At WebMethods, Two New Hires, Nine Quiet Departures

By Ellen McCarthy
Thursday, July 28, 2005

Two days ago Fairfax software company WebMethods Inc. put out a news release trumpeting its new executive hires.

The firm has been a bit quieter about the stream of talent moving in the opposite direction. Over the past 10 months, nine top-level people have left the company. Those who are talking say they all have their own reasons.

Earlier this month WebMethods' chief technology officer, Graham Glass , left to "pursue other interests," according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mary Dridi , the firm's highly respected chief financial officer, resigned in May to spend more time with her family.

Bob Jones , who led WebMethods' government business unit, left in February to join San Francisco-based Vontu Inc ., and in March, Andy Astor , a vice president in charge of technical marketing and acquisition integration, started a new company of his own. Two other senior managers, Don Springer and Tim Wolters , also left this spring to launch their own firm.

David Spille , former vice president of investor relations, jumped ship in December to take a similar position with Sunrise Senior Living Inc., and Jim Ivers , a former WebMethods marketing executive, left the same month to lead the marketing department at Herndon-based Cybertrust Inc.

The company's founder and longtime leader, Phillip Merrick , left in October for health reasons.

It doesn't take a corporate psychologist to divine that so much turnover might be tough on the morale of an 830-person company. Especially one that was plagued by accounting shenanigans in a foreign subsidiary and had to restate its 2004 financial results in the past year.

Deborah Rosen , vice president of marketing, said the shifts are typical for a growing company.

"We have a lot of . . . folks who have been here for quite a long time and new talent that we think we need to take us to our next phase of growth," she said.

Several of the former executives said their departures were amicable. Astor said he was sad to leave but felt compelled to start his own company, Edison, N.J.-based EnterpriseDB Corp .

"I had an entrepreneurial itch," Astor said. "It was a fantastic three years," he said of his tenure at WebMethods.

Spille said he was ready to move out of the technology industry altogether, and Ivers said the opportunity at Cybertrust was too good to pass up. Glass declined to comment, but his blog says he left WebMethods to "start a new company focused on education."

Rosen conceded that the departures have been tough for some but added that when new leaders "come in with fresh and new ideas and broader experience, then you get excited and reenergized by their presence."

This week WebMethods named Tammy A. Janorske director of its government business unit and James E. Thomas III vice president of human resources.

Perhaps they'll stay put for a while.

Selling Stars

Maybe it was only a matter of time before they took on Hollywood.

Ethan D. Leder and Mark P. Clein , both in their 40s, have already sold a financial company for $483 million in cash and created a pharmaceutical distribution firm that was bought for $160 million after a short existence. Now they run United BioSource Corp. , a Bethesda company with more than $150 million in venture backing that is trying to revolutionize the drug testing industry.

In their spare time last year, they financed an independent movie, Junebug , that was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival , got picked up by Sony Pictures Classics and debuts in New York and Los Angeles next week.

The movie was written by Angus MacLachlan , a childhood friend of Clein's. Clein and Leder, along with a New York investor, put up just under $2 million to shoot the quirky family drama.

Junebug will open here next month, and while Clein and Leder say the movie industry is more hobby than profession, they have set up a firm, Remain Calm Pictures , to finance more films.

More for the Young

Things are looking cheery in the venture capital community these days-- investments are up this spring, and a couple of new neighbors are moving onto the block.

Jonathan M. Aberman , a longtime venture lawyer with Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC, has created a fund of his own. The $20 million fund, Amplifier Venture Partners LP , will make $250,000 to $750,0000 investments in very early-stage technology companies throughout the Washington area.

"What you have in D.C. are some really . . . large funds that have interest in financing companies that have already gotten themselves established. But there is a void in the market for funds that are configured to build companies to that point," Aberman said.

Also making an entrance is Orix Venture Finance , a subsidiary of a Dallas-based firm that provides loans to venture-backed companies, pumping money into young firms that would often be considered too risky for traditional investment banks.

The appeal for a start-up, said Henry R. O'Connor , who will lead Orix's office in McLean, is that the company can get access to capital without sacrificing more ownership in the firm, as happens with each successive round of venture funding.

Quotable

Perry L. Nolen had never served as a chief executive when the board of directors at Xybernaut Corp. asked him to take the reins of the deeply troubled Fairfax company. Since he stepped up in April, the company has been delisted from Nasdaq, lost most of its board members and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

So will he ever take the top spot at a company again?

"If I do, it won't be in a company that's in this stressful situation," Nolen said. "It has been an unusual experience."

That's putting it lightly.

Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every Thursday. Her e-mail address ismccarthye@washpost.com.

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