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A little company that could

Nov 18, 20024 mins
Enterprise Applications

Roger Greene is anything but your typical high-tech CEO, so it’s no coincidence that his company, Ipswitch, is anything but your typical software maker.

Roger Greene is anything but your typical high-tech CEO, so it’s no coincidence that his company, Ipswitch, is anything but your typical software maker.

First of all, Ipswitch has been around for awhile: 11 years, which is about a century in Internet time.

Even more remarkable, the company earns honest-to-goodness profits, albeit not as much it did during the boom or as much as Greene would like today.

And not only is Ipswitch privately held, it is unlikely to ever go public, even presuming an upturn in the economy and a renewed appetite for IPOs on Wall Street. Greene’s not interested, thank you very much.

Ipswitch is located in Lexington, Mass., employs 140 and has never “right-sized” a single one.

The company is best known for its file-transfer software called WS-FTP. In other words, Ipswitch is not flashy or a household name. Its other products – an Internet messaging platform called IMail Server and WhatsUp Gold, a network management tool – are bread-and-butter offerings designed to meet the needs and budgets of smaller businesses.

There is little here to quicken the pulse, yet you’ve got to root for these guys.

When Greene read Tracy Kidder’s book The Soul of a New Machine upon its release in 1982, he was “horrified” by the glorification of the 24-7 work demands that made instant legends of that band of Data General engineers.

“I was determined not to [work] with a company like that, or, when I got to the point of starting one, to create one like that,” Greene, 44, told me recently.

On that score he has succeeded.

“A very big part of my goal was to create a company that I would enjoy managing and working at for 20, 30 or 40 years,” Greene says. “That meant putting a whole lot of emphasis on building up the structure of the organization and the management of the organization so that it would be stable and able to endure the inevitable up and down cycles of the economy.”

It also meant fostering a work environment that would make the stereotypical slave-driving boss blanch.

“People having enough time to spend with family and friends is really important to [building] a long-term commitment on their part to the company,” he says. “If you give people a little more time off you’re going to more than make that up in loyalty and improved productivity.”

Minimum vacation at Ipswitch is four weeks; you get six after five years. No one gets points for burning the midnight oil. . . . But does Greene walk the walk?

“My hours are a little bit hard to quantify because I spend a lot of time thinking about business when I’m not at work, but I probably work about 50 hours a week,” he says, leaving the “only” unspoken. “I exercise every day. I took up the piano this year and I’ve been practicing for at least a half-hour every day.”

Sounds perfectly sane, if not exactly in line with what we’ve come to expect from the men and women who occupy corner offices.

Greene has another habit that would unnerve many of his CEO brethren: He’s candid . . . even with the press.

For example, he doesn’t try to fudge the fact that the market for FTP products has gone flat or that Ipswitch needs to “become a lot more disciplined and structured in the way we manage the company.”

“The reality is that if your competitors knew everything about what you were doing, it still wouldn’t help them that much,” he says. “Your customers it helps quite a bit, and your employees it helps quite a bit, so why not be more on the open side?”

Don’t try telling him it’s just not done.

Candor is always welcome here. The address is