Joel Rollins has been a staple at rAVe [Publications] for years. You’ve read his columns, you’ve heard his voice on rAVe RADIO, and you’ve seen his face in our booth at InfoComm and ISE. He’s the epitome of an AV industry veteran. He embodies all that an AV veteran should be.
But, do you know the history behind the man, the myth, and the legend? So often we realize that we, in fact, know so little about a man that we feel we know so much about.
Joel grew up in Connecticut as the oldest of four children. He always had a fascination for technology. Growing up, in school he was the president of the AV club, editor of the school newspaper and most importantly, the class photographer.
“My high school had one of the first color capable darkrooms in the state,” said Joel. “[In there] I hid from classes, tutored in photography, and since the darkroom had an outside entrance to go in — I’d turn on the “in use” light and sneak out the side door. So, I had my own version of an open campus.”
After graduation, Joel while tried to remain a part-time student, he worked his way up through the culinary departments of a couple of hotels. Eventually, he wound up as the banquet manage at the Hilton hotel in Dayton, Ohio.
“As the banquet manager, all the hotel’s meeting rooms were my responsibility,” he explained. “And, among the duties that came with managing the meeting rooms, I worked with the hotel’s AV supplier. That changed my life forever.
“At the time, Terry Friesenborg, now chief global officer of InfoComm, had just started an AV rental department at Audio Visual Systems (AVS) in Dayton. He approached me about the hotel’s audiovisual rental contract, which had for years been with the company he had previously worked for, Twyman Films. I was impressed with Terry and his whole crew and became pretty enthusiastic about selling shows in our ballrooms as it gave me a chance to work with them,” Joel continued.
“Terry had joked in the past that he later approached me to become the company’s first rental sales and marketing manager in order to get me under control and stop me from selling shows that were too big for the space [I was managing] that was available. But, having been a photography and AV enthusiast growing up, I was dazzled by the idea that people actually got paid to do this.”
And today, Joel still is.
Those experiences working at the Hilton and with Terry gave Joel opportunities and lessons that changed his life and, ultimately, his path through the AV industry. Joel learned that the real reason that Terry had initially hired him was because Joel could write well.
“Terry had been tasked by InfoComm, then called ICIA, to develop a course in AV for rental departments,” Joel said. “As usual, with all of us who teach and have active roles in the industry, work kept him from getting to it until we were just a couple of weeks out from the annual Institute for Professional Development to be held in Bloomington, Indiana.
“Terry and I and a couple of other associates from AVS literally holed up in my living room with a typewriter and flip chart pages for several days. In that time, led by Terry, we developed the outline, and then the manual, that eventually became the course ‘Fundamentals of Rental Operations,’ which became a seed course for several other Institute courses. Parts of that course can still be seen in industry training manuals decades later.”
Developing that course eventually led Joel to teaching Institute with Terry his very first year in the AV industry. Over the next 15 years or so, Joel would continue teaching for InfoComm several times a year and continue to develop other week-long courses. All of this led Joel to be selected as InfoComm’s Educator of the Year in 2001.
But why did Joel spend so many years of his life and so much time devoted to training?
“Because I have gotten to spend 20 years associating with some of the most dynamic and influential people in the business,” said Joel. “At the time, the rental industry and the audiovisual industry were going through huge changes in technology, which led a bunch of us to spend a lot of time together teaching and talking about ideas.
“Among those people were Gary Kayye, Duffy Wilbert, Andre Lejeune, Jim Smith, Scott Wills, Scott Sharer, Bill Sharer — the list could go on forever, and would include lots of people who have changed our industry. These people have taught me more, and bailed me out more, then I could ever say, and I have done the same for them. So, getting involved in teaching (and getting involved in your industry association) does a lot more for you than getting your plaque on the wall.”
The other change that was going on in the AV industry at the time was the change from film-based technologies to data protection. It put Joel in the right place at the right time once again, and led him to develop a number of courses in data protection technology.
It also led him to name his dog Barco. True story.
“After several years at AVS, I was approached by the Southam Audio Visual Group in Canada to become their National Staging Manager,” recalled Joel. “In Toronto, I progressed from National Staging Manager to Director of Sales and Marketing and eventually to Chief Operating Officer, when the company was sold to Adcom, the nation’s largest supplier of videoconferencing.
“I spent five years in Canada, working with some of the best people I have ever worked with, staging events like the Microsoft’s Global Summit and Comdex Canada. I owe a debt of gratitude to all of my Canadian friends who supported me and taught me a lot.”
Once he left Adcom, Joel went on to become the director of training at Extron and did a lot of work with his longtime friend Gary Kayye on the early versions of the Extron School.
From Extron, Joel was given the opportunity to get back into the rental and staging sector of AV by becoming the general manager of the Riverview Systems Group in San Jose, California. He was there in Silicon Valley during the late 1990s into 2001 during the enormous growth in the PC world and in the Internet.
Joel calls it a “right place at the right time” opportunity.
During this time, Joel continued to write. He contributed a monthly column in Rental and Staging Systems Magazine on iMag and he kept a close business association with Gary Kayye, helping Gary develop the Rental and Staging newsletter for rAVe [Publications].
“[I love] working with this rAVe group, and especially with Gary. It is an enormously interesting portion of my life,” said Joel. “rAVe is an organization where new ideas occur every day. I am constantly blown away by rAVe’s ability to cover and analyze our industry.”
After spending many years on the road with Riverview, Joel decided it was time to settle down and pursue what he loved — writing. He left California and returned to Connecticut and went to work with longtime friends Bev and Everett Hall.
“I eventually became a partner and general manager in Everett Hall Associated Incorporated, one of the nation’s oldest audiovisual firms,” said Joel. “We are a design build firm, heavily focused on videoconferencing and distance communications. We serve New York area clients and clients worldwide. Working with this crew is an experience every single day, and we have done projects too different and numerous to even begin to mention. From boardrooms, to national networks, to virtual revolving restaurants and casino attractions.”
Through all of his immense and vast experiences in the industry, Joel has maintained his love of writing and his longtime passion and interest in photography. He spends a lot of time on wildlife photography, in particular. Joel loves the feeling of being in a place where cell phones don’t reach and feeling the focus of lying in wait for whatever animal he happens to be “stalking at the time.”
All in all, Joel is one of a kind. His passion for the industry and passion for education is contagious. He’s dedicated, hard-working, and truly an example we should all strive to emulate.