would be a huge success, but I did think it would break even because there is a pent-up need for that kind of music in our community. And there has been nothing until now to feed it regularly.”
Iacona and Nugent established a non-profit arm of their company to administer a jazz performance scholarship through the Eastman School of Music’s jazz department. Eastman has a tremendous reputation for classical musicians. The scholarship will help enhance its reputation for jazz, Iacona says.
Nugent, who also produces the Stockholm Jazz Festival in Sweden, says Iacona brings a talent for forging relationships and personal interaction as well as a head for business to the festival organization.
“Marc is very sharp and very fair,” Nugent says. “And he really knows how to motivate people.”
He and Iacona still are discovering just how similar they are.
“Our love for music brought us together,” Nugent says. “And our goals include a national and international vision. And we share the same business instincts.
“But last night, at a party for festival donors, he and I were wearing practically the same clothes. It’s uncanny. There are so many things we don’t have to discuss. We just know.”

Music and family

Iacona plays the trumpet, which he loves, but is hesitant to talk about. And he studies the instrument at the Eastman School. His favorite musician is a common one among trumpet players.
“Miles Davis-he was a genius,” Iacona says.
He also plays golf and spends as much time as possible with his family: wife, Ann; son, Marc Jr., 15; and daughters, Mariah, 14, and Alyssa, 12. The family lives in Penfield.
“My kids are beautiful,” he says. “But it’s all been Ann’s doing. She’s raised them.”
Iacona and his wife also partner in a variety of philanthropic ventures.
“But they like to keep it quiet,” Mangione says.
The Marc and Ann Iacona Family Music Foundation sponsors programs through the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Inc. Marc Iacona is on the RPO board. The Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s Side-by-Side Concert series is funded by the Iacona’s foundation.
The couple also help fund the local Commission Project Inc., a non-profit music education organization.
Ann Iacona is a St. John Fisher College alumna and Constantino is also a graduate and on the school’s board.
“Marc is a very generous person,” Constantino says. “We had a capital campaign and they were very generous.”
Marc Iacona is also a member of the SUNY College at Brockport Foundation and a board member of MPX Inc., a wireless company.
The phrases people use to describe him, after they mention his intelligence and skills, are variations on “good guy.”
Constantino: “He is a good friend and he has a genuine sincerity.”
Chesonis: “He’s actually exactly what he seems to be, a real nice guy.”
Nugent: “I have partners in other places, but Marc is a special character. He really cares. He came to me, an outsider, and said he wanted to make this festival work for the community.”
Mangione says he is not surprised people consider Iacona an all-around good guy.
“He does seem to have that way about him,” Mangione says. “But knowing his parents, he couldn’t have turned out any other way.”
In one of those odd Rochester coincidences, Mangione’s family and Iacona’s family had a tangential relationship, which neither knew about until they got to know one another.
Mangione’s father and mother owned a small grocery store in the Upper Falls neighborhood.
“It wasn’t really big enough to be called a market,” Mangione says. “It was tiny, not very well-to-do.”
Mangione’s parents were Italian, but born in the United States. And the neighborhood was filled with immigrants and first-generation folks working to make better lives for their families.
“I remember there were these people who moved in two doors away from us. My parents used to call them the immigrants, because they had just come over.”
The immigrant family was the Braitmans, who became partners with Iacona’s father.
“Braitman and Marc’s father started out from scratch there,” Mangione says. “It was really just a two- or three-person operation. Marc learned how to build a business from that. And the Braitmans and the Iaconas are just good people.”
Once someone has passed the Iacona test of friendship, they are invited to his house.
“Even my mother and my children have been to his house,” Mangione says. “It’s like going to your brother or sister’s house. Everybody’s there-there’s the kids and the dogs. And it’s a spectacular home-on a golf course.
“But just like family, everyone ends up in the kitchen.”
(rbj@rbj.net / 585-546-8303)

06/10/05 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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