Interface Software finds its popularity on the rise

February 16, 2004


'No one wanted to talk to us in 2000. We weren't sexy," says Nate Fineberg, the 42-year-old CEO of Oak Brook-based Interface Software.

As Interface prepares to launch three new modules to its industry- leading InterAction software, Fineberg no longer worries about his company's appeal. His firm fills a unique niche. It's the customer relationship management solution for professional services firms.

"We serve 72 of the 100 largest law firms," Fineberg says. "Of the four largest consulting firms, we have two. We have investment banks, even professional sports organizations," he says.

Founder Terry Holt launched the company in the early 1990s as a services firm helping organizations adopt Microsoft Windows. "Through engagements with Sidley & Austin and Gardner Carton & Douglas, we came upon a relationship management need that wasn't being filled," says Fineberg, who joined in 1997.

By attorneys, for attorneys

Alison Chung, president of Teamwerks, a local consulting firm, was an early proponent. "I led technology at Jenner & Block in 1995," she says. "We piloted Interface's software. It was the only CRM product designed by attorneys tailored to the needs of attorneys."

Frank Ballantine, senior partner at Sachnoff & Weaver, says InterAction helps track which lawyers have the right skills for assignments. More significantly, Ballantine says, "It helps me understand the school connections, the board connections, the invisible networks that drive the world."

It's also a successful software product invented in Chicago.

Recycled technology

Recycled technology is a new trend that's gaining popularity here.

The Pampered Chef, an Addison-based direct seller of kitchen tools, is adding a 600,000-square-foot distribution center and updated warehouse-management system. The expansion is necessary, says Richard Schubkegel, vice president of information systems, to support a sales force of 70,000 independent kitchen consultants who organize 1 million home kitchen shows, serve 12 million customers and generate sales of more than $700 million.

Instead of buying all new equipment, Schubkegel turned to Wauconda-based Heartland Computers Inc., a seller of new and refurbished electronic warehouse and inventory gear. Heartland supports vintage systems like Schubkegel's circa-1997 system, and according to Heartland, Pampered Chef saved $107,000 using Heartland's services -- a savings that should be palatable to Pampered Chef owner Berkshire Hathaway, run by the frugal Warren Buffett. The move matches a new tech trend: Customers aren't always buying the latest version or upgrade.

Kudos to Heartland's CEO, Jerry Greenwald, 62, who began his career as a store manager for Jewel Foods. In the early 1970's, his store was a test site for the first electronic handheld order-entry devices. Greenwald loved the technology, and went to work for several manufacturers before starting his own business. Today he employs 60 and services a host of customers.

Greenwald says he and Pampered Chef founder Doris Christopher have something in common. They both started businesses in their homes in 1980. "Doris started in Mount Prospect. I started in Schaumburg," Greenwald says. "Christopher sold her business to Berkshire Hathaway. I'm still waiting for Warren."

Jarett on outsourcing

Alex Jarett, 44, president of the Technology Executives Club, is a committed convener, bringing local technology types together to discuss issues. With a presidential election brewing and a jobless recovery under way, he's tackling technology outsourcing.

"There's a perception that outsourcing only means a shift of jobs to other countries," he says. "The lower-level, repetitive functions are going overseas. The value-added roles will stay."

He urges job seekers to adapt, and expand their skills toward higher-value roles.

Jarett's colleague, Mark Power, president of ROS Inc., an outsourcing advisory firm, quotes statistics from McKinsey & Co. that show "for every dollar spent by American companies on outsourcing in India, the U.S. economy has benefits worth $1.21."

My guess: Outsourcing will be a big issue in the election even if it makes economic sense.

Datebook: MCI CEO Michael Capellas appears Thursday at Kaarina Koskenalusta's Executives' Club. Google's David Hirsch talks at the Business Marketing Association.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago based tech-writer and consultant, and senior vice president for Hostway Corp., Chicago.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners