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Software firm finds its sweet spot in the printing industry

Kevin Pickhardt has spent more than 25 years building an impressive career in the printing software industry. Yet there is a challenge outside of work that continues to elude him.
 
"I took piano lessons when I was a kid, and like every kid, I hated it and quit," Pickhardt says. "But it’s still one of those things I’ve always wanted to be able to do."
 
Since 2001, Pickhardt has been CEO of Pharos Systems International Inc., a company that provides software and services to educational institutions and other enterprises looking to print less expensively and become greener.
 
Pickhardt began playing the piano again a few years ago. While he admits he struggles at it, the practice provides at least one benefit.
 
"I’m so bad, it’s impossible for me to play piano and think about work," he says. "Even for just a few minutes, it becomes a nice escape."
 
It is safe to say Pickhardt’s work at Pharos has been far more successful than his attempts at the piano. Over the past 10 years he has helped give Pharos an impressive U.S. base. The company was founded by two software technologists in New Zealand and eventually found a home in Rochester through its partnership with Xerox Corp., where Pickhardt worked.
 
When Pickhardt joined the company, he was one of three employees at an office in East Rochester. It now has some 140 worldwide, including 65 at its offices at Linden Oaks in Penfield.
 
Though he would not give specific revenue numbers, Pickhardt said Pharos has grown every year since 2001. The company had 40 percent growth in 2009 when Pharos acquired the PathForward business unit from Standard Register Co., a provider of document and print management services based in Dayton, Ohio.
 
The company ranked No. 26 on the 2011 Rochester 100 list of fastest-growing private companies.
 
Pickhardt says Pharos continues to grow and is looking to hire some 35 employees by year’s end. The company’s most recent growth has been driven by acquisitions and a change in strategy.
 
Last year, Pharos implemented a strategy to move from channel partnerships, which allow clients to bundle Pharos products with their own, to white-label partnerships, which allow clients to sell Pharos products as their own.
 
Keith Nickoloff, president of worldwide customer operations for Pharos, said the strategic move, which he credits heavily to Pickhardt, has brought more clients and the need for more employees. Nickoloff says the company is also looking for a place in Rochester to build a technology lab.
 
"I’ve been with the company and working with Kevin for two years, and in that time we have consistently gained more traction in the field," says Nickoloff. "Kevin is held in very high regard by each of his colleagues, primarily because he creates a trusting environment that allows people to do their best without fear of criticism or disappointment. He delivers every commitment that he makes."
 
Before joining Pharos, Pickhardt spent 17 years working at Xerox, where he had roles such as vice president of public sector solutions and vice president for education solutions worldwide. It was at Xerox that Pickhardt first encountered Pharos.
 
"We reached a point at Xerox where our customers said they weren’t buying any more printers or copiers until we could find a way to help them control and manage them," Pickhardt says. "In the search I was doing at Xerox to solve those customers’ issues is where I came across Pharos. They were head and shoulders above anyone in the marketplace."
 
The Xerox-Pharos relationship started in 1997. At the time, Pharos’ U.S. offices were in Houston, with a staff of perhaps eight employees.
 
In 2001, the company’s lease at its Houston office ended. During its search to relocate, Pharos’ strong relationship with Xerox made Rochester a viable option, which presented an opportunity to Pickhardt that he was not expecting.
 
"It wasn’t that I wanted to leave Xerox; it was really about the opportunity at Pharos," he recalls. "Where Pharos was strong was in the ability to make print more thoughtful. It was something that was universal and gaining steam with all organizations, no matter the industry."
 
Though he had spent nearly two decades at Xerox, the change was not out of character for Pickhardt. He spent his career

with Xerox taking on different roles and says he has never subscribed to the traditional idea of a career path.

"I’ve always bought more into building the kind of person you want to be and then career will happen," Pickhardt says. "It’s more about pursuing passion. Even in high school I had a passion to learn whatever was new."

Coming to Rochester
Pickhardt is a native of Rhinebeck, a farming community in Dutchess County just south of Woodstock. He moved to the Rochester area with his family during high school.
 
Pickhardt played soccer at Pittsford Sutherland High School and went on to attend Brown University in Providence, R.I. He would coach soccer in Rochester while home during the summer.
 
During the summer after his sophomore year of college, Pickhardt began talking to the father of one of his players about potential internships for the coming year. The father happened to be the vice president of corporate employment for Xerox.
 
Pickhardt landed an internship at Xerox, and the company agreed to put him in the executive MBA program at the Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester when he was ready.
 
Pickhardt says his time at Xerox provided a wealth of experience in the high-end corporate world. Yet Pharos provided a different experience.
 
"We were a small operation to the point where we literally had to take out your own garbage ourselves," he says. "You were coming in on weekends to assemble your own desk and move furniture around. It was fun."
 
Pickhardt’s experience in both marketing and finance was the biggest initial contribution to Pharos, a company already strong in engineering, having been founded by two technologists.
 
"Kevin allowed the organization to operate and grow to its maximum potential," says Geoff Shaw, co-founder and chief technology strategist for Pharos. "And he has continued fine-tuning, where the benefits of the fine-tuning go to everyone else. The employees can work their best, and the clients can get the best service and product they can."
 
While Pickhardt was instrumental in helping Pharos grow, