Ownership switch in store for Midlothian-based digital marketing firm

Chris Leone, left, is taking over majority ownership of WebStrategies from founder Neal Lappe, who will remain an equity partner. (Photo by Kennedy Carey)

After working his way up the ranks for over a decade, Chris Leone can now add “business owner” to the string of titles he’s had at WebStrategies.

The president and CEO of the Midlothian-based digital marketing firm is set to take on majority ownership of the company through an agreement with founder Neal Lappe, who’s staying on as CFO and will remain an equity partner.

While Leone had previously had a stake in the business, he said the transition to majority ownership is part of a succession plan that he and Lappe have been working on for years. The agreement they signed Sept. 1 sets a timeline for the switch, the exact date of which Leone would not share. Other terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.

Lappe founded the agency in 2004 and brought on Leone, a former neighbor, four years later. Helping guide the firm beyond its web development roots, Leone soon took on a leadership role that resulted in a string of promotions and title changes, culminating in being named president of the company when it absorbed Midlothian peer Impression Marketing in 2016.

The combination created a 20-person firm that now stands at 25 employees. Leone, who took over for Lappe as CEO in January, said the firm’s services have likewise grown, with digital marketing services such as search engine optimization and pay-per-click marketing on top of the firm’s foundational web development work.

“As the company shifted its focus in the marketplace, I was always kind of leading that and building our teams around those capabilities,” Leone said. “It’s been the only job I’ve had out of school, 12 years in.”

A Midlothian High School alum, Leone, 35, studied business administration at the University of Delaware, where he received a bachelor’s degree from the university’s Lerner College of Business and Economics. After taking a year off between school and work, including a stint playing drums in a Japanese marching band, he returned to Richmond and started working for Lappe.

While he initially had set his sights on a larger agency in a bigger city, Leone said the financial crisis that coincided with his 2008 start with WebStrategies kept him rooted with the company and his hometown.

“I’ve become so invested in the people here and what it is that we’re doing together that I really didn’t want to go off and do anything else,” he said. “I wanted to stay a part of this. I really feel like our best days are ahead of us.”

Headquartered off Midlothian Turnpike at 1210 Sycamore Square Drive, WebStrategies’ client base leans heaviest in financial services and manufacturing, though it also provides digital marketing for local service companies across the country, Leone said.

Richmond-area clients include Virginia Green Lawn Care and home appliance manufacturer Hamilton Beach. Other clients listed on its website include Chartway Federal Credit Union in Virginia Beach, Greater Texas Credit Union and Smart Machine Technologies, a Virginia-based brewery equipment manufacturer.

Leone said he’s aiming to grow WebStrategies’ business by 50 percent in the next three years, both in staff count and annual revenue. He declined to share the company’s current revenue numbers, which Lappe said were at $2 million when it absorbed Impression Marketing in 2016.

WebStrategies joins another local marketing firm that changed its ownership structure in recent months. Earlier this summer, PR firm Big Spoon Co. joined forces with marketing firm Design by E, with respective heads Kevin Clay and Enrique Mendez splitting ownership under the Big Spoon flag.

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