In his distinguished and high-achieving career as a technology and business executive, Harry Wallaesa has worked for and with some heavy-hitting companies.
He spent time at IBM, served as CIO at Campbell Soup Company and as chairman of leading computer reseller and tech services company Compucom and eventually was president and COO of mammoth technology holding company Safeguard Scientifics.
So it’s little wonder that WGroup, which Wallaesa founded as aligne Inc. in 1995, has survived and thrived through global economic distress, industry bubbles and a rapidly changing landscape. WGroup underwent a recent rebranding in 2012, is firmly based in Philadelphia with some 50 employees and delivers consulting services across the globe for major corporations and brands.
What was the inspiration behind WGroup?
Usually inspiration comes from change and at that particular time there was a great deal of it in the technology industry. I recognized was many of the services a corporation uses don’t necessarily need to be owned by the company. The companies that were innovative in the virtual delivery model focused on their core competencies like marketing or design and every other service was delivered through outsourcing or partners.
I was CIO at Campbell Soup Company at the time and Campbell was the exact opposite. They were vertically integrated. They manufactured their own cans and basically controlled the mushroom market. They even supplied their own beef. I left my job as CIO at Campbell, started WGroup (as aligne) with two partners and we were immediately successful. Our first client was AT&T and we helped them with the divesture of Lucent and we were off and running.
What was the toughest part about getting WGroup off the ground?
The biggest challenge is always securing customers so until you get your first client; it’s a fairly scary proposition. One of the things essential for entrepreneurs to understand is that networking and relationships are the most valuable capital. I was a relatively bold entrepreneur. I was in my early 40s at the time. I had a career at IBM and Campbell and was able to develop relationships with some very helpful people in the technology industry. We spent that capital and gained a lot of credibility because people knew us and our work and trusted us and believed in us enough to give us a shot.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome, personally or professionally?
We’ve always been profitable since day one. I would say how we weathered the major recessions since we started the company. Getting through those was our biggest challenge. We were able to because our company is fairly nimble and we have some really terrific people and clients. We enjoy the cultural benefits of a small boutique consulting organization and we want to deliver consistent quality services.
Talk about the moment where you knew you made the right decision in starting this company?
I knew I did the right thing even before I resigned at Campbell. I was anxious to test myself. I had been a CIO for quite a while and suffered from same sort of thing most CIOs suffer from — that you’re only a technologist. Even though I am a technologist, I’m a businessperson and I wanted the opportunity to prove to myself that I could successfully run a business. The whole notion of becoming an entrepreneur was one that I was anxious about because I knew I could be successful. I never had a doubt. I had the formula for a successful business model, had the relationships to develop the customers and it was with a tremendous amount of confidence I launched the company.
How would you describe the corporate culture within WGroup?
It’s very much performance-driven and success-driven. We started the company with three principles. The first is we wanted to do interesting and challenging work and wanted to do it well. Second is we were going to work as a team and leverage every individual’s strength for the sake of the team and we would work collaboratively within the company. Third is to make as much money as possible. We are very much performance-driven.
The consultants you hire and maintain seem to be a major factor in keeping those important customer relationships. What are they like?
One of the key parts of our business model is all our consultants are senior. We don’t have a leveraged model like many of the large consulting and services firms. We don’t have any kids. Every consultant at our firm has at least 25 years experience. Our people are former CIOs or VPs and come from diverse backgrounds. They like to work with other people who are just as accomplished and they are competitive.
What’s next for WGroup?
I think what is most exciting for us, right now, is that are very much able to help companies better understand the need for transitioning and transforming all the way down the line, in terms of IT management – from organizational structure, processes within IT, and relationships with technology providers, to just how, specifically, IT is governed.
Disruptive technologies such as cloud computing and the “as-a-service” model for software, infrastructure and platforms have led to fundamental changes in how IT services are organized, managed and delivered—whether they be outsourced, insourced or a combination. That whole landscape is changing very, very quickly, and we have compelling offerings and thought leadership to support IT and business leaders through this transformation.
We also just released a strategy brief on big data and hired some talent to bring high-end intellectual capital around that area.
— by Joe Petrucci
301 Lindenwood Dr. Malvern, PA 19355