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The Thorpedo is for hire

David Thorpe, who until yesterday was the General Manager EMEA at Aderant, is now footloose and fancy free – although if The Orange Rag's email and phone messages over the past week are anything to go by, there is no shortage of legal IT vendors and recruitment consultants wanting to speak to him. Love him or loathe him, the Thorpedo has the reputation for being the best salesman in the UK & European practice and financial management systems space and pretty much single-handedly established Elite as the market leader in this region.

24 replies on “The Thorpedo is for hire”

Aderant seem to have had a serious talent exodus over the past year – it seems only Mike Barry remains from the last leadership team, but for how long? It looks like their owners Vista Equity have a lot to learn about the importance of staff stability in a market that moves slowly and has a long memory.

bad decision by Aderant to give him the push, but they must be in a mess as their VP of services has also been shown the door.

So who is left to look after the shop? What on earth are Vista Equity doing? Looking at the Executive team page on their website they seem to be replacing people who understand the legal industry with people who have generic business skills but little experience in legal (it's a brave person who underplays the value of experience in this unique market). And as far as the UK is concerned they seem to have wiped it from their consciousness since it now appears to be completely rudderless. Can this be a good thing for the company or its clients? I doubt it. Thompson Elite must be wringing their hands in delightful anticipation of what is surely to come.

Executive come and go, sometimes a good thing, sometimes not (and as the article says, sometimes you love them or loath them) and I take the point regarding knowledge of the legal industry being very useful in C level people.
From a client viewpoint however, of at least equal importance are the people who deliver services. ADERANT EMEA have lost an awful lot of good consultants over the past two years, and are lacking in expertise on their own product; whilst their support is second to none, professional services is far from well, and lack of product knowledge had been impacting pre-sales before.

I agree, Aderant seem to have lost nearly all of their experienced staff worldwide. Thorpe going from EMEA is just the latest of their EMEA talent exodus. I was told that they can now only hire cheap inexperienced people who pass some kind of IQ/personality test. That may get them smart people but, frankly, I'd sooner have the specific legal experience.
What concerns me now is how much less attention will be given to specific EMEA requirements. It's all very well that Aderant produce shiny new software but what about some of the core back office stuff which has never been properly suited for EMEA firms?
Although these departures may be the result of Vista Equity, we've been here many times before. How many owners has CMS had, each taking their slice of the pie, and how long before there's another?

Verbatim from the WSJ “Thomson Reuters, which has been losing ground in its key business of financial data, is replacing Thomas Glocer as chief executive”

It may already have arrived. Elite have been doing well in the UK, and in the APAC region Elite have picked up six new clients this year, 4 of them Aderant tier 1 firms. They now have 15 of the top 30 firms according to the recently published BRW top 30 and strong momentum moving into 2012 that will likely see Aderant pushed further into the small firm market, which is where they're now doing most of their business. Vista is no doubt seeing this trend and trimming their executive salary costs to a more suitable level for a small firm vendor. Reading between the lines further you might also assume that there's no special project in the works to replace the outdated CMS software that provides most of their functionality (more so now with Elite's acquisition of FWBS and Matter Centre upon which Aderant have in recent years relied heavily for their front office solution). If that is the case it's unfortunate that we may be seeing the significant decline or at the very least the downsizing/repositioning of a long standing industry player.

