The Makeover at Ariba

The new finance chief at the software maker discusses turnarounds, brand makeovers, and the importance of being earnest about revenue recognition.

Say this about Jim Frankola: He’s not afraid of taking a risk.

In November, with the economy mid-sputter, Frankola resigned his position as vice president of finance and business development at Fasson Roll Worldwide, a $2 billion global division of Avery Dennison, an industrial material manufacturer. The thing is, Frankola not only left a solid job–he left it to join Ariba, Inc, the struggling B2B software vendor. Whereas many in his position would have passed on the chance to join a struggling e-commerce company, Frankola saw a real opportunity.

It looks like Frankola has a good eye. Admittedly, Ariba has had a rough ride in recent months. Revenues dropped to $63 million in the fourth quarter, down a ways from the $135 million the company recorded in the year-ago quarter. But the company’s image makeover–from builder of online trading hubs to “spend management” specialist–seems to have reenergized Ariba. In fact, on Monday, Goldman Sachs upgraded the company to “market outperform,” citing a stabilizing balance sheet and an expanding product line. Ariba also recently signed big deals with IBM and defense contractor General Dynamics.

Despite these marquee customers, Jim Frankola will have his fair share of challenges as Ariba CFO. Although the company reported a 47 percent jump in revenues in 2001–up to $409 million–the software maker still lost $88 million. In fiscal 2000, the company’s net loss was more like $30 million. In addition, founder Keith Kratch resigned as CEO In October, and was replaced by Bob Calderoni.

Still, Frankola, who has an M.B.A from NYU’s Stern School of Business and spent eleven years in the finance department at IBM, appears primed for the job ahead. He recently spoke with CFO.com’s Jennifer Caplan about taking professional risks, resuscitating a company that’s falling from grace, and selling a new image to investors. He also had a thing or two to say about revenue recognition.

You joined IBM early in your career and spent 11 years there. Do you think it was it a good career move to join such a large company early on?

In hindsight the move to join and stay at IBM worked out extremely well for me. A company like IBM has an extremely strong finance organization. Unlike many companies, finance people at IBM have authority over product pricing, and the go or no-go decision for new product development, for example. In many cases their role extends into areas that would be considered general management or marketing at other companies. It is an absolutely phenomenal training-ground for people looking to become CFOs. At IBM, I had jobs that were tailored specifically to broaden my education, gave me exposure to different parts of the business and built skills that would allow me to succeed in the long-run.

You’ve worked at both IBM and now Ariba. I take it you like the technology business?

My passion for technology goes way back to my undergraduate years, when I toyed around with getting my degree in information systems or electrical engineering. I am a finance person–but a technologist at heart.

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