Article Published: September 23, 2015
Article Published: September 23, 2015
By Michelle Szemanski, The Hardware Store
For Almost 40 years, a $1 billion business has been thriving quietly in Pittsburgh’s backyard. Black Box Network Services began manufacturing technology products in 1976, expanding into services and connecting more than 4,000 employees around satellite offices worldwide.
The company launched during a phase of computer technology where there weren’t well-developed standards like we have today. Something as simple as connecting printers was a complicated task in the 1970s and 1980s. Black Box quickly created a reputation for “making things work” and saving businesses money by avoiding redundant equipment.
This was also the age of catalogs, where people got their products from direct marketing in print for clothes, for home goods, for tech, for everything. Black Box launched its own catalog at just four pages in 1976, which grew to more than 1,000 pages at its peak. But Black Box didn’t stop at manufacturing products. In the 1980s and 1990s, the company diversified by acquiring businesses based in infrastructure like cabling and wireless networks, as well as on-site and remote IT services. The acquisitions helped Black Box go international, now doing business in 141 countries with the largest footprint in the industry.
While Black Box maintained its early success, growth posed its own set of challenges. The acquisitions corresponded to a changing technological landscape, as the late 1990s saw the rise of internet marketing and the fall of old-school print advertising. People logged on to shop rather than waiting for the mail and flipping through the catalogs. So the company evolved. First, Black Box focused on integrating its product manufacturing backbone with expanded service capabilities. Next, the company infused its ranks with fresh blood, drawing on the brightest employees from acquired companies and tapping new talent from local colleges like the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.
“Black Box was well known in the 1980s and 1990s, but in the 2000s the company changed gears and really put the foot on the gas. We’ve been here for a long time, and we’re still innovating and hiring all the time,” said Josh Whitney, VP of Technology Product Solutions and International Services. “There’s a huge amount of potential here with the tech culture and universities, and if we’re going to grow, we’re going to grow right here in Pittsburgh.”
The result goes far beyond the black boxes that graced the company’s original four-page catalog. Like the catalogs, schools are turning away from paper and print and starting to use modern technology like laptops, tablets and smartboards in the classroom. Every device needs to be stored and secured, beyond trusting students to use their lockers. Black Box provides mobile carts that keep laptops and tablets safe, charged and synced up, making it convenient to roll out devices as needed from day to day or room to room.
Black Box technology can also be found in diverse industries like media, health care, banking and manufacturing. In factory control rooms, broadcast media studios and radio stations, analysts rely on Black Box technology to manage video feeds across locations, monitor camera feeds, or control audio channels. In hospitals, Black Box provides cutting-edge distributed antenna system (DAS) services to ensure wireless coverage in dead zones throughout buildings.
In corporate offices, Black Box designs and deploys networks in collaboration with partners like Cisco. Black Box products and IT services condense the chaotic Internet of Things back into cohesive command centers, guarantee connectivity in the places that need it most and support complex networks for large businesses.
As Pittsburgh transformed itself into a hub for health care, education, banking and technology, Black Box changed right along with it, reinventing the business and mirroring the region’s resourcefulness and ingenuity.