As I understand it from the news releases, the firms were all predominantly Keystone, who unfortunately for them, were forced into a position to 'go to market', predicated in some way by an outdated Oracle platform – oh, and I think DLA Phillips Fox (to move to Enterprise?), which was a global directive following the financial merger with DLA Piper International.
However, if the US market is any guide (which is still the largest legal technology spend globally), the news is that ADERANT have been quite successful in securing 10+ (i guess they could confirm), either unseccessful 3E implementations, or Elite Enterprise swap-outs. So, it may be too premature to automatically disqualify ADERANT from securing some of these Elite Enterprise sites locally in the UK / EMEA and also APA (a new migation is required irrespective of system – same as the older Keystone product). But, it will provide us with interesting viewing over the next 12+ months, and if ADERANT are still currently securing mid-tier firms, then that is positive – it would be wrong to generically label these firms as neglegant in their due diligence. Ironically 24 months ago, people were being doomsday about Elite & 3E – most of us have around long enough to know these trends can be very cyclical in nature. BTW – back on topic, all the best to David.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's happening with Aderant. They are owned by a private equity house whose sole purpose in life is to increase the company value before selling it on. There are two primary ways to increase value. Increase revenues and/or reduce costs. In a flat market it's hard to increase revenues dramatically. So you buy the extra revenue dollars (Rainmaker, CompuLaw, Client Profiles). You can then start to slash costs by so called 'synergy rationalization' – which essentially means scale back resources in one or all of the acquired companies (remember Keystone, CABS, etc?). Plus when you look at cost cutting it's not hard to see who the highest paid are; the execs. That's why over here you've seen the likes of Howren and Boyce go, and over there Thorpe. You can bet that the 'general purpose' execs who have replaced them cost a lot less $.
From the private equity standpoint this is just common sense. The bad news for the client is that hiking short term value in this way just leads to poor products/services down the road because there's no specific intellectual asset left in the organization.
Everything points to an impending change of ownership.

DLA Phillips Fox was a move to 3E, not Enterprise, so unlikely to be a global directive I guess.

What a really sad state the PMS market is in. At the top end you are stuck with either the behemoth called Elite 3E and its well documented implementation challenges (although to be fair they seem largely historic now), or Aderant Expert and its seemingly complete lack of interest in anything outside of North America and very uncertain corporate future.
What kind of choice is that?
In the mid-market you are stuck with either Pilgrim or…. well Pilgrim, because all the other vendors got screwed up when they sold out.
What kind of choice is that?
The market badly needs new entrants to shake this mess up. I'd hate to have to buy a PMS right now; there's no choice, and it's all a complete shambles from a buyer's perspective.

To provide an existing client perspective – who has been one for some length of time, and experienced first-hand previous structural changes. Firstly, I have had the opportunity to personally meet both the former and new Executive teams. I would comment that both Don Howren & Jeff Boyce (and Mike Kohlsdorf), were all very professional and client engaging, but its worth noting, they were also hired by PE firms, and had NOT had a legal technology background to begin with. This didn’t seem to be an impediment to them in providing the business with good, sound leadership. And my initial experience with the current Executive, suggests that they will be as equally professional.
Relative to the retention of legal expertise & experience, the majority of the key operations people who have in-depth legal domain knowledge, and a large a number still pre-date the PE owners, DO still exist. Yes, there is always some transition in any business (our legal firms and other technology companies included), but my observations of Aderant (well with their PMS) is that key global product management, development and support, for the large part are still at the forefront (and if recent messages are any indication, only increasing in number). This may, although I don’t know definitely, be a case of funding the growth functions.
And, lets be honest, product rationalisation would not appear to be isolated to Aderant – if you follow the market closely, Elite & Lexus Nexus are also engaged in this activity at various levels. My DMS provider has changed hands in recent years, more than my PMS supplier – and there has been no compelling reason to change as a result. A lot of ‘predicting the future’ is taking place, – and If we were all really accurate at that, we’d probably be making some lucrative money with the small number of hedge funds, and commodity traders, that actually are in this climate. Just a thought.

With the announcement overnight of Thomson Elite purchasing Pilgrim, the options of vendors to choose from have just gotten smaller.

