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He’s in tune with technology

George Daddis switched from music to gadgets as his driving passion. (Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)

The one known constant about George Daddis is his innate desire to strive.

From his training as a young musician to honing his entrepreneurial chops as the founder of successful companies, he throws himself into each pursuit with vigor.

“As a personality, I tend to be obsessive,” says Daddis, the president and CEO of Omni-ID Corp. “I will pick one thing and that will be the entire part of my life, and then just move to the next, (and I) completely forget the previous.”

A New Jersey native, Daddis grew up in Penfield. His father was an operations engineer at Eastman Kodak Co.

A trumpet player and pianist, Daddis originally thought he would pursue a career in music. His high school teacher and mentor noticed Daddis’ drive early on.

“The best I’m aware of his work ethic is that there are 24 hours in a day and he fills them as fully as he can,” Ned Corman says. “People who work with him closely (say) how almost ridiculously industrious he is.

“Nearly every time we get together I always slap him on the side of the head and tell him to go out and play a little bit more,” Corman adds. “He’s just affixed to doing the best that he possibly can.”

Corman helped his students win a statewide competition to compose a piece for the 1980 Olympics. He found a way to help Daddis push himself and see new possibilities.

It’s that inspiring teacher that you often hear about and he was that for me,” Daddis says.

When he realized music would not afford him the life he envisioned, Daddis decided to pursue chemical engineering at Cornell University.

After two years, he realized he really wanted to become an electrical engineer.

“The only way I actually knew about electricity was by getting those 101 kits that you can build from Radio Shack,” Daddis recalls. “I never learned it, so I never even really thought about it as a job. By my sophomore year I found myself finding as many electrical engineering courses as I could and at one point I walked down the quad and said, ‘Wait a minute, why don’t I just be an EE?’”

Daddis spent nearly a decade at Cornell, earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in computer engineering and applied mathematics—the right mix to help him create gadgets, he says.

He then worked at Kodak and Xerox Engineering Systems Inc., which helped him hone the skills he was lacking in software and hardware engineering.

Kodak and IBM Corp. funded Daddis’ graduate studies, but Kodak gave him a better job offer. He moved back to Rochester and found himself among highly intelligent peers.

“(Kodak) painted a great picture,” Daddis says. “And it was—Kodak research labs were going very strong, innovation was happening all over the place. It was a completely different place.

“I was a geek for sure,” he adds. “I was surrounded by really great, smart people and they helped me turn my theoretical into practical, and I learned a lot in those three short years.”

Daddis was itching to continue his development and was given a chance to run a team at Kodak. He took the opportunity and exceeded expectations, creating a low-cost, fast-running printer.

“I remember very clearly bucking the system and wanting to move up and trying to have my own team. … I finally got a break after about a year and a half,” Daddis says. “There was a very large printer project that went off schedule. It was off by more than a year, and they eventually got it out the door, but the printer wasn’t running as fast as they wanted it to and it cost more than they wanted it to.

“So, they did a low-cost version and they said, ‘OK, George, you tell us you can get it done; let’s see what you got.’”

The project helped Daddis to see his own potential.

“They gave me a break; I ran the team and I was excited to do what I wanted to do with the technology, but I knew I wanted to do more and grow faster,” Daddis says. “Kodak is a big company and I don’t want to blame them—I think they did a great job with the people they had—(but) ultimately I wasn’t out to fit that role.”

Daddis and others on his team left to work for Xerox Engineering Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Xerox Corp. in East Rochester.

“We kind of got a bee in our bonnet that we wanted to go off and do something more,” he says. “It gave me a chance in a safe environment to learn how to run a business.”

At Xerox Engineering Systems, Daddis learned even more about running a business—things like market feedback, manufacturing and talking to customers. His team was given one chance to prove themselves and in a year they created what is today Xerox Engineering Systems’ longest-lived printer electronics platform—lasting over a decade.

“We had to sell them on hiring these other people, make this investment, to stop using a third party outsourced component and instead use ours even though ours (wasn’t) even built yet,” Daddis says. “It didn’t come easy. They gave us about half a year to put together some prototypes and they gave us an aggressive timeline; we worked our butts off for that first half year.

“It was really gratifying,” he adds. “We worked ourselves too hard, honestly; we were burning out, but we accomplished a lot.”

The man who gave them the chance was David Kingsland, who became the team’s biggest believer, Daddis says.

“It’s those people that are fair but tough that I found to be the most valuable to my life,” he says. “I will remember that for a very long time, that chance.”

