Looking for intrigue and a turnaround story? Try Boston-based information-technology services firm Keane
Over the summer, a Ms. Fisk, the erstwhile VP of Marketing, alleged that CEO Brian T. Keane, son of the company's founder, had harassed her. The standard peekaboo arrangements were made -- the offending Keane accepted "poor judgment," and Ms. Fisk received $1.14 million cash as settlement.
Last Friday, things got worse for the company as Keane dismissed its president, Richard Garnick, for reasons related to compliance with the company's policy on travel expenses and "unauthorized communications."
How does Keane move beyond all this intrigue to become a turnaround?
More Bangalore than Boston
Garnick was already working on a plan to make Keane more Bangalore than Boston. Keane's staff of 9,360 employees are split 70/30 between the developed economies and India. Keane wants to change the split to 50/50. This means finding nearly 1,800 new hires -- an increasingly expensive path, with salaries for Indian IT staff rising 10% to 20% per year. And Keane must compete with brand-name Indian firms such as Infosys
Garnick's plan was influenced by his past experience at Wipro, but a better model to imitate may be Satyam Computer Services
If Keane adds the 1,800 Indian staff, pushes gross margins from the current 29% to the Satyam model of 35%, and maintains revenue per employee of $130,000, the company would add $14 million to gross profit, an increase of 5%.
Keane is at work on a transformation program called "One Keane." It aims to centralize common services and blend local offices into global practices. Again, taking Satyam as a model, if Keane can reduce its selling, general, and administrative expenses from 22% of revenue to Satyam's 17% ratio, it would save around $10 million a year.
Assuming all these savings can be dropped to the bottom line, at a tax rate of 35%, then Keane's transformation plan can increase pre-diluted earnings per share by $0.27 per year, a 40% increase on 2005.
There's also an opportunity to benefit from the spicy market multiples awarded to companies sitting on the Indian IT trend. Keane currently trades at a price-to-sales ratio of 0.9; meanwhile, Satyam trades at 5, and Infosys at a tongue-burning 11.
"One Keane" is missing a couple of acts, though. First, how will Keane distinguish itself in the fragmented, undifferentiated IT services marketplace? It's tough to offer the lowest-cost services when competing against the native Indian firms. Offering a wide range of services is also a losing idea against the global brands. Keane lays claim to the usual IT service goodies -- industry-specific value propositions, intellectual capital leverage, and a global delivery model. But these claims can be found in the marketing of every IT services firm. Execution is key, and the fate of other midsized IT firms should encourage Keane to be cautious. Sapient
The business mix is also worrisome. Keane's "Other Services" segment contains some strong divisions, including consulting and project management, but a large component appears to be "supplemental staffing placements." This doesn't sound good, and it isn't -- it's a low-margin, dispiriting business, unaffectionately known as "body shopping" in the industry.
Help from Edgar
Despite a miserable year, Keane has some good news. Keane recently won part of the contract to overhaul the SEC's Edgar system, and the whole of Fooldom hopes they do a great job. In addition, Keane is already working on a 12-year, $367 million deal to build and operate a transport ticketing system for the state of Victoria, Australia.
Beware of debentures
Moving from operating to financing, Keane is carrying above-average levels of debt for this industry. Its debt-to-equity ratio of 1 to 3 is high; Satyam has no debt.
Needed: A baggage-free CEO
The only good thing about turnarounds is their opportunity for value. Otherwise, they are scary for investors, concerning for customers, distressing for employees, and stressful for management.
Keane can take several logical steps to create significant value. The challenge lies in finding management that's more interested in execution than intrigue.
As an interim measure, the new chief financial officer will act as CEO while Keane is looking for a permanent candidate. To convince investors that its peekaboo games are over, Keane needs to look outside both its founding family and the Boston consulting world to find its next CEO.
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