Earlier this month, two East Coast private-equity firms became the third owners since 2014 of fast-growing HelpSystems, the Eden Prairie-based software company that provides operations, security and analytics for bankers, retailers, medical and other businesses around the globe.
Chris Heim, 55, the chief executive and investor in HelpSystems for five years, decided it was a good time for his exit. Heim stepped down on a high note in July, with all systems working well, and quietly, with the consent of the buyers. He remains chairman.
"I've been a software firm CEO for 22 years and I've never been good at leaving it at the office," Heim said last week. "About the 20th of every month, I start to get crabby, worrying about how we're going to book another million bucks over the next few days. And we've had good private-equity owners. We have been far harder on ourselves than they have been."
Heim, who has done well in the industry, decided it was time to get a full night's sleep.
Under Heim, organically and through acquisitions, HelpSystems has doubled revenue to about $250 million from 25 offices around the globe. With nearly 800 people, HelpSystems is one of the Twin Cities' largest software operations.
Heim was succeeded as CEO by Kate Bolseth, the chief operating officer who has worked with Heim and Chief Financial Officer Dan Mayleben for 20-plus years, at HelpSystems, and a previous company, HighJump Software.
Heim, who doesn't like the word retirement, said he has no plans to work as a CEO again. He is at HelpSystems once a week or so, to assist as needed.
Heim also is a director of tech firms Field Nation, Digi and Calabrio.
"I really enjoy that," he said. "They are led by very talented people."
Heim is heeding the advice of the semiretired Phil Soran, the veteran technologist and a founder of since-sold Xiotech and Compellent.
Heim plans to spend a third of his time on corporate-governance work, a third on "fun," and a third on philanthropy.
Every time a prosperous growth firm such as HelpSystems is sold for a higher, albeit undisclosed price in a growing market, the new owners typically also borrow money to leverage their anticipated return. They expect to sell for more, or go public, in three-to-six years.
That increases pressure on management teams, to invest well in good people, the next-generation of software, and make complementary acquisitions, in hopes of growing fast, taking market share and adding value in anticipation of the next "exit," whether sale or IPO.
Heim said HelpSystems, owned primarily since early 2018 by HGGC, a Silicon Valley private-equity firm, wasn't looking to sell this year.
However it was approached by TA Associates and Charlesbank Capital Partners with an unspecified offer that couldn't be refused.
"HelpSystems has grown and transformed significantly over the past few years, expanding its cybersecurity business and enhancing its leading cross-platform, automation and secure-data transfer products," Harry D. Taylor, a managing director at Boston-based TA Associates who joined the HelpSystems board, said in a prepared statement.
TA Associates said it respected HelpSystems's "strong reputation with customers" as well as a "vibrant corporate culture."
TA plans to support organic growth with strategic acquisitions.
New CEO Bolseth, 46, like Heim, is a worrier. She also has been with Heim since he hired her in 1995 as an intern at HighJump, while she was studying computer science at the University of St. Thomas. Heim had graduated from St. Thomas earlier, studying computer science and business.
"I have a degree in computer science," Bolseth said. "But I like interacting more with people and I have a passion for bringing technology and solutions to our customers but I also love interacting with our entire organization."
And she's not sweating what appears to be a business slowdown, if not a recession, that many economic seers predict after a decadelong economic recovery. Bolseth also is an optimist.
"We are fortunate," Bolseth said. "Our software is essential to our customers. In times of recession, we see sales and growth."
TA, a 50-year-old firm, has hit the sweet spot in the last five years. The investor said companies in which it has invested have increased operating profits by a median of 30% since the year of investment over the five-year span ended 2018. TA has invested more than $23 billion of capital and completed 120 IPOs since inception.
Jim Cassens, another HelpSystems veteran, moved up with the acquisition from executive vice president of mergers and acquisition to president. Over 18 years, Cassens also worked as chief technical officer and vice president of international sales.
"Our partnership with HGGC has helped us innovate and deliver a broader, stronger solution set to our customers," Cassens said in a statement. "HelpSystems has doubled in size every few years, and we believe that there are significant opportunities to further broaden our portfolio for our more than 17,000 customers.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.