Turning entrepreneur
Daddis left Xerox Engineering Systems with a small team in 1998 to start his own firm: InSciTek Microsystems Inc., a digital hardware and software design business. In the early stages, the firm had many ideas for products—“everything from golf to music store to doing our own printers,” he says.

The firm’s great idea stemmed from its own problem. When the team went to set up shop, they realized finding a phone system was arduous.

“And so we said, ‘Well, wait a minute, we can build something here,’” Daddis recalls.

They started Allworx Corp. to solve the problem they faced. In 2003, InSciTek became Allworx Corp., a provider of VoIP telephone systems.

“The company we launched ultimately was Allworx phone systems,” Daddis says. “One thing we needed to do was to put in our own network and our own phone system and we’re technical people, so we figured we’ll just go buy something. Well, you couldn’t just go buy something; you had to go through these VARS (value-added resellers).

“And it’s really very complex and expensive, and it was very hard to do to get a network and VPN and things we take for granted today,” he adds.

The goal was simplicity for the user, with a focus on creating an “office in a box” for the small business owner, Daddis said.

“In the end we could never get it as simple as it needed to be to be orderable off the web,” Daddis says. It “never really was simple enough for someone to just open the box.”

The company was sold in 2007 to Paetec Communications Inc.—now part of Windstream—in a $25 million, all-cash transaction.

“He’s a very talented lad,” says Bill Hughes, CEO of HPA Consulting Group Inc. and another of Daddis’ mentors. “I think he is a world-class professional. He’s got a great background, he’s very smart in technology, and technology is what makes the world go round right now.

“He was a terrific leader and he put together a very strong team of men and women that took Allworx from being on a drawing board to being a national player in telecommunications for small to medium-sized businesses.”

Seeing a company run from start to finish helped Daddis grow as a person.

“The education was extremely important,” he says. “Every company I’ve run since then … I’ve learned some key aspect of running a business. Allworx was probably the broadest array because it was my first real product company and so I had to learn virtually everything.”

The learning never stops.

“And I made lots of mistakes, but every job and every opportunity I did the best I could. I improved one specific aspect or another,” Daddis says. “And I still have lots of things I want to improve—no one is ever going to be completely a finished product. But a lot of that is culminating here at Omni-ID and I’m applying a lot of lessons that I’d learned earlier to our company here.”

He also served as CEO of Philadelphia-based WorldGate Communications Inc. The company is a video telephony firm that became the worldwide leader in volume desktop video phone manufacturing in 2010, officials say.

Between career transitions, Daddis took time to be an engineer again. Before WorldGate Communications he worked for a company that needed help in creating home automation technology, and after WorldGate he worked with one that focused on digital learning tools. At both companies, he had a chance to play.

“I would find a couple of companies that needed help,” Daddis says. “I was recruited by a guy near New York City (who) wanted to do home automation. For me, it was fun. It was a playground. I got to play with all these electronic devices, I got to automate my house.

“(But) I get antsy after a while,” he adds.

Unexpected opportunity
Today, he runs Omni-ID Corp. as CEO, a post he’s had since 2011.

The offer was unexpected but a great opportunity, Daddis says. He was tasked with changing the firm’s makeup. Instead of selling very specific technology hardware components, Omni-ID needed to move into a more general industrial Internet of Things space.

Omni-ID now specializes in passive and active RFID tags.

“What we’re really trying to do is make sure you, the factory owner, can look at every material that goes through and really control the best possible path for its movement through the factory—knowing where it is in real time and moving through updates at any given time, correcting its path,” Daddis says.

“If something goes wrong, you can trace it back; you don’t have that ability today with paper,” he adds.

The firm was spun off from QinetiQ Group PLC, a British aerospace defense firm, along with seven other firms. Two of those companies—Intrinsiq Materials and Quintel—have operations in Eastman Business Park alongside Omni-ID.

Trillium International LLC, a Rochester-based private equity firm that owns the majority of Omni-ID shares, was tasked with taking on part of QinetiQ Group’s portfolio.

The Omni-ID management team needed revision, says Jim Stoffel, chairman of Omni-ID and general partner at Trillium International.

“With Omni-ID, they had very good technology (but) not so good management and direction,” Stoffel says. “So, what we looked for in a CEO there were three key things that Omni ID needed:  values; somebody that was really savvy technically; and good general manager skills. And George has very broad skills.”

Omni-ID’s technology equips tags to track a company’s crucial assets in industrial environments.  ProVIEW, its e-label solution, uses passive UHF radio-frequency identification tags that allow for data capture and customization for clients, the company says.

