Regina Sommer, CFO of security-software provider Netegrity, made her career leap into high tech during the industry’s dark ages. That would be around 1995, when “the Internet was something very few people knew about,” she recalls.
But after nine years at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a stint as vice president of finance at Lifetime Corp., a home health-care provider, she felt ready for the big move. At Lifetime, after all, she’d developed some mean M&A skills working on more than 40 acquisitions of small agencies in a four-year period and helping out in the integration work when the company was acquired by Olsten Corp., the temp giant.
Sommer’s transition to tech came when she joined Open Market, a 20-person E-commerce software start-up, as the company’s CFO. During her tenure the company went public, as did many other tech fledglings. By 1999, four years after she had joined the company, Open Market had burgeoned to 500 employees and $70 million in revenues. “Those four years felt more like 10,” she recalls.
Still, the toil and sweat didn’t lead to tears about tech in general. In late 1999 Sommer took over as finance chief at Revenio, a privately held customer-relationship-management software vendor. “I really thought that CRM had the potential to be the next hot thing in the software space,” explains Sommer.
That initial optimism, however, was dampened a year later as companies abruptly shut their IT spending spigots. “If [CRM] was ever a must-have technology, it clearly went to a nice-to-have one that people were not going to spend money on in the short term,” says Sommer. When it became clear to her that Revenio’s prospects looked dim, she felt it was time to hit the road again.
In January, Sommer landed the top finance post at Netegrity amid difficult circumstances. She succeeded James Hayden, who died in one of the jets that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11. Sommer’s few months in office since then have been far from easy.
She found Netegrity in a complex situation, as the company endeavored to expand its technology reach while the economy was in the doldrums. The Waltham, Mass.-based company posted a $2.8 million first-quarter net loss, citing a lackluster corporate spending environment. It posted $22 million in revenues in Q1, down from $26 million a year earlier. The company’s share price has dropped more than 50 percent since the start of the year.
Sommer recently talked with CFO.com about making the transition into high tech, taking professional risks, managing in tough economic times, and staying ahead of fierce competition.
You went from the home health-care sector to high tech. Was that a difficult leap to make?
The switch couldn’t have been more dramatic. I spent the first couple years of my career focusing on income taxes and on merger and integration work in an industry that moves at a much slower pace than high tech. It is also one that is fundamentally about people and staffing. When I joined Open Market, our first office was in the basement of a cruddy little building in Cambridge [Massachusetts]. When I walked in the door, there were wires hanging from the ceiling and 20 people jammed into a very little space. The CEO’s assistant had been paying the bills before I arrived; that was our whole accounting system when I got there.