Jason Blessing is the chief executive officer of Plex Systems, a company offering America’s first and so far only ERP cloud service solution exclusively for manufacturers. Jason graduated from the University of Michigan and he has more than 20 years of experience in the IT industry. In this interview he talks about the unique offering of Plex Systems, and for what purpose mostly small and medium sized companies use it. He also shares insights into the future of the sector and how big data plays a big role in the manufacturing process.
Sramana Mitra: Jason, let’s get to know you and Plex a bit. Please help the audience with some context.
Jason Blessing: I started my career many years ago doing ERP consulting work and best practice consulting work for Price Waterhouse, back when they were Price Waterhouse. I did that for a number of years and was eventually recruited to help PeopleSoft start their consulting organization. I was at PeopleSoft for about 10 years. I did a number of field roles there: selling, consulting, and I even did a rotation through corporate and ran our corporate IT group, which is a great way to learn the software business. Then I went back out into the field and was running our western region, when PeopleSoft was acquired by Oracle.
I stayed on a couple of years at Oracle – I had a great couple of years there. In 2006, the phone rang and it was Mike Gregoire, who had left PeopleSoft as a result of the Oracle acquisition. He was the CEO at Taleo. He invited me to start a division inside of Taleo that was focused on small and medium sized businesses. It was an interesting intellectual opportunity for me. I had never done SaaS, and I had never gone after the small and medium sized market segment. I went more for the intellectual challenge of learning new things at Taleo than anything else, and I had a great run at Taleo for almost seven years, until the Oracle acquisition of Taleo. Then I got an interesting phone call at the end of last year from a recruiter.
If you look at my history, I have done a lot of different things – from field work to corporate work and product work. All of that was part of a master plan to become broader across all the different functions of software to eventually being ready to be a CEO. That call came at the end of last year and it was a unique opportunity. The recruiter said, “We have this company – Plex Systems – it is a great company. They have a great product that has great depth for manufacturing companies, is a nicely sized and scaled company with over 300 referenceable customers. They are looking for a new CEO, and they are looking for someone who has a foot in Silicon Valley and a foot in Michigan.” I am from Michigan. I lived and went to school there. In some respects I was almost the perfect candidate. I was the bridge for the new investment group and the company between Silicon Valley and Michigan.
Our company was started by a group of software engineers who all grew up in families that did various types of manufacturing in Michigan. In order for them to put themselves through college, most of them worked in their families’ manufacturing plants and subsequently, after college, getting their software engineering degrees. They went on and all worked together in a subsidiary of an automotive supplier and looked on the market at the time – this was in the late 1970s, early 1980s- for a commercially available manufacturing ERP system. They determined that there wasn’t anything out there that combined manufacturing execution, supply chain quality as well as the other parts of ERP, HR, financial and CRM. So they ended up writing a custom system for this particular employer. At the end of that project this group of engineers sat in one of their living rooms and said, “There has to be a better way to do this for the manufacturing economy.” It was at that point that they decided to start Plex Systems.
That was also the very start of cloud at the mid to late 1990s. So they were faced with the tough decision of going cloud or going client server, which most companies were on at the time. They made a wonderful decision to go cloud. This remains one of our key differentiators in this space. They also decided they were going to write ERP that was purpose-built for manufacturers.
The company was bootstrapped by this group of founding engineers until 2006. In 2006 they brought in an investment partner – a private equity firm I am sure you have heard of – called Apax. At the time it was a great thing for the company, because who was to know what was going to happen to the manufacturing sector – the automotive in particular – over the next couple of years? Apax ownership was a very important part of our history because it was a “port in the storm” and brought our company to navigate that. Apax eventually came to the decision that they were going to change their investment strategy. They saw that Plex was a company with a lot of potential and it would be better under new ownership. Therefore, they started a process, which concluded in the summer of last year. The beneficiary of that process was another private equity firm called Francisco Partners.