“On the ProVIEW side we’re blessed (because) we don’t need to find necessarily more customers,” Daddis says. “What we need to do is drive through the trials as quickly as we can and the adoption phases at our existing customers.”

Omni-ID grew from four people locally in 2011 to 40 today, with 198 people companywide including offices in Europe and Asia.

“George does really have the skills to grow a large company,” Stoffel says. “We’re not in here to do venture capital, we’re not trying to just get the first product out; we’re trying to grow a large company. He has the tools to be able to build relationships, grow his team and build a very large company.”

As a leader, Daddis knows when to step back. He focuses on finding the best people and letting them do their own thing.

“You hire the very best people; you don’t compromise,” he says. “You never regret hiring a really good person even if they were expensive. You get a little sticker shock, but you never regret it once it’s done.”

He also tries to see things objectively.

“A lot of people say engineers make horrible managers, but I think that’s actually false,” Daddis says. “If you look at some of the very best CEOs, they are all technical people. If you’ve got that dream, having an engineering background is definitely a plus; it allows you to think about things logically (and) objectively, not just purely (with) passion.”

In January, Omni-ID raised $21 million in an investment round from GE Ventures, YFY Group, Stonehenge Growth Equity and Trillium International.

“He’s a workaholic,” Hughes says. “I would hope that he starts smelling the roses a little bit and has some fun. I am very high on George and I would bring him into any company I was a part of in a heartbeat.”

Throughout his career when things have not gone well, Daddis has found solace in his team members. Sharing the load has always helped him find the way to improve his companies, he says.

“I relied on the people around me,” Daddis says. “Today, when there’s troubles, I know that I can gather my core team around me and say, ‘OK, we’ve got a problem, what are we going to do about that?’ And I know that there are other people sharing the load and that counts for a lot.”

Daddis still has the same zeal for excellence he had as a kid.

“I’m obsessive, so I put everything into it,” Daddis says. “I’m very passionate about it. So, if it’s not going well, my life doesn’t go well; if it’s going really well, then I’m a happy guy. I will mirror it, so they help to leaven that energy a bit, help to level it out.”

Being obsessive about details can hold you back, Daddis says. He works to let go and give others a chance to prove their worth.

“Being a good CEO is not to measure how good you do things but how good the people are that remain around you,” Daddis says. “And that’s actually very hard for a person like me to do because I’m someone (who) worked really hard in school to get my A’s. I always worked on improving my skills, but it’s not about me. In fact, the best organization in my style of leadership is one where I can go away and it still runs really well.”

At the crossroads
Daddis believes companies like Omni-ID can play a key role in Rochester’s resurgence, but the clock is ticking.

“We are right now at a cusp where we could go either way,” he says. “We’ve had a bunch of big companies come down significantly in size and talent, and what we need is for a lot of smaller companies like mine to rise up in the middle tiers; not hiring tens, that’s nice, but hiring hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands.”

The smaller firms that make up most of the economy are helping the city, but the true need is getting firms to the middle stage of development, he says.

“If the people coming off of those big companies can’t find anything to do and we don’t get our act together, getting the smaller companies nurtured and up the curve to a critical mass where they’re self-sustaining, then we’ve got a chasm,” Daddis says. “And you’ve lost your people and it’s very hard to get back.”

For Rochester’s next decade, the success rate may be based solely on timing, Daddis believes.

“The chasm is starting to open up,” he says. “We’ve got to get more of these companies off the curb quickly. There are a lot of people like me that came from Kodak and Xerox that are starting businesses and running businesses successfully, but the race I’m talking about is we have to get these small businesses started so we’re strong enough to create our own magnet for keeping people here. And (so that we) have our own marketplace for engineers and software folks that is self-sufficient so people want to stay.”

Everything Rochester needs already exists here. Change is necessary and possible, Daddis says.

“There is no white horse coming; you have to grow,” he says. “There’s no silver bullet. We have to grow our own, and the interesting thing is that it is possible. We have more work to do, but we do have the raw ingredients and we can win.”

George Daddis
Title: President and CEO, Omni-ID Corp.
Age: 53
Education: B.S. in electrical engineering, Cornell University, 1985; M.S. in applied mathematics, Cornell, 1987; Ph.D. in computer engineering, Cornell, 1990
Residence: Ontario, Wayne County
Family: Wife, Elizabeth; son, Tucker, 20
Hobbies: Playing piano, music composition, running, cycling, coding and woodworking
Quote: “Being a good CEO is not to measure how good you do things but how good the people are that remain around you.”

3/18/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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