How does a highly innovative president and CEO of a fast-paced Silicon Valley company balance husband and kids with work? Hire the best, most highly educated nanny you can find and offer her stock options.
This innovative solution was the brainchild of Commergent Technologies President and CEO Jean Kovacs. "The competition for nannies in Silicon Valley is incredible," says Kovacs. "My nanny has a master's degree in education and loves to spend quality time with my two kids. I wanted to keep her, so I told our board that I wanted to give her stock. At first they thought I was nuts, but three days later they approved it. Soon everyone wanted to give their nannies stock. Now my VP calls it 'The Nanny Plan.'"
This brand of fresh, solution-based thinking on Kovacs' part lead to the founding of Commergent, a provider of collaborative commerce software solutions, two and a half years ago. At that time, disintermediation was the buzzword and channels had been pronounced dead. But Jean Kovacs, who was planning an e-commerce start-up with co-founder Jim Mumford, did some grassroots market research--talking to customers--that lead her to believe channels were very much alive and would remain so.
"We built a solution that married the benefits of e-commerce with the value-add of a sales channel," says Kovacs. "That's how Commergent got started. We built the solution to solve that problem."
Unlike your average Silicon Valley CEO, Jean Kovacs did not rush from high school to college to career. After graduating from high school in Wilmington, Mass., she decided to forego college to work full-time. "I wasn't interested in the usual teacher/nurse options that women had at that time," she says. "I got a job with the only employer in town, Compugraphics, a phototypesetting company--very high tech at the time. And there the whole world of business opened up for me. I loved it."
Her interest in the business world gave her a reason to go to college, but she didn't want to quit her job. She earned her B.S. in finance from Northeastern University taking night classes. By then, she had been working for 10 years accumulating experience in marketing, sales and customer support. She felt that a graduate degree would round out her experience, but after years of night school, she wanted to devote herself to a regular daytime program. She was accepted at the Harvard Business School where she completed her MBA in a two-year full-time program. "It was more than full-time," she says, "but the professors are unbelievable and the students are very driven."
Her post-Harvard years took her to Wall street, but she missed the excitement of high tech and the minds of people solving business problems. She moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, signed on with Sun Microsystems and was there when they went public. She then began work with Frame Technology, which did desktop publishing for Unix and left to co-found a company called Qualex Group, which she took public in February of 1997. "At that point, I was executive vice president running engineering, marketing and telesales. I stayed for six months after the IPO and decided I would never do another startup. I promised my husband no more startups. But then I met Jim Mumford who convinced me to start Commergent. We launched in 1998."
Today analysts are touting the value of collaborative commerce and working with channels. Disintermediation has become hypermediation, and netmarkets are all the rage. "The good news is that here we are with sell-side collaborative commerce solutions for enterprises with complex sales models," says Kovacs. "We provide manufacturers with real-world business solutions that automate e-commerce activities and transactions across their multilevel sales and distribution channels."
Where will Kovacs go from here? Why go anywhere? "I have the best job in the Valley," she says. "We have a phenomenal company, incredible investors and incredible customers. We go in to companies to make sales presentations, and by the end we're on the white board together mapping their business flow and processes. It's like we're partnering with the companies we sell to. I've never seen that before in the history of software."
And with the best nanny in the Valley, what more could a CEO want?