Dallas Business Journal: Tech firm with nearly 1,900 employees gets new CEO as sector undergoes ‘fundamental shift’

Dave Abel is ready for his new position as CEO – even if it’s not an easy task.

The veteran of IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers is taking the role at Aventiv Technologies, a Carrollton-based company that’s been serving prisons with telecommunications options and other tech. Now, that market is changing as the focus shifts to lower recidivism rates and other improvements, he said.

“We are part of an industry that is making a fundamental shift,” Abel said in an interview. “An expansion of the company and a charter mission to address large, societal problems is always very difficult. I am completely confident that we are up to the challenge of doing so, and I really look forward to what we’re going to do.”

Abel has been at the company since last year, serving as president. Aventiv has nearly 1,900 workers, including about 1,000 in the Dallas area.

It also comes after the organization underwent a restructuring to emphasize new businesses that look beyond the prison market alone. Aventiv Technologies launched in October to reflect the company’s progression with distinct business lines for government payments, AllPaid, and corrections services, Securus Technologies, which includes telecommunications options and JPay, a money-transfer feature.

Abel replaces Bob Pickens, who was looking to bring in a successor, he said. Pickens is still acting in an advisory capacity for the new leader.

With the announcement, Securus pledged to invest at least $40 million this year in facility communication infrastructure for public safety and community needs. The company will devote at least $30 million to fund innovations in the development of secure products.

Abel spoke with the Dallas Business Journal about his plans and the reasons behind his move to the company:

What drew you this company?

What attracted me here is the mission. Aventiv is a company focused on solving a big societal problem through a combination of the public and private sectors. Most of my career both in the United States and overseas has been based in helping public sector entities solve problems by using private sector technology. There are few places with as clear a focus or as a good mission as Aventiv to be able to do that. It was a no-brainer for me.

In the announcement of your appointment, you talked about past criticism that you were addressing. Can you talk about more about that?

The industry we serve – through Securus – is going through a significant change. The values that society is looking for from the corrections industry are changing. There is a greater focus on outcomes, on reduction of recidivism and of a more successful reintroduction of people into society. There is an expectation that corrections is changing from a punitive model to a rehabilitative model.

As such, a lot of companies that participate in this industry are part of the criticism of the industry in its whole. We specifically have faced criticism for transparency of pricing and the fact that the pricing for the telecommunications services that we provide are different the pricing for telecommunications outside of the incarceration environment.

Has that been improving?

The company has made a lot of progress over the past couple of years in making the pricing more transparent and in addressing the structure of pricing overall. (That includes) having reduced the cost of a communications connection – a telephone call in our network – over the last three years by approximately 30 percent. There’s a been a lot of work on this. What we announced is the acceleration of those activities and a clear focus on our continued transformation, not only from a pricing perspective but in our continuation in becoming a multi-faceted technology company.

What’s the market opportunity?

There is a significant opportunity to make easier and less expensive the ability for consumers and the government to manage payments. In our restructuring, we branded and set up a company called AllPay with the specific mission not just in the corrections space, but across everywhere there is a government to consumer money-exchange relationship. This is an opportunity to expand those services outside of our current industry.

The second piece is we continue the transformation of Securus from a telecommunications company to a broad-based technology company. We’ve rolled out products that provide messaging, e-mail-type products for incarcerated individuals. We’ve rolled out video-connect products that augment in-person visits. We’ve rolled out entertainment and media programs on tablets. Most importantly, we’ve rolled out education programs that allow a motivated incarcerated individual tools and capabilities to be able to increase their likelihood of a successful exit through a skill development and education. That’s an area we’re going to be making continued significant investments.

What are your thoughts on employee hiring?

Making the transformation that we are making requires an influx of different skills than we have at the company. We are perfectly placed in Dallas-Fort Worth. The growth of technology skills here over the last couple of years makes this the perfect place.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Dallas Business Journal
By Brian Womack