Emptoris Selects Interim CEO, Launches Search for Permanent Leader

Earlier this afternoon, Emptoris announced that Bill Atkinson will take over as interim CEO of the organization. Bill is currently the Group President of Technology at Marlin Equity Partners, Emptoris' owner. In the press release, Emptoris suggests that he will focus on guiding "the company's search for a new CEO and working closely with the Emptoris leadership team". What will the agenda of the new CEO be after Atkinson steps down? If you read between the lines of Bill's hints in the release -- e.g., "The new CEO will inherit an organization primed for accelerated strategic acquisitions and organic growth ... " -- it suggests to me that on the surface, we can expect more of the same from Emptoris. However, I'm not so sure if this will be the case, and I believe we might see a slight evolution in strategy and a change in leadership focus, potentially for the better.

If I were in Emptoris' shoes -- or Marlin's for that matter -- I'd realize that the leadership approach and operational focus required to get a company from the $50 million revenue range to the $100 or $200 million range is very, very different than during the initial periods of growth in a company's life. Right now, Emptoris needs to focus on bringing in leadership with significant operational and sales-driven experience. It is extremely rare that a company leader has what it takes to start an organization and oversee its growth to nine figures in revenue. The skill sets are almost entirely different, if not in conflict with each other.

Moreover, I'd focus on leveraging my core assets and strength (e.g., differentiation on organic product development and engineering) than simply trying to broaden the pie through additional acquisitions. Acquisitions are always risky and can distract from the core. To date, at least some of Emptoris' acquisitions were less than fully successful initially from an operational and development integration perspective. Which is par for the course with 90% of software acquisitions. Trust me on this -- I have the scars to prove it. It's very easy for "strategic acquisitions" to become unstrategic nightmares.

In my view, the ultimate CEO should focus on scaling the operations of the business and building out an expanded services ecosystem -- both internal and external -- to help even out revenue ups and downs ahead of finding organizations to gobble up. But perhaps above all, the yet-to-be determined leader should focus on continuing to drive the type of core supply management innovation that Emptoris is known for.

If Marlin thinks Emptoris can "roll-up" its way to an IPO or a large buy-out while keeping their core set of customers happy and signing checks, they've got something coming to them unless they can bring a new level of operational effectiveness and competency around acquisition integration (who knows -- maybe this will be Bill's legacy). Moreover, Marlin and Emptoris' CEO must recognize that Emptoris fundamentally is an innovation play and should optimize the executive team around scaling their commercial efforts and, most important, research and development, which will play to their true competitive advantage in the market.

Jason Busch

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