Pathway Productions gets new owner, new CEO

Pathway Productions, one of the city’s highest-profile video production firms, has a new owner, a new CEO and a new plan to blaze a trail to prosperity.

Michael Husain, who founded the company from his basement in 1996, earlier this year quietly sold a majority stake to Mays Chemical Co. President William Mays, who in turn named Jerald Harkness the new CEO. Husain said his ownership stake is still being worked out. Sources close to the company said Mays–who did not return calls seeking comment–is likely to take full control.

Harkness has no ownership stake.

"I was never asked, nor did I really want an ownership stake," he said.

Over its first decade, Husain built the video production and Web development firm into a small, but creative powerhouse, with 25 employees and more than $6 million in annual revenue. Pathway’s client list under Husain included cable channels A&E, VH-1, ESPN and Discovery Channel and the NCAA, Butler University, and Eli Lilly and Co. Inc.

But over the last few years, the company has scaled back. Clients complained that phone calls went unanswered and projects were slow to be completed.

"They have been having a challenge for quite a while," said Bruce Bryant, Indianapolis Ad Club past president and founder of locally based Promotus Advertising. "Our clients who worked with Pathway have been very unhappy. Now we hear Bill Mays is coming in with a whole lot of money and is fixing things. We’ll have to wait and see."

Harkness, 39, said the company has stabilized and has plans for steady growth.

"The company is getting on solid financial footing," said Harkness, whose father of the same name is an Anderson sporting goods store owner and former Indiana Pacer and sports broadcaster. "In the next six to nine months, we hope to be in a much more stable position than we are right now."

Getting to that point will mean edging out the competition. There is no shortage of video and Web production firms locally or nationally. Several local companies, including Innovative Edit, Scofield Editorial and Creative Street Media Group, have distinguished themselves in the sector.

Harkness refused to divulge Pathway’s revenue, but said the company is down to nine full-time employees. Husain, 43, who still works with the firm as an independent contractor, said the company is not–and never has been–in danger of going out of business.

"The company is in good shape," he said.

Husain said he decided to seek a new owner for the firm to put it in a better growth position and so he could concentrate on creative projects.

"I’m trying to do what I do very well," Husain said. "The creative side is my gift. Bill Mays has an excellent reputation and is a brilliant businessman. I believe he is going to take Pathway in a strong, positive direction."

Mays will be relied on to provide business strategy, while Harkness provides production insight and day-to-day oversight. Harkness said the company will strive to grow by becoming more than a hired gun in the video production industry.

Part of the shift will be to do more original work and to rekindle the company’s Web development and new media business.

"We’re looking to get our own products in the marketplace through film festivals, networks, educational sales, DVD sales and Internet rights fees," Harkness said.

But he added that another part of the shift involves reining in production costs.

"The challenge is blending great creative talent while having the discipline of the business principles Bill Mays brings," Harkness said. "The creativity has to fall within the budget and margins we have to make on each project to move this company forward."

Promotus’ Bryant applauds Pathway’s efforts, but questions Harkness’ and Mays’ experience in this arena.

"Bill Mays has no connection to this industry, and while Jerald is a smart, young man, he’s not a seasoned veteran," Bryant said.

Pathway’s path to Mays started when Husain hired Harkness in July 2007 to work on a documentary for the NCAA. That documentary, which chronicles the Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball program, will debut at this month’s Heartland Film Festival.

Harkness has a background in production, but was most recently partnership development manager for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. Husain said he hired Harkness for his production abilities.

"I was quite happy doing that," said Harkness, who first worked for Pathway in the late 1990s as an independent producer on ESPN Sports Century and other projects.

When Husain began talking about scaling back his management and ownership responsibilities to focus on the creative side, Harkness recommended he talk to Mays, who founded Mays Chemical Co. in 1980 and built it into a specialty chemical company with more than $165 million in annual revenue.

"It wasn’t my say alone that swayed Bill Mays into taking an ownership stake, but I did go to Bill and say there are some things we could work on in the future to really make us stand out, and make us a viable company," he said.

Harkness, who graduated from Indiana University in 1991 with a sociology major and film studies minor, met Mays in 1992 during the production of his first professional documentary, "Steppin." Harkness worked with Mays on a number of projects following that one, including a documentary on the first 100 years of The Indianapolis Recorder, a local newspaper Mays owns. In the early to mid-1990s, Harkness owned and operated a small production house called Visionary Productions.

Since hiring him more than a year ago, Husain said, he could see Harkness was ready to take over leadership of the company.

"Jerald is a great people person, and is very good at making industry contacts," Husain said. "I feel very good about handing over the reins to Jerald."

With Mays’ backing, Harkness has little doubt he can return Pathway to its former glory.

While Harkness will have free access to Mays, he doesn’t expect the new owner to micro-manage the firm.

"Bill Mays is not a look-over-your-shoulder type of guy," Harkness said. "He is always there for support, advice and to provide business contacts, but he expects us to carry this."

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