For the past 20 years, Andrew Sherman has been helping Washington area technology companies grow as a regular on the workshop circuit and as a teacher in university MBA programs.
Now he's taking the show on the road to see if he can make a profit teaching the same lessons to entrepreneurs around the country.
Sherman, a lawyer by trade, fell in love with the corporate world when a trade publication hired him to write a few short articles about issues affecting small businesses. Since then, he has written 13 books about how companies grow and has become an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University.
Sherman began to shake up his career in February when he moved his well established practice at McDermott, Will & Emery to Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky. When he made the jump, he did so with a couple of conditions, he says. The first was that he could continue teaching at the universities. The second was that he could -- for the first time after years of speaking on the topic -- start his own business.
Today, Sherman is launching Grow Fast Grow Right Enterprises LLC. The plan is to hold a series of day-and-a-half-long workshops around the country for executives of companies that are beyond start-up mode but are still facing challenges as they try to build big businesses.
"If you're a start-up company, there are tons of resources available to you, and if you're a Fortune 100 company, you can go buy those resources, but we perceive a gap in the middle market," Sherman said. "It's in this . . . stage where they often fall to their death."
The workshops will cover issues such as managing employee growth, how to acquire and integrate other companies, where to look for additional capital and how to capitalize on intellectual-property assets.
Sherman says he knows that the venture is risky and that there is no guarantee executives will show up for the workshops -- his reputation in Washington may not hold much sway in Phoenix. But he has a 20-city tour lined up and is ready to take the leap.
"I've spent a lot of time teaching companies how to harvest intellectual capital. . . . I felt it's time to walk the walk and harvest my own," Sherman said.
One of the visionaries of Washington's technology revolution reemerged on the scene this week. William L. Schrader, founder of PSINet Inc., the Ashburn Internet service provider that rose and fell with the technology bubble of the 1990s, announced that he signed on as chief executive of Map ROI Systems Inc., a Sterling software start-up.
So what are the lessons of a tech bust education? "Don't take on too much debt. Make a profit long before anybody thinks you should," Shrader said.
Oh, and one more thing: "I don't want to raise any more billions of dollars on a public market."
The latest news about women in technology isn't good. In 1996, women accounted for 41 percent of the total information technology workforce. In 2004, that portion fell to 32.4 percent, according to a study released yesterday by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), an Arlington industry group.
Some of the drop can be attributed to the elimination of administrative positions in technology companies, but even discounting those, the portion of women in the field dropped by almost 10 percent.
"It's very disappointing. . . . We still are in a situation where we're trying to compete globally and we're fighting with one hand tied behind our back because we're finding that a large portion of our population is not interested in being in our industry," said Harris N. Miller, president of the ITAA.
The lesson, Miller said, is that industry organizations and the government need to be more proactive in luring women to the field. Earlier this year, the ITAA helped found a group called the National Information Technology Education Alliance, which hopes to promote technology careers to students -- and women in particular -- at universities and community colleges.
"We need to understand this better to figure out how we can prevent this from being an issue," said Dede Haskins, past president of Women in Technology (WIT), a local organization for women working in the industry.
For five years, WIT has run a nonprofit organization called Girls in Technology to encourage young girls to consider careers in technology, but that is aimed at long-term solutions, Haskins said, and if the drop persists, tech employers are going to have to find more immediate ways to attract women.
Harry L. You, chief executive of BearingPoint Inc., didn't gloss over the rough spots when he was persuading Connie Weaver to join the troubled McLean consulting firm.
"He was certainly very open about the challenges the company has to overcome," said Weaver, who joined the company as its chief marketing officer yesterday.
Weaver's role will be to resculpt BearingPoint's battered image. In the past year, the company has disclosed that it has significant accounting problems, has gone through major executive upheavals and has become the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation.
"I would be disappointed if it didn't stretch me in some cases and challenge me in others," she said.
It's a safe bet the job will deliver on those fronts.
William J. Raduchel, founder of Ruckus Network, a Herndon company that provides an online music-sharing service for college campuses, last week tried to explain the compulsion of some students to illegally download 20 or 30 days' worth of music. He was at the Washington Digital Media Conference, an event sponsored by Digital Media Wire Inc. that drew 350 local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
"The reason? They need friends. Most people who did it would be boys -- their fond hope that some of the kids that came to them for music would be girls," Raduchel said.
Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every Thursday. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Sherman is launching Grow Fast Grow Right Enterprises, which will hold workshops for companies beyond start-up mode and looking to grow.