Jeffrey P. Sudikoff, founder, chairman, and CEO of IDB Communications, was on the road promoting his company’s initial public offering, when somebody in Boston raised his hand and asked, “Mr. Sudikoff, will you be able to manage this company when you’re $50 million in sales?”
“I thought to myself, ‘No way,’ but I looked him right in the eye and replied, `Absolutely,'” Sudikoff remembers.
For a man who is worth millions, Sudikoff, 38, seems to be uneasy about his success at building a multimillion-dollar international communications corporation. “I’m still here,” he says. “Some days that amazes me.”
From practically nothing, Sudikoff built IDB into a $310 million global distributor of telephone, radio, and television transmissions services, and mobile satellite communications. Net income jumped 41 percent last year to $12 million.
“In the beginning, we capitalized our business with our personality and our openness, which was charming to our vendors,” Sudikoff quips, “and so they allowed us to string them out and capitalize our start-up on their receivables.”
Essentially, IDB’s business is pumping digits in the form of telephone calls, faxes, and computer data across international satellite and undersea fiber-optic cable pipelines. IDB has no retail operations; the communications it handles come from other carriers. “We are a carrier’s carrier; we’re in the wholesale business,” says Sudikoff, who is quick to point out that he doesn’t have an MBA and that he learned about finance on the street.
In size, with just under a two percent market share among international carriers, IDB ranks No. 4, right behind AT&T, MCI, and Sprint. “We used to be No. 6, but we bought Nos. 4 and 5,” Sudikoff says, chuckling. In 1992, Sudikoff used IDB stock to purchase WorldCom, a global long-distance provider owned by Swiss giant TeleColumbus. A year later, he purchased TRT Communications from Pacific Telecom.
Lessons learned from acquisitions?
“Don’t linger on the process,” Sudikoff says. “The first two acquisitions we did, we were smaller and newer than the companies we were purchasing. We forgot we were the acquirer, and that we had the plan. Lingering was costly.”
Last month, Sudikoff and IDB faced a crisis. News that the company’s auditors, Deloitte & Touche, resigned in a disagreement over first-quarter earnings detailed in an April 26 press release caused the stock price to plummet by half to close at $7 1/8 a share. A shareholder class-action lawsuit quickly followed, alleging that IDB senior managers made misleading financial statements. The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the dispute.
“We regret the impact on our shareholders of the resignation of our auditors,” Sudikoff says. “But Deloitte & Touche has not called into question its unqualified audit of the results from 1992 or 1993. These events don’t change the underlying fundamentals of our growing business.”
In its 10-Q form released in May, IDB adjusted first-quarter revenues; cost of sales; and sales, general, and administrative costs. Cost of sales was increased $2.1 million to $72.1 million to reflect adjustments to the original purchase price accounting for recent acquisitions made by the company, although first-quarter net income of $8.8 million-nearly double that of a year earlier-remained the same as in the initial press release. Sudikoff is a corporate mustang with a beard: He hates three-piece suits, enjoys doing things his way, and isn’t afraid to change directions. In fact, in May, he and a partner, Joseph M. Cohen, an IDB director, completed the private purchase of a 72 percent stake in the Los Angeles Kings hockey team for $60 million. Previous invitations to join the Young Presidents Organization politely have been refused; he says he’s too busy and doesn’t have enough time as it is for his wife and two young daughters. Employees at the company’s corporate headquarters in the Los Angeles suburb town of Culver City know the only reason they need to wear a coat and tie is if they are going to see a customer. “I think it would be hard to ever work for someone again,” Sudikoff says. “Ultimately, I would offend people in another organization. I would get the Ross Perot treatment. I don’t follow someone else’s drumbeat.”
In his college days at Dartmouth, Sudikoff enjoyed being a radio news reporter and director, tinkering behind the scenes with broadcasting and radio transmissions, gaining early recognition during the 1976 New Hampshire presidential race. That led to starting his own company, towing a transmitter around to rock concerts and sending signals to radio stations for live broadcasts.
IDB has been most aggressive in Europe, especially the United Kingdom and Germany, moving into other places where deregulation is occurring or imminent. But in the U.S. market, IDB still faces hurdles.
“We just don’t have the resources to put our own Candice Bergen on network television,” Sudikoff says, referring to Sprint’s television advertising. “So we have to focus our marketing energies and dollars on niches. We want to crawl around their ankles and kick them in the shins.”