Plex Systems gets a new CEO

I had a chance to talk to Jason Blessing, Plex System’s new CEO yesterday. I’ve worked with Plex and its former CEO Mark Symonds now for almost seven years, and have always enjoyed my interaction. Plex has come a long way through that stretch. Back in 2006, Mark was almost a one-man show. Not only did he drive product and company strategy, sales and development, but he was their chief evangelist as well. Today there is far more depth to the organization and it is also backed by two investors: Francisco Partners and Accel Partners. It is quite a tribute to Mark that he hands over a company that is poised for what could very well be explosive growth.

Jason comes to Plex after a short stint at Oracle, where he was senior vice president of application development after the acquisition of Taleo where he held a variety of executive roles. For those not familiar with Taleo, it has been a pioneer in cloud-based talent management solutions. So he certainly has the cloud credentials. But someone like me, who has grown up (professionally) in the world of ERP and manufacturing, but has also been involved with human capital management  (HCM) applications, including talent management, knows full well the difference in scope between ERP and HCM, particularly when it is ERP for manufacturing.

While those specializing only in HCM hate it when I say it, HCM is pretty intuitive. Everyone that has ever managed people understands the requirements for talent and workforce management. Anyone that has recruited talent knows what recruiting is about. We’re all human “resources” so we know about human resource data, benefits and compensation. But manufacturing is anything but intuitive. And the scope of ERP (and its role in managing the business) dwarfs that of HCM. And Plex isn’t the first ERP vendor to bring a former HCM executive in and put him in charge of something much bigger than HCM.

So Jason might have felt a little like he was on the hot seat yesterday when we spoke. And he will probably be a bit relieved to hear that what I heard yesterday was encouraging. While a lot of his background has been in HCM, including both Taleo and previously Peoplesoft, I learned he also worked as a management consultant for Price Waterhouse. And I also heard him acknowledge what he didn’t know about ERP and manufacturing, but that he was confident because the original founder of the company was still involved and he also had some great depth of expertise in the company, including Jim Shepherd, his VP of Strategy. Shep and I go back almost 30 years when we both worked for ASK Computer Systems, and our paths would cross more recently when he was an analyst with AMR, which was later acquired by Gartner. It was reassuring to hear that Jason understands the value of having someone with Shep’s depth of knowledge and vision for manufacturing.

Plex has enjoyed consistent growth over the past few years and even before the investment by Francisco partners had been self-sustaining. This is an incredible achievement in the world of SaaS solution providers, when many others far larger than Plex are still struggling to show a profit. It has one of the most active and engaged installed bases of customers in the industry. This is partly because of the close relationship between its customers and its product direction. For many years, the development organization was primarily driven by specific customer requested enhancements. Plex’s adoption of rapid application development methodologies allowed them to respond quickly and efficiently and deliver against these requests even with a multi-tenant solution.

But in order for Plex to take that next jump and grow globally into new markets, it will have to mix that strategy with more traditional product strategies to take it someplace where its existing customers won’t. Jason seems to understand this. His limited expertise in ERP and manufacturing won’t be what takes them there, but listening to his staff and using invested capital wisely very well could.

Its competitors have always underestimated Plex Systems. A word of caution to those competitors… watch out!

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