Les TrachtmanWritten by Patrick Lannigan - Winter 2009/2010
When he was younger, Les Trachtman joked that he wanted to enter a financially lucrative career—so that meant he could never be a professor. That's too bad. I thought Les would have made a fantastic teacher and professor. He certainly taught me a lot.
I first met up with Les Trachtman at a mergers and acquisitions seminar in San Francisco. I had travelled there with Jim Freedman, the general counsel at Progress Software at the time. On the flight back to Bedford, MA, Jim and I began talking about Les—and Jim was quite impressed with Les's merger and acquisition knowledge, in addition to his having a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, an MBA, and a Juris Doctorate (Law) degree. So was I.
When Jim and I arrived back from San Francisco, we met with Jennifer Bergantino who was VP Marketing for Progress Software and convinced her to approach Les Trachtman for an interview. A month or two later, it was announced that Les would be joining Progress Software as VP of business development, reporting to Jennifer Bergantino, VP of marketing. (I admired Les for sticking to his guns by not coming on board to Progress Software with anything less than a VP title. This helped break the mould at Progress Software because up till that point VPs could not report to VPs).
When Les came on board, I worked extra hard to absorb everything he had to offer. I would read a set of 10Ks and 10Qs and we'd compare notes afterwards. I worked hard and pretty soon could absorb a set of financials in a matter of minutes. It was a great feeling. Les could be a tough taskmaster at times. One time he pushed me too far and I finally had enough and pushed back.
Les also loved the social aspects of his work. When we had our son (Michael—born October 19, 2006, in Concord, MA) Les and his wife purchased a Vermont teddy bear for him with his name and birth date engraved. I thought it was a sweet move. Another time, Les hosted a party for all the departments that reported to him—and he and Michelle opened up their home and were fantastic hosts.
When he worked at Progress Software, Les put forth a number of deals to Joe Alsop, but few (besides partnerships) were accepted. Why was this so? Les eventually got frustrated and left Progress.
In a recent Harvard Case Study 9-807-173, Les is quoted as saying:
At Hyperion, Jim Perakis had relied on me to identify prospective acquisition targets and bring them back to him. It was a very entrepreneurial position, which I loved. But this was not the case at Progress Software where the founder ruled with an iron fist, didn't give up authority or delegate, or allow anything entrepreneurial to happen. The people who thrived there were yes-men. The founder is extremely capable, really smart, and makes great decisions himself. Because of that, he never let anyone grow.
If you want to purchase the case study (for $US6.95) go here.
I disagree with Les in regards to the above comments about Joe Alsop. It was a chemistry thing in my opinion. Les had his engineering degree but didn't seem to be able to talk to Joe in his language. This was a crucial element of the Progress Software culture. Britt Johnston and I, as an example, were able to convince Joe Alsop and the board to start-up NuSphere based on the fact that Britt and I believed MySQL would change the landscape of databases forever (it did—we just couldn't find a way to profit from it). Greg O'Connor was able to convince Joe Alsop and the board to invest heavily in Sonic Software (which did become successful). Jennifer Bergantino was able to sell Joe on the strategy of Visual Basic components to start up Crescent Software (which, in the end, did not succeed).
My comments above are not meant to detract from Les's success as a serial-CEO (he was CEO at four different companies).
One Big Typo in a Harvard Business Case Study
Two things motivated me to do this little write-up. One was Les's comments about Joe. I just felt he never understood how to sell Joe. The other motivator was the fact that a well respected institution like Harvard published a case study with a whopping typo in it. Throughout the document they refer to Metaserver as Megaserver. I know Les is probably fuming, as he was a stickler for accuracy.
I Wish Les Would Teach!
When Les has all the fame and money he wants, it is my wish that he takes a "guest professor" role at some institution (in the MBA program), as I believe he would shine in that role. He as a combination of magnetism and leadership that would motivate the students to push themselves further than they ever realized they could go (that's certainly what he did for me).
Email Patrick Lannigan at lannigan at gmail dot com for more information
This page was created and/or refreshed on March 09, 2016 @ 11:47:56