Looking at systems at the moment and still waiting to hear if Aderant will confirm that in the US they have 10+ swap outs. (Moves due to mergers do not count as a swap out.) Given that on their website over the last two years they have only announced a handful of new signings in the US (and one of those an upgrade from a Javelan user) that would be a surprising revelation if true. Any comments from anyone left at Aderant? 🙂

I don't believe that the change of C level people in the USA is a real issue, nor indeed the acquisition of other product steams into ADERANT. People change and move on, and the Vista/ADERANT goal of owning 'more of the attorneys' desktop (or to have more of them via other product aquisitions) is not a bad thing so long as it does not distract them from their existing clients and revenue streams.
Yes, Elite are re-emergent now that 3E is stable and they are also on the aquisition trail (with FWBS and Pilgrim), but this should not directly be a problem for ADERANT, whose operations globally generally seem fine, albeit they are over their purple patch when they were able to take advantage when 3E was new and unproven.
Whilst ADERANTs ownership model is different and may thus lead to more short termism (PE/VC as opposed to parents whose mainstream income is generated by subscription driven income models), as long as they focus on product and clients then they should be able to generate the performance their ownership model requires.
However there do certainly appear to be issues in EMEA, with only the support function continuing to perform to high standards; very poor new business sales when compared with other regions, a very high loss rate of experienced staff (and thus the ability to generate professional services revenue from the existing client base) and apparently quite poor relationships with both clients and partners.
As David Thorpe headed up the EMEA operation during the period when things came to this sorry state, then it's not surprising that he is no longer there, though if it was a jump or a push, fair or unfair remains to be fully understood.
Thankfully this malaise seems to only be in EMEA, and it is to be hoped that now that the C level people in the USA have their feet under the desk and aquisitions are out of the way, that they can turn their attention to EMEA and sort things out.

To return to the original topic ('The Thorpedo is for hire'), having a crackerjack salesman can be a bit of a double-edged sword: his mouth may be making promises that his body (product) cannot keep. There has always been a real tension between sales and service or sales and credit control. Some turnover is more trouble than it's worth. I have no idea whether this is true in this particular case – it would be nice to have some more anonymous gossip here, especially from people who have followed the Thorpedo through his eventful career, but it must be at least possible that his departure has more to do with his performance than his remuneration.

In the words of Mr Francis Urquart, you might think that but I could not possibly comment.

To paraphrase Mr Francis Urquart – you have hit the nail on the flat topped shiny bit old chap and I concur with you most wholeheartedly. Furthermore I must add that it was jolly sporting of you to not mention various and diverse PIGments , oils, waxes, colouring and emollients fashioned for the application to lips.

I've known David throughout his career right back to his days when he opened up a Birmingham office for Miles 33 and he and John Howell successfully closed a number of deals growing that business from 30 odd to 130 odd clients. In those days the product did match the promises as the technical folk knew their onions. At other vendors since then I'd expect there to have been an internal review of each deal prior to it being signed off? If any implementations did go astray then its easier to shoot the messenger (David) than deal with the real problem – operational folk who cannot deliver what they must have agreed to during the sales process?

An internal review of each deal prior to it being signed off? You are joking, right?

Not at all. I think you will find it's standard practice (especially in the big companies such as Aderant, Thomson Elite, LN etc.) for the legal teams to get internal sign-off across the board to commitments made, before any end-user agreement is executed.

It may well be now. But back in the day when Thorpe was selling lots, the first the support and implementation teams knew of a sale was when it was brought in.
You are right that these days things are different.

Well as a twice client of David's, I would be surprised if there was a big disconnect between what he said the product can do and what it is truly capable of, but that doesn't necessarily relate to what it does do post implementation – that depends on how the client and the supplier's implementation teams run the project. The things that set him apart from almost all other sales people in this market are his intimate subject matter knowledge and detailed knowledge of the software he sells. As a poster below comments, that does not necessarily mean operations staff implement the software in line with the sales pitch. On more than one occasion I had the need to call in David post-implementation to quiz him about things we had seen and been told about in presentations but that were absent from our environment. In all cases he was able to point to software parameter settings or other options which, once enabled, did exactly what was promised.
I often thought he was in the wrong role and that he should have been an implementor rather than a sales person.

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