In 1990, when Joseph Thomas launched his technology company in a room over the garage of his Irmo home, cellphones were only beginning to emerge, most people didn’t have an email address and the Nintendo Entertainment System was the latest in gaming.
Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, Thomas has grown that technology company – A3 Communications – into one of the fastest-growing in the nation, providing services such as video surveillance, telecommunications and network infrastructure. The firm was ranked this fall as America’s fourth-fastest-growing systems integrator by SD&I Magazine, an industry publication.
Working alongside Thomas, 63, a 1980 graduate of the University of South Carolina’s master electrical engineering program, is his son Brian, 35, A3’s president since 2012. Brian’s role with the company began in 2006 when he was vice president of sales. Before Brian Thomas’ career with A3 Communications began, he served in the Marine Corps, but he knew from a very young age that he wanted to be an entrepreneur like his father.
“I was exposed to business and entrepreneurship at a very young age. My father started out as an engineer working for some fairly large corporations and then made the decision that he wanted to be in business for himself,” Brian Thomas said. “It was very interesting at a very young age to watch that transition and frankly, inspiring. It inspired me for my future to be very involved in business and have an appreciation for the hard work it takes to build a business from scratch.”
Starting in Irmo, Joseph Thomas acquired a small company that would become A3 Communications. Brian said his father’s biggest challenge was building relationships with the previous company’s clients, making sure that the original clientele continued with the company.
“He came into a culture that he didn’t really build so he had to basically restructure the organization and make sure that we retained the customers and at the same time have a new customer base,” Brian Thomas said.
As the company has grown, so have its accounts. A3 Communications previously focused its services on small-to-medium business, but it is now working with larger organizations, such as government and educational accounts.
A3, along with several partners, recently installed 1,600 cameras in 27 K-12 schools in the Pickens County School District. The schools now have the highest level of coverage in video surveillance and archived recordings to look into incidents from daily safety to operational issues.
Inc. magazine annually puts together Inc. 5000, a list of the 5,000 fastest-growing privately owned companies in America. The program is in its 33rd year and A3 Communications has been recognized in back-to-back years.
From 2013 to 2014, A3 rose 2,794 spots and sits at the 1,435th ranking in this year’s Inc. 5000. That ranking is good for 18th in the state of South Carolina. The company has seen a 297 percent sales growth in a three-year period.
“The great thing about us is that we are a family-owned, privately owned business and with that, it gives us the ability to change very quickly and adapt to where our customers demand,” Brian Thomas said. “We have a very good heartbeat on the marketplace.”
The company is looking to expand throughout the Southeast, Brian Thomas said.
Most recently, the firm has opened a new branch in Charlotte and expanded its headquarters office on Kinley Road in Irmo to accommodate a growing staff. The company also has three other locations in Charleston, Greenville and Atlanta and is now an electrical contractor provider in South Carolina with a license for electrical services in North Carolina coming in the near future.
“We’ve built a very strong brand. We’ve built a very strong reputation in the marketplace. With that comes growth,” Brian Thomas said.
He said the growth rankings “(mean) a lot to our company and a lot to our team because it proves that we can do this and that we’ve done it very well.”