Demographically speaking, I am (among other things) a baby-boomer. I grew up in a second-generation immigrant family, in a once-prominent manufacturing city in Connecticut (where — by then — the national trends of de-industrialization were much in evidence). Both of my parents worked in services: my father was a firefighter, and my mother worked in a retail jewelry business. From there, I went on to witness and participate in the amazing wave of changes brought on by digital technologies and the emergence of an entirely new sector of services in the US and world economy (where I have worked in a variety of large. mid-sized, and small software, information services, and multi-sided platform businesses).
THE GRINDING EIGHTIES
After studying liberal arts in college, I set my sights on a graduate program that would allow me to rapidly acquire a broad set of skills and knowledge that could be applied professionally in the emerging digitally driven economy. Being discouraged by what I saw in most MBA programs of the time, in the early eighties, I opted to join a master of sciences management program (within what is now Heinz College) at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, PA.
My time at CMU turned out to be a foundation-setting experience. Not only was there an emphasis on quantitative analysis training (economics, finance, statistics, OR/decision analysis, etc.), there were also strict requirements to leverage team problem-solving and work on real-world problems (e.g., one of my team projects was a quantitative study of the solvency of institutions in Pennsylvania savings and loan industry which was performed for state regulatory board). At CMU, there was forward-looking recognition of the importance of learning and using information technology (as problem-solving and communication tools) as well as an emphasis on crossing disciplinary boundaries through interdisciplinary team work and taking courses in other schools and colleges (consequently, I did all my work in corporate finance in the GSIA (now Tepper School) and some of my economics studies in the School of Engineering).
After first working as a Statistical Economist with a specialized consulting firm in Washington DC (where I worked on building large-scale micro-simulation models and conducting other economic forecasting), I became interested in what was happening in the turbulent world of telecommunications (approximately at the time of the AT&T Antitrust Divestiture Decree). At that time, I joined an international messaging/data telecommunications company, called TRT Communications, where I was responsible for creating a traffic and revenue analysis, forecasting, and decision support function. From there, I moved on to a job as Network Planner for an inter-lata communications company (a Ford Aerospace subsidiary) that was converting its satellite backbone network to newly available, leaseable fiber-optic facilities.
By then, in the midst of a growing wave of industry consolidation among small to mid-sized telecommunications companies, I decided to turn down a network planning job offer from (what was then called) US Sprint and accept an offer to join the financial organization of the Directory/Yellow Pages subsidiary of Pacific Bell/Pacific Telesis in San Francisco. This decision took me out of working directly in telecommunication carrier businesses and exposed me to finance functions and to a range of different types of businesses and business models (a service extension to a carrier platform, an entity in a content publishing supply chain, a multi-sided advertising platform business, an evolving information services provider, etc.). My first job was that of an Internal Consultant providing the CFO with analysis and business cases for IT investments across the subsidiary. That work included business planning for a major project to reengineer the entire enterprise systems infrastructure of the business, and I soon became the Project Financial Controller for the main duration of the project and then eventually the Finance Manager of the Directory/Yellow Pages IT organization. At that time, I also became the subsidiary representative on the Pacific Telesis Corporate Strategy Team evaluating new “information services business directions” for the company.
THE ROARING NINETIES
At the beginning of the nineties, there was still no consumer internet (just DARPANET/NSF Network)–there was packet switching, modems, and “dedicated data lines,” 56KBS, T1s, and DS-3s; analog cell phones were just becoming ubiquitous; there were America Online and Prodigy, online banking was becoming visible; data and information was starting to flow, and the term “information services” had become common coinage.
It was at this time that I decided to join ADP’s third largest subsidiary, the (insurance) Claims Solutions Group (CSG), as a Senior Director of Strategic Business Development. CSG was a multi-sided platform business that was positioned in the middle of the insurance (mainly automotive) claims processing industry value chain. Reporting to the VP of Strategy and Product Development and the CEO, my job was to work on new initiatives to enhance/extend or expand the core business, and I worked on a number of different projects and in a number of different areas. These projects included international expansion of the core auto claims business, supply chain extensions of the business in after-market and salvage parts as well as collision repair shops, and adjacent market extension of the business into homeowner property claims processing. The projects required that I execute my work within and across the domains of product strategy, business-partner development, product management and software product development, and corporate development/M&A.
Toward the mid-nineties, I decided to start my own product strategy and product management consulting business called ProSys, with ADP being my first client. I eventually joined forces with a small software development outsourcer to form ProSys LLC, a specialized “software product development outsourcing” company. By 1996, ProSys LLC was building an off-shore software team in Russia and was in the process of merging with one of its customers to form RSI International, the only provider of Windows-based, client-server software solutions for credit collections and recovery processes. This business, where I served as VP of Strategy and Product Management, tripled in size by 1999, at which time it was acquired by the world credit-collections/recovery software industry leader, UK-based London Bridge Software, where I remained on board until mid 2000.
