Merchantz has built one sweet software company
May 29, 2006
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
companies are being scooped up. Atlanta's Infor is acquiring SSA
Global Technologies. Santa Monica's Boingo is buying Concourse
Communications. Who's next?
Technology is a hidden gem," says Fred Hoch, president of
the Illinois IT Association. Hoch isn't suggesting Lakeview is
for sale. He's praising the company.
CEO Bill Merchantz has done a great job over the past 15 years
building a solid company, with substantial revenue and presence.
They don't get the recognition they deserve," adds Hoch,
and he's right. Merchantz has built one sweet software company.
49, is an unlikely Chicago tech pioneer. Growing up at 79th and
Campbell, he played center on Bogan High School's basketball team.
He still remembers losing a three-point heartbreaker to state
champ Phillips High School his senior year.
He got his
start in technology when coach Bruce Robinson threw a Fortran
IV programming manual his way saying, "Don't hang out on
the street corner. Read this book."
It led Merchantz
to a part-time job as a programmer. It ultimately made him rich.
earned a scholarship to the University of Illinois at Chicago,
graduating with a business degree in 1979. He stayed two years
as an assistant coach, but realized technology, not athletics,
was his calling. His skill in systems led to jobs at Federal-Mogul
and Skidmore Owings and Merrill.
In 1984, Merchantz
was one of four co-founders of Whit- man Hart. He met CEO Bob
Bernard though classmates at UIC.
first office was a file drawer in a closet at a headquarters facility
on West Bryn Mawr," Merchantz says.
Tellabs was an early client. "Tellabs had critical business
information sitting on a server," he recalls. "They
were concerned. What if they lost that server?"
He cut a deal
with Tellabs founder Michael Birck to create software to back
up the data, provided Whitman Hart retained the intellectual property.
the IP. The rest is history," Merchantz says. As Whitman
Hart scaled in IT consulting, Merchantz focused on selling software
and Lakeview Technology was born.
were resource issues," Merchantz says. "Do we put more
resources into services or software development? I decided to
take the software, spin it out, and sell my interest in Whitman
Hart to Bobby and his investors."
products that protect critical transaction data.
New York Mets use our software to keep their ticketing system
up and running," Merchantz says.
The team sells
tickets. That data has to be backed up in real time. If there's
a disruption, they can't afford to lose a transaction. You might
come to the ball park and find they resold your seat.
MIMIX product avoids that scenario.
uses us to secure their Web sales information. Our software sits
on company's computers. We capture real time any transaction that
occurs. We pull those transactions off, and put them on a backup
resource anywhere in the world," Merchantz adds.
Is it a good
"Because we sit in the company infrastructure, we play in
every industry. MIMIX has been installed at 3,000 sites worldwide.
Not surprisingly, his largest business partner is IBM. Clients
include CDW, Cingular, Honda, Qualcomm, Motorola, the USDA and
the U.S. Mint.
of a brick layer
credits his parents for his entrepreneurial skills.
says, "My mom and dad were very smart. My dad was in the
trades. He was a brick layer who used to run all the jobs. I have
vivid memories of him with the blueprints sitting there figuring
material the night before the next job. My mom was a bank teller
for over 30 years. They were bright people, but didn't want to
take the entrepreneurial step.
didn't want all the headaches and issues associated with starting,
growing, and running a business."
But they taught
him the skills and inspired him.
wanted the entrepreneurial challenge, and he succeeded.
The only question
remaining is will he grow the company or sell?
Merchantz is a winner in my book.
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.