For this CEO, each ‘little wanderer’ deserves a clean slate
The Home for Little Wanderers helps thousands of kids every year. To Joan Wallace-Benjamin , each one arrives with a clean slate. It’s an approach that she tried to instill at the 750-employee nonprofit during her 14-year tenure as CEO. (She left but then returned after a brief stint as chief of staff for Governor Deval Patrick.) Now, she’ll be passing that responsibility on to a trusted colleague: vice president Lesli Suggs will take over as the top executive once Wallace-Benjamin retires in January.
“So many kids get defined by the stories that are in their files, and they’re very different from that,” Wallace-Benjamin says. “Some of them bounce back from incredible challenges.”
In recent years, she presided over some major decisions at the Boston-based agency, including whether it should keep its name and whether it should move its century-old residential treatment program from its flagship building in Jamaica Plain to the suburbs. The “home” did move to Walpole. But the organization kept its name, even though it provides a wide range of child and family services beyond an initial mission of housing kids who don’t have a place to go.
Wallace-Benjamin says board members were fairly split on whether the name should change, but a consultant advised against it because of the group’s name recognition.
She says she’s not sure what her next act will be. She’s hoping to write a book, perhaps one that will combine her experiences with broader observations about the civil rights struggles in the United States. She also may do some consulting for Wellesley College, her alma mater.
“I enjoyed working with a group of really committed, smart people who came to work every day to help vulnerable kids and families,” Wallace-Benjamin says. “You could see the improvements in people’s lives.”
Yogesh Gupta wants to be judged by his track record, not those of his predecessors.
The CEO of Bedford-based Progress Software finds his team under attack these days by an activist shareholder, Praesidium Investment Management. The New York investment firm argues that Progress has wasted investors’ cash on poorly chosen acquisitions. Praesidium, meanwhile, was spurned when it approached the board recently about its own M&A idea.
So last month, Praesidium embarked on a campaign against the current management. It started with a long screed that criticizes Progress for its previous failed deals, executive turnover, and stock underperformance. In particular, Praesidium singled out board chairman Jack Egan, saying he should step down.
“We were kind of perplexed by the attack on Jack,” Gupta says. “Jack has worked tirelessly.”
Gupta, meanwhile, is a recent arrival at Progress, taking over for Phil Pead in the CEO’s job last year. He points to the software firm’s latest earnings, which exceeded Wall Street’s expectations last week, and the decision to modestly raise revenue guidance for the year as signs of the company’s success.
Perhaps more importantly, at least with regards to Praesidium’s concerns about deal-making, Gupta says the company just spelled out specific criteria that it will apply when considering future acquisition targets.
“One should learn from history, but one should look forward,” Gupta says.
“Our goal here is to make sure we do the right thing for all our shareholders, Praesidium included.”
Meet the rock stars
Sometimes the rock stars of Boston’s business scene get to hang with actual rock stars.
Hanson paid a visit to ad agency Hill Holliday’s offices Monday, offering a lunchtime performance for CEO Karen Kaplan and her team, after a show on Sunday at the House of Blues. All three Hanson brothers — I saac, Taylor, and Zac — were there.
Apparently, this is a thing at ad agencies — musical groups stopping by. The reason? Hill Holliday spokeswoman Tracy Brady says the music labels want to improve their clients’ exposure with a goal of licensing their music for advertising.
Even a group with a hit the size of “MMMBop ” can use the help. In this case, Hanson was playing as a favor from Warner/Chappell Music, Warner Music Group’s publishing arm. Other groups that have swung by Hill Holliday in recent years include The Wild Feathers, Tall Heights, and The Accidentals.
Abby Johnson, coaxed
It took a private equity guru to coax media-shy Abby Johnson into doing an in-depth personal interview. Bloomberg broadcast an interview last week between the Fidelity Investments CEO and Carlyle Group cofounder David Rubenstein, an interesting conversation with Boston’s most well-known money manager.
Rubenstein pressed her with all the questions you’d expect. Did you feel pressured to go into the family business? (No.) Will you encourage your daughters to follow in your footsteps? (They should follow their passions, at Fidelity or somewhere else.) Do you like seeing your name on all those wealthiest people lists, alongside a dollar figure? (Not really.)
Johnson talks about why her father, Ned Johnson, rebuffed investment bankers who wanted to take the company public. (Fidelity didn’t need the capital.) Being private, she says, has advantages, but it’s tougher to make big acquisitions without stock to offer. And she isn’t usually recognized when she traipses through airports (no private jets for her) or when she eats out in Boston (sometimes she can’t even get a table).