Exclusive – Jim Wetekamp is the new BravoSolution Chief Executive Officer

This morning, procurement software firm BravoSolution will announce that Jim Wetekamp is their new Chief executive officer, taking over from Nader Sabbaghian, who has left the company.

In some sense it is a surprise; Sabbaghian has been with the firm for 14 years and is a well-known figure in the procurement world. He was one of the founding management team, initially as the marketing head, and eventually as global CEO. But he has a number of other business interests, and after a lengthy chunk of his career with the one firm, he feels it is time to pursue other ideas. Personally, I always enjoyed my interactions with him and wish him well in whatever he does next – it will be our loss if he does not come back to procurement at some point in his career.

Wetekamp is an unsurprising choice to take over – and a good one, in our view. He joined BravoSolution back in 2008 when they acquired Verticalnet, where he ran product development and consulting. He was appointed to the top team at BravoSolution on that acquisition, and has been SVP of Solution Strategy, with a core role covering product development and technology – the essential roadmap of where the firm’s products are heading. But in practice, his role has been far wider. He has played a central role in developing new markets for the firm, and to some extent has been an operational adjunct to Sabbaghian’s CEO.

Jason Busch, Spend Matters founder, has known Jim going back three companies and even tried to recruit him to FreeMarkets at one point. In his view, “he was the best products guy in the business back then – he obviously grew into much more as his career progressed.”

Our perception is that he is well respected in the firm and with clients – and not your typical big software company CEO, given his product depth and procurement/domain process understanding. In our view, he takes over the CEO position as the most knowledgeable Chief Exec in this market from a product/solution standpoint.

Based on the presentations he has given at the last two customer conferences in the UK, Jim has a clear and thoughtful view of what procurement generally and BravoSolution specifically need to do in order to succeed. Jason and I spoke to him yesterday and posed some questions – we will feature a longer report on that conversation shortly, but we will pick up on a couple of key points now.

One discussion was around the culture of the firm. Under Sabbaghian, their success (impressive, self-funded and consistent growth, a top ranking in analyst reports) has been driven in part by a culture of devolved, accountable and pretty entrepreneurial local management, and a very strong team spirit at working level. So we wanted to know if there was likely to be any change in strategy there.

“We’ve just had our global leadership meeting, and we spent a huge amount of that time talking about those issues – it is a key part of the BravoSolution DNA. We’ve always had a preference for promoting from within, and my appointment is recognition that the Board very much wants the BravoSolution culture to thrive”.

However, he does believe that there are opportunities for the firm to grow more “efficiently and effectively” – so he talked about making solutions and processes more “scalable across markets”. As a global firm close to the $100 million mark now, he wants to ensure there is “an effective organisation to serve the needs of the client, wherever they are”, which might mean a greater ability to take capability in one part of the BravoSolution organisation and apply it globally, for instance.

Sabbaghian played a central role in the development of the Tejari joint venture in the UAE, so we asked how that would be handled given his departure. “That will remain a high priority for us, but the Tejari Board will be making the decisions with respect to that operation. Nader has done an incredible job in the region, so I’m sure they will think very carefully about how to keep the momentum there”.

In terms of opportunities, he sees (unsurprisingly) more to go for in markets such as Australia, Asia, Mexico and Brazil, as well as “building on our success in the UK” to drive more penetration of the public sector in other countries. In terms of product, the upstream areas – covering aspects such as supplier development, planning and risk management - are high on his agenda. We’ll have more on this to follow too, and it will be interesting to see if internal development or acquisitions feed those expansion plans.

And on the note of acquisitions, there are always rumours around BravoSolution, given the firm is owned by an Italian industrial business rather than a software giant. Is this senior management change connected with something else going on, we wondered. “I’m sure there is always someone looking at us as a potential opportunity. But no, our current focus is on the continued growth of our business”.

Summing up, we believe the Board has made a sensible decision here, appointing the strong internal candidate – bringing an outsider in might well have disturbed the particular and valuable DNA that has served the firm well. Wetekamp is probably more structured by nature than his predecessor, as well as having real depth of product and technology understanding, so we may see that rubbing off into some positives for customers over the coming months. Our congratulations to him and we’ll have more from our interview with him shortly.

Of course, had FreeMarkets succeeded at recruiting him over a decade ago, he might be running the Ariba/procurement business inside SAP. But ERP’s loss is BravoSolution’s gain, no doubt!

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