Zack Bergreen, Astea’s outgoing CEO, has nearly 40 years in the service sector. As the firm finally confirms its merger with IFS, Mark Glover speaks to IFS’s Marne Martin to discuss the dynamics of the transition.
Marne Martin is telling me when she first met Astea’s Zack Bergreen. “I’ve known him since 2013,” she recalls “when I tried to convince him to merge with the company that I worked for at the time.”
Of course, Martin bats in IFS colours these days, but seven years on she is finally overseeing the acquisition of Bergreen’s Astea, a deal confirmed in December which saw Bergreen step aside as CEO, allowing Martin to assume the position during the period of integration, absorbing the task into her current mantle as President of IFS’s Service Management Business Unit with overall responsibility for the merger. But as is the case for any transition, both parties need to work together. How will the pair make this handover work?
“Zack and I have a good relationship,” Martin explains. “He’s not involved in the day-to-day post the transaction, but absolutely is involved in the customer transitions and has been very supportive. For example, he and I together will go to Japan in early February.”
As I write, both may well be in the Far East, smoothing relationships in a market foreign to IFS’s strategy. That Bergreen curated business in such unorthodox regions at the time is testament to the customer focus that Astea created and as Martin alludes to, this will be an important factor going forward given IFS’s larger global presence.
“Astea has a wonderful customer base,” she explains. “Customers reach out to him and that’s been a great conduit in the early days because Zack and I can compare notes around customers. Hopefully they’re hearing the messages that we’re investing even more in them!”
Martin of course is no stranger to such business transitions. The Astea deal will be her second go-private to add to her two previous IPOs. “An even-steven,” she says, laughing. I quote from an old press release where she is referred to as an “industry veteran”, a term that in the UK at least, evokes an individual on the cusp of retirement, but one full of experience and knowledge.
“Although I’m not as much an industry veteran as Zack,” she retorts, musing over the phone. “He actually founded Astea not long after I was born.”
Zack Bergreen, one could argue, is a genuine veteran of the service sector, bringing Astea to market in 1979, a digitally baron time when the first clunky and commercially available mobile phone would not appear for five years and Tim-Berners Lee, the man credited with the internet, was ten years away from presenting his idea.
“With Workwave, I did need to bring that company into a place where it was part of IFS and part of our strategy and really rationalise how it all fits together..."
Since then, before IFS’s acquisition, Bergreen had built the company into one of the leaders in global service management software. It’s meant, according to some analysts, the firm has been ripe for takeover for some time. “Astea has been on the list of potential acquires for as long as many of the market analysts can remember,” says Bill Pollock, “It is not a surprise that it has finally been acquired – the real surprise is that it took so long.”
Despite the delay though in Astea being acquired, Martin remains on-brief with IFS’s CEO Darren Roos, who tasked her on arrival to create and grow the Service Management Business Unit. With the integration of Astea, the successful go-to-market implementation of WorkWave, and strong organic growth of the products acquired previously by IFS, Martin is on track.
Skilfully, Martin recruited Dave Giannetto to take over the day-to-day as Workwave’s CEO, him being promoted approximately a week before the Astea deal was closed out. Having worked alongside Giannetto for eight months leading up to his appointment, Martin felt confident handing over the reins.
“With Workwave, I did need to bring that company into a place where it was part of IFS and part of our strategy and really rationalise how it all fits together,” Martin recalls, “but it was also a talent expansion strategy, so with Darren’s support, I recruited in Dave and I was able to transition these CEO duties to him.”
However, she was quick to credit the team around her and the recruitment of those bought in for the fantastic growth IFS is experiencing in the Service Management Business Unit and with the Astea transition. This included Simon Niesler who joined in December as CRO, laying a foundation Martin says, to sustain their rate of growth – the division’s bookings growth was over 100 per cent in 2019 – and successfully absorb Astea. “It was absolutely time to bring in a CRO, and with again Darren’s support, we were able to bring in another very strong talent,” she says. “I'm thrilled, as it enables us to keep scaling and gives me the confidence we really have someone who is best in class in the role.”
Through Q1 at least, IFS will retain the knowledge of another class act in Bergreen, who has an advisory role as a sort of relay between Astea’s customer-base and its integration with IFS. Officially, he will take on the role of Senior Advisor of IFS’s Group Management and be an influential voice in the Service Management Advisory Board.
Come Q2, we will know more about the success of the transaction. Given Martin’s track record however, don’t be surprised, if there were any cynical Astea customers, our bet is that they will be more than appeased with the engagement and customer focus.
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