Editor's note: This is the transcript of an interview conducted in December. PDI has since grown dramatically with its purchase of Pinnacle Corp.'s enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution.
Calling the past two years at PDI “eventful” is an understatement.
The tech firm began a round of evolutionary moves in April 2015 with the announcement that its management team and Luminate Capital Partners were acquiring the company from McLane Co. Inc. A little more than a year later, private-equity firm TA Associates took a majority stake in the Temple, Texas-based company, helping propel key acquisitions—Intellifuel and KLS Technologies LLC—as the calendar kept turning.
Now the enterprise software company is preparing for another seismic shift: the Jan. 1 passing of the torch from founder and CEO Greg Gilkerson to his successor, current COO and Radiant and NCR veteran Jimmy Frangis.
CSP spoke with Gilkerson and Frangis about how the transition will sustain the company’s current ethos and propel it to a new place.
CSP: Greg, for a leader to step down, the timing has to feel right. What made you feel the “time was right”?
GILKERSON: I don’t think anyone knows the perfect time when you enjoy what you do and you have been doing it for such a long time that it doesn’t ever really feel like work. The idea of stepping away from it is foreign to you. But you also have to look at the organization and where it needs to go.
With the acquisition of PDI from McLane, it set in motion a thought process about a transition plan. We have been accelerating just a tad because we were fortunate enough to find someone like Jimmy to come on board.
I’ve known Jimmy for 20 years. … He knows that I ask for people to focus on values and performance. So the first thing that I asked him when I found out that he was available was what drives him, what are his values. What is at the core of Jimmy Frangis?
Jimmy is focused on people, and honesty and integrity with his customers. He didn’t need to tell me that; I had heard it from the customers he had been serving.
CSP: Jimmy, of the things you’ve learned from Greg, what resonates the most?
FRANGIS: Besides being a good friend, he’s been the culture and values champion for the company. He has set the tone and expectation of how we deal with our employees, customers and vendor partners. The values that we’ve talked about and that I share with our team are honesty, transparency, fairness, respect and compassion. Those are the values that we try to exhibit with our teams and our customers.
CSP: How have the events of the past two years manifested themselves in the company’s trajectory?
GILKERSON: We wanted to do more than just acquire PDI from McLane. We wanted to build out the technological ecosystem that we had envisioned all along. McLane was a tremendous owner but hesitant to allow us to expand via acquisition. With Luminate and now with TA Associates, we have the ability and support to grow the company the way we had envisioned.
CSP: The focus of the c-store retailer has had to change so much in recent years. How has that affected PDI’s focus and strategy?
FRANGIS: We’re looking at how we can align our investments with the changing needs of the market. For example, some of our organic investments, the R&D that we’re applying today, is for things like labor management. Also, more of our retailers are investing in greater foodservice capabilities, and we’re investing today in technology that will enable that environment.
On the acquisition front, we have great capabilities with our core solutions but we want to be able to offer more, have a wider breadth of offerings and deliver more and more value.
CSP: How do PDI’s roots still permeate the culture today?
GILKERSON: I wanted to keep [our culture] as simple as I possibly could, and just ask our people to treat our customers, teams and suppliers how they want to be treated.
FRANGIS: We have a strong set of leaders, and we also are fortunate that a number of those leaders and team members have been with the company for a long time. They have lived the story as the company has grown, and they have lived the values and have adopted and are the embodiment of the culture. They’ve lived it, they’ve built it.