Gary Bloom Q&A: The Search-and-Rescue CEO Who Just Sold eMeter to Siemens

12/6/11Follow @wroush

Some Silicon Valley CEOs moonlight as racecar drivers, others as winemakers. Gary Bloom, the outgoing CEO of San Mateo, CA-based eMeter, is probably the only one who spends his off hours as an emergency-response volunteer.

Bloom trained a Menlo Park, CA-based FEMA disaster team that helped with the federal responses to Hurricanes Ivan and Gustav. And as the leader of the San Mateo County sheriff’s rescue team, he directed search operations after the PG&E natural-gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, last September. But the pipeline disaster, which leveled an entire neighborhood, “was not the normal kind of search and rescue,” Bloom says. “It’s usually lost hikers in the mountains, or Alzheimer’s victims.”

Now Bloom has pulled off a rescue of sorts for his own company. Siemens Industry (NYSE: SI), the Atlanta-based U.S. wing of the German electrical and engineering giant, announced yesterday that it’s acquiring eMeter in a deal expected to close this month, just 20 months after eMeter’s board brought Bloom in to give the smart-grid startup the enterprise-software credentials it needed to compete.

 

Outgoing eMeter CEO Gary Bloom

The companies aren’t disclosing the financial details of the acquisition. But it’s likely that eMeter’s investors—who include Sequoia Capital, Foundation Capital, Northgate Capital, and DBL Investors, and who had together poured roughly $70 million into the company over 11 years—are breathing a sigh of relief. “It’s a positive outcome for the shareholders and the employees,” says Kyle Arteaga, eMeter’s global head of corporate communications. “Everyone is going to see a return on their investment, which isn’t always the case in cleantech. I think everyone is quite happy.”

EMeter’s entire 175-person workforce will be joining Siemens, with the exception of Bloom himself, who says he will step down as soon as the deal closes. That’s not a total surprise, given his history as CEO of Veritas Software and as a high-level executive at Oracle and Symantec. “Gary has the DNA of a CEO, not a division leader,” says Arteaga. “He completed the task he was invited to do.”

That task was a formidable one. It was to take eMeter, an aging startup with its roots in the utility and telecommunications industries, and make it into a company that could compete with the likes of Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) and Itron (NASDAQ: ITRI) when it comes to selling utilities the software they need to make sense of data from the growing number of smart meters at commercial and residential sites.

“The founders [Cree Edwards and Larsh Johnson] have an unbelievable amount of smart-meter and utility experience, but if you walked down the halls of the company, nobody had enterprise software experience,” says Arteaga. “Gary started bringing in new executives and partners in sales, marketing, business development, and product management who all had enterprise experience, and we really started operating like an enterprise software company. When we did that, we doubled our customer base, our deals became more profitable, and the company was worth more.”

The Siemens acquisition offer wasn’t the first one eMeter had received—but it was “the first time that it presented enough of a value to the shareholders that it was taken seriously,” says Arteaga, who attributes the larger offers to Bloom’s leadership.

I met with Bloom back in August and talked with him about the company’s technology and the personal challenges of making the switch from the business software industry to cleantech. Though the interview took place well before an acquisition was in the air, we hit on many of the themes that likely made eMeter an attractive purchase for Siemens. An edited writeup of our conversation follows.

Xconomy: Why did the eMeter board hire you?

Gary Bloom: I think they hired me for my ability to run a company. We are selling to a big industry, and we have to operate like a big company to service that industry. I have big-company experience. This is the smallest thing I’ve run, shy of the Menlo Park fire and disaster team for a year.

X: What struck you most, when you arrived at eMeter?

GB: What I saw coming in here is one of the last two industries in the world that has not transformed itself with technology. I lived through the telecom transformation and I watched Wall Street adopt electronic trading systems, but if you look at healthcare and the utility industry, those two haven’t transformed themselves at all, and the common denominator is … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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