Michael Howe, a veteran consumer brand manager who was CEO of fast-growing MinuteClinic from 2005 to 2008, has moved from board member to CEO of Verify Corp.
The small company, founded about a decade ago by Minneapolis businessman David Dillon, operates two software companies. Verify Brand works with brand manufacturers on counterfeiting, overruns, return fraud, recalls and other supply-chain security issues all the way to the sales floor. The system uses a variety of digital-authentication, analytical and government reporting tools.
The other company, Verify Engage, helps consumer-branded companies deliver customer incentives, promotions and personalized engagements over secure, traceable communications.
The Plymouth-based, 14-employee company has plans to grow to $55 million in sales and 100 employees over the next five years or so.
"The brand, or the retailer, is the customer for Verify Brand," Howe said this week. "Counterfeiting costs billions of dollars for brands and it's confusing for consumers. For example, we have a customer [Lexmark] that makes ink cartridges for printers and there was a counterfeiter who makes these cartridges with the customers name on them, and then the cartridges are placed in the copier machine and screw it up. And customers go back to our brand customer and say, 'What gives?' As with cellphone accessories or other parts, we put a unique identifier on the product and the customer can verify the brand.''
"Verify Engagement goes to the customer,'' Howe said. "The smartphone has changed things in terms of connecting with customers. Consumers now determine what messages they will get."
Howe, 61, who grew up in Le Center, Minn., served in the Air Force, attended the University of Minnesota Duluth and worked at Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Unilever and Arby's before landing at MinuteClinic in 2005.
He grew that groundbreaking business, which brought the primary care clinic into a retail setting, from 19 to 525 sites in 27 states. Howe sold it in 2006 to CVS, the huge drugstore chain for about $175 million. He left a couple of years later, saying he was more a builder than manager.
Howe was consulting and serving on the board of Meyers Printing, the Dillon family-owned printing company. David Dillon asked him to take over as CEO of Verify for him in January.
"Verify started as a project for Microsoft, and at the time Microsoft's biggest [software] competitor was counterfeiters," Dillon said. "Meyers Printing had started numbering things years ago, starting with Hormel hams to Hewlett-Packard inkjet cartridges. Microsoft was having trouble. We came in as a rescue mission. And we thought if we could perfectly do numbers for them and put them on Web servers, customers could check to see if their product was legitimate, and we might have a business for others. And under Michael, we're exploding into digital marketing."