FRM Y2K – 2 – NOW (POST-INTERNET) TIME
After a stint on sabbatical to be with my family, I joined Denver-based NAREX, Inc., a struggling start-up focused on analytic modeling and decisioning solutions for the credit-collections/recovery software industry My role there as VP of Product Strategy and Product Management was focused on rationalizing the existing custom solution offerings and developing and implementing a new product roadmap to pursue high-potential markets and more standardized SaaS-based product offerings (including a multi-sided platform offering that functioned as an exchange between credit grantors, collection agencies and recovery firms, and other ecosystem players). In mid-2003, NAREX’s product IP and customer assets were acquired by and consolidated into credit analytics industry leader Fair Isaac (FICO) and my time with NAREX and my multi-year espisode with the credit collections-recovery industry came to close.
Over the next four years (the heady years of the real estate boom), I participated as an investor and directly as an active principal in a number of residential real estate development ventures and business activities. In the end, there had been some notable successes, but even these successes were wiped-out in the down-draft of the eventual real estate crash. And while I learned a great deal about the residential real estate services industry, more than anything, I learned the importance knowing the knowledge, uncertainty and risk “outer-limits” across which one should not stray in business. The price was a high one to pay, I was handed my hat, but I did learn the lesson well.
In 2007, I joined an established and successful niche software business in the supply chain, shipping, TMS software space (Varsity Logistics) As Senior Director of Strategy, Marketing, and Partnerships, my first job was to support the CEO and the board/investors in assessing the strategic situation and options of the business, given changing market, competitive, and technology conditions. With the investors looking to exit, my work turned to support a strategy that anticipated the sale of the business (this included revamping marketing and channel partner programs to maximize growth and lead the development of extended product offerings with new product partners). In early 2008, Varsity was acquired by Constellation Software, a Toronto-based business aggregator of vertical-market, traditional-licensed software companies. I remained with Varsity in my prior role, which soon expanded into a role that encompassed supporting new corporate development/M&A efforts and managing marketing for two other Constellation businesses (one an ERP software company focused on discrete to-order manufacturing and the other a software solution business serving the equipment rental industry).
In late 2009, I decided to move from the Constellation software conglomerate and join, Santa Clara, CA-based ClearBenefits, a small SaaS software and service solutions business in the expansive, complex, and changing industry encompassing the production, distribution, consumption of employee benefits. ClearBenefits was seeking ways to restructure and reposition itself to continue its successful pattern of growth in a changing and more and more competitive and innovating market (one with potential–though complicated–opportunities for a multi-sided platform business model). I worked directly with founder and CEO in a number of initiatives toward this end of resetting strategy and business direction, until it became clear in March 2011 that the company’s already heavily-utilized working capital needed to be shifted away from analysis and planning activities and fully concentrated and focused to actual engineering execution activities and software development. For me, that experience in that industry, under conditions of extraordinary change (technology, regulatory, behavioral, benefit product innovations, an expanding ecosystem, etc.) truly galvanized my interest in analyzing and planning modern platform businesses.
For much of 2010, after leaving ClearBenefits, I worked on several consulting assignments–the most important of which was assisting a small Berkeley-based company switch tracks to a new strategic direction (from a mature software application e-commerce business model to an innovative model for delivering software localization).
In late 2011, I decided to join Mountain View-based SIA as a Research Analyst, focusing on staffing industry evolution, contingent workforce platforms, and talent acquisition processes and technologies. My work at SIA represents a very exciting opportunity to focus on a changing and expanding industry/ecosystem, many instances of platform formation, and emerging service concepts such as crowdsourcing and (what I am calling) “talent-as-a-service.” It also represents a very welcome shift to work, outside management as a full-time researcher and analyst, with a great organization and a wonderful, supportive group of exceptional people.
Q: WHAT’S NEXT? A: “HELPING BUSINESSES RETHINK THEIR FUTURE”
This is a time in which I am rediscovering the state-of-art in a number of rapidly changing fields, including systematic understanding of platform business models as well as business architecture and service design disciplines. And I am currently very excited about what is happening in the evolution of services and platform businesses, given the emergence of mobile and cloud technologies, et al. It is in the nexus of services, platform businesses, and technologies where I most desire to apply my extensive and rich experience, knowledge and skills. My interest at this stage of my career is to leverage my unique experience and skills in detailed analysis of markets and industries, business and product strategy, and product management (product roadmapping, business architecture, and service design), and business and corporate development. I have come a long way, and I am very much looking forward to contributing to the development of new business and customer value through new service delivery models.