Kim Eaton | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
By Robert Green
Kim Eaton believes that the best business leaders establish clear goals for their employees and have firm alignment between what they are asked to achieve and what they actually get paid to do. “You have to liberate people with structure,” she says, “and structure takes away the chaos so that people can get on with their work.” As CEO of Aptean, a global leader in enterprise software applications, she employs this successful methodology every day.
Kim Eaton was born and grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, an industrial and farming community about 200 miles southwest of Chicago. Kim’s parents were both public school teachers. Her father taught high school math and her mother taught elementary and middle school. “My parents were a huge influence on me in terms of work ethic and optimistic attitude,” she says. “They were always positive and they showed me that when you invest in people, and the community, that you get back many times more than you invested. They just had such a great attitude about life.”
Unsurprisingly, Kim initially wanted to become a teacher herself. Then during high school a family friend who was a dentist asked her parents if the responsible Kim could work for him part time as his dental assistant. Her enjoyment of this work put her on a path to dental school and she actually majored in Chemistry and Biology at Iowa State. She was also a member of the college golf team. “I may have been a little overscheduled in college,” she says, “but I always enjoyed being active and outdoors, so golf kept me balanced.” She was also quite busy with her sorority, serving as rush chairman, and numerous other college activities.
Kim decided to delay dental school and work full time for a year. She was immediately hired by Arthur Andersen (now Accenture) in Chicago and went to work right away.
“My first assignment was working to implement supply chain software at a large retailer ,” she says, “and it was a great learning experience.” Kim worked on various other assignments for the company during this three year period and also met and married her husband, who was from the south. “We both moved to Atlanta for Accenture in 1991,” she says, “and enjoyed the weather here a lot more than Chicago.” Still, working as a consultant meant that she and her husband were frequently making family sacrifices.
Wanting to work more as a business “owner” than a consultant, Kim accepted a job with Radiant Systems in Atlanta in 1996. The provider of technology to the retail and hospitality industry wanted her to help grow their business. In 2004 Radiant spun out its enterprise back office software business, BlueCube Software, and Kim became the General Manager of the $50 million business, running it for two years until it sold to RedPrairie.
After working long hours for so many years, Kim decided to take six months off to spend time with her middle school kids. “I enjoyed it and so did they, but after a while they started to say ‘Mom, why don’t you go back to work? I could take a hint, “she says. Kim eventually rejoined Radiant Systems as Chief Marketing Officer. “This was early 2010,” says Kim, “and Radiant was a $300 million revenue company then. Our goal was to turn it into a $1 billion company within a few years.”
But in the latter part of 2011, NCR bought Radiant Systems and Kim was asked to lead the integration process. After this was successfully completed, Kim became the General Manager and President of NCR’s Hospitality Division. On the executive team, running a $750 million division and on the executive team that was led by CEO Bill Nuti. Kim firmly believed that this was an opportunity to grow. “I did learn a lot from Bill and the other NCR executives,” she says, “from how to manage employees to how to forecast the business with rigor and everything in between. But I especially learned how to manage a large scale business.”
With so many details to keep track of in a large company, sometimes the employees and customers get lost in the shuffle. “While customers come first, employees have to be treated as your biggest asset,” Kim says. “People expect to work – let them work,” Kim continues, “by breaking down silos and helping them to collaborate across silos. Unfortunately, silos are common, so spotting where goals need to be aligned across teams becomes an important part of the management job.”
As satisfying as her experience with Radiant and NCR had been after three years Kim decided to “take a step back” and leave the company so that she could spend time with her family. She expected to take at least six months off, but after only two months she was approached by Vista Equity Partners, a leading private equity firm focused on investing in software businesses. Would she be interested in becoming the CEO of a Vista owned company in Dallas? “It was a great opportunity,” says Kim, “but I told them that I needed to keep Atlanta as ‘home base.’” So they came back to her with an offer to become COO of Aptean, a Vista company based in Atlanta. “I felt very aligned to Vista’s management philosophy and business practices,” she says. Accordingly, she joined Aptean as COO in mid-2014 and became the CEO in January 2015.
Aptean, a leading provider of enterprise software solutions, had been formed by the merger of two other companies which themselves had been quite acquisitive. “The company had fantastic products but I also definitely found a lack of alignment,” says Kim. She spent the first six months of her tenure working with the Aptean executives and employees to come up with a mission and vision for the company that our employees, customers and prospects would embrace. “Then we reorganized the company to become more market and customer focused by product and also began acquiring more companies that we believed would benefit from our scale and best practices,” she said. “Now every product has a leader with clear goals and a definition of success.”
Aptean products are sold to a wide variety of companies. “Fifty percent of our customers have $50 million per year or less in revenues,” Kim says, “with 15% being $3 billion or more. The rest is in between.” Products include CRM, ERP and Supply Chain Management. Verticals served include industrial manufacturing, food and beverage and financial services. Aptean is the market leading ERP software solution for the food and beverage industry, providing software solutions to companies like Nueske’s which is a well-known provider of outstanding ham, bacon and sausage.
In the future, Kim will keep Aptean focused on driving growth. “We acquired a company that provides software to the state and local government market,” she says, “covering the functions of permitting, issuing and payment of citations as well as ERP. “We are primarily in Canada with this offering but we will be expanding our Public Sector solutions into the United States and into other geographies,” says Kim. “Ultimately, Aptean is a technology business with diverse products and market leading solutions that solve business unique problems for micro-vertical industries,” she says. All in all, Kim is happy with what she is doing at Aptean and is proud to be working for a Private Equity firm as well regarded as Vista. “As I said at the beginning, I’m a very optimistic person,” she says,” and it is much easier to stay optimistic when you work with a great team who drives positive results for our customers and for our business.”
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