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CEO Spotlight: Robert Farrell, Metastorm Inc.
By Angel Mehta, Managing Director, Sterling-Hoffman Executive Search
Business Process Management was one of the most hyped segments of the enterprise software world only a few years ago, bringing with it as big a vision for transformation as had ever been seen by corporate IT. But despite the wave of consolidation over the last 2 years, no one vendor has yet emerged as a leader - which is why Robert Farrell, leader of Metastorm, is so excited. Angel Mehta, Managing Director of Sterling-Hoffman, chats with Robert about his journey from shell fisherman to software CEO, and what Metastorm is doing to fix one of the biggest problems in IT.
Angel Mehta: What was the first job you remember having?
Robert Farrell: I got married at a very young age, and went to work right out of high school while attending college in the evenings. I was a commercial shell fisherman off the eastern part of Long Island, and it was a great way to make good cash. Cash being the operative word - because going to school and running a family at the same time isn't cheap.
Angel Mehta: Were there any early signs, that you could recall, that might have pointed to the fact that you would eventually become a CEO?
Robert Farrell: I can't really point to any specific memory from school days that made me feel like I wanted to be a "CEO", but I'll tell you that during my entire life I never felt comfortable in a job that I wasn't able to influence the entire business. I'll give you an example: This may sound a bit goofy, but do you remember the 'Key Club" in high school?
Angel Mehta: No… I remember Kiwanis, though…
Robert Farrell: Right - well, 'Key Club" is sort of like the Kiwanis or the Lions Club of high school. I'll never forget that when I was a sophomore in high school, we did a food drive and the President of the Key Club at the time was so inflexible with what he would let us do. He just refused to let us go out and collect as much food as we could. I remember being so frustrated that I couldn't take action on ideas that were no-brainers. I became President the next year and rolled out some new and easy techniques to collect more food… we put people in front of all the grocery stores in town and collected boxes and boxes of food for the poor. Not having to ask anybody and being able to just do the right thing was very fulfilling.
Angel Mehta: Robert, I understand after a stint at American Express and E.F. Hutton, you started your own company? What was behind the decision and why did you choose to do that instead of just moving into another corporate role?
Robert Farrell: After some time at AMEX, I went to E.F. Hutton and got involved in the backoffice side of business. E.F. Hutton got bought out by Lehman and I had the opportunity to take a risk (financially) on starting my own company. I knew from having worked at AMEX and E.F. Hutton that there was a need to bridge the gap between business people in the field and IT people in the backoffice. Business people needed to find ways to use information to deliver better customer service, take advantage of latent revenue opportunities, etc., whereas IT people needed to house the information in a way that was conducive to transactions. Nobody called it business process management or enterprise application integration at the time, but it was the same problem.
Angel Mehta: What were some of the issues you remember struggling with as an entrepreneur for the first time?
Robert Farrell: Cash. Every entrepreneur in the world has the same problem. This was a company that was started without any venture capital or anything remotely close.
I financed it by not paying myself and using credit cards for every purchase. I remember hiring four people and knowing that by the time they arrived in two weeks, I was going to have to figure out a way to buy a computer for each of them, which had nothing to do with the value proposition of the business or strength of the service we were offering. Spending money on something like that was painful - I just didn't have the cash. But somehow, we pulled it off and got those people their PCs and we did about a million dollars in revenue in our first year. For me, that was a huge accomplishment even though I wasn't able to pay myself anything. So back to tough issues early on… growing with limited capital… getting people to take you seriously when you're just a small company… it was tough.
Angel Mehta: What would you have done differently, looking back on it with the experience you've gained over the last 15 years?
Robert Farrell: I would have gone out and got some money. But it's almost irrelevant to say that, because today, I actually have the credibility and track record to go out and get money. Even had I wanted to go get money back then, I'm not sure anyone would've given it to us…But I would have tried.
Angel Mehta: Your customers financed the business, basically… I've heard from a lot of great entrepreneurs that it's the best way to go, if/when you can actually make it work. Any regrets?
Robert Farrell: Selling it. Yes, we got the company up to a meaningful level of revenue but it wasn't anything truly great. Given a second chance, I think I would've held on and tried to expand, rather than selling out.
Angel Mehta: You mentioned the early phase of what would become Business Process Management… so let's talk about Metastorm. How would you describe what the company does today?
Robert Farrell: If you look at any organization, what they have is a whole bunch of entities in the form of data assets, infrastructure, enterprise applications, legacy applications, and then a bunch of people who perform processes that involve those entities. Some of those people are in the company across your different functional areas; others are suppliers, partners, and customers. So all these things are sort of floating around with big gaps in between them and filling those gaps represent the processes behind how we run our business, essentially the DNA or the blueprint for how we do whatever it is we do.
Metastorm's Business Process Management (BPM) solution fills those gaps by allowing you to model, automate, manage and control your mission critical business processes. We have created a value proposition that allows organizations to perform all the necessary process management tasks via a suite of products. This software product suite allows one to work within a single environment that facilitates process modeling, execution, integration, simulation, analysis, and reporting - we call this the BPM round-trip lifecycle.. Metastorm's BPM suite provides organizations with a vehicle to compare the real-time results of processes in execution back to the original model, the original simulation, and allows for changes to the processes in real time. This allows you to create a very agile business environment that can adjust to whatever the market is doing, and whatever economic situations you're faced with. You can actually look at your business more from a process-centric perspective rather than a data-centric perspective.
CEO: Robert Farrell|
Company: Metastorm, Inc.
About Robert Farrell
President & CEO
About Metastorm, Inc.
- Better known as: Bob
- Company Tenure: 3+ years
- Experience: Over 20 years
- Academic Background: Course work at the State University of New York and the New York Institute of Technology
- Business Background: International Business and Technology
- Founded: 1996
- Founder: Avi Hoffer
- Offices: Columbia, MD; Tampa, FL and Wimbledon, London
- Focus: Business Process Management
- Competitors: Fuego, Lombardi Software and Savvion
- Employees: Approx. 160
- Stock Market: Private company