Situated in an unassuming office park in the Nashville suburbs, the building that houses the headquarters of Atema Partners and AP Live doesn’t look like the sort of place where businesses ranging from music festivals to pharmaceutical companies would come to ensure their events’ audiovisual needs are met. But that’s exactly what happens here every day. Although there are two distinct companies working here – Atema Partners specializes in corporate audiovisual work, while AP Live focuses on LED displays for concerts, festivals, and events – they’re both headed up by 1996 Full Sail grad Tom Atema, who is the President and CEO of the two companies.
And today, as we walk through the well-lit and meticulously organized warehouse area of the building, Tom is particularly proud of the fact that the LED displays he’s demonstrating are about to be packed up and shipped to Brazil for use in the 2016 Olympic Games.
“We’re scheduled to [provide] LED walls for the Rowing, Beach Volleyball, Swimming, and Archery events,” he says. “They’ll be high-definition, 8mm LED walls in various sizes, but all should be 4K HD.”
Thus, the small crew on hand is hard at work, testing and re-testing each individual LED panel and meticulously packing them into some astonishingly neat and clean road cases. As anyone who’s witnessed the arduous process of gear load-in can attest, road cases take quite a beating, but AP Live’s cases are tidy, beautiful, and clearly well-kept. And that’s no accident.
“We want to provide a premier experience and that starts with our clients getting clean cases,” Tom says. ” I do feel it’s important to always have neat, clean, professional-looking cases, in addition to our gear. That demonstrates – even in a small way – the attention to detail we provide. People see the difference.”
This attention to detail is just one way that Tom has differentiated his businesses, but it may be the most important. He discovered early on in his career that technical expertise is necessary and quality creative work is vital, but the thing that has most driven him as he’s grown his companies is a focus on client relations.
“It’s a 100% client-based, 100% relational-based business. You just don’t go out and [find clients] just by picking up the phone [and cold-calling]. It’s very relational and your reputation is important,” he says. “I’m just not interested in: ‘How much can I get out of this meeting or event?’ It’s all about: ‘How can we help you?’
“If you can really get your clients to trust you, they’re going to trust what you do, they’re going to trust you to do the right thing,” he continues. “It goes back to why you’re doing what you’re doing. I think that people can sniff out, especially long-term, if you’re just in it for the money or if you really want to help them. The people that we hire and the environment that we create, both on the job site and off, all point to helping our clients communicate their message.”
It’s that client-focused philosophy that has allowed Tom to easily move between the very different customer bases of the buttoned-down corporate audiovisual world – for which Atema Partners produces presentations for many different pharmaceutical companies – and the jeans-and-t-shirt crowd that requires the LED display services that AP Live provides.
“Our mission statement around here is to use technology to help our clients communicate their message,” says Tom. “When I was looking for a way to diversify the company, [the idea of LED displays] came across my plate. and that was so different from what we have been doing globally for seven years but then I thought, ‘Oh, that’s using technology to communicate our clients’ message, it’s just not corporate.’ So it fit in to our mission statement.
“It was a natural fit, but it’s totally different. Different clientele, different billing system. They pay in wads of cash, these festivals,” he laughs. “My Controller was like, ‘Wait a minute. Why is there a big stack of hundred dollar bills on my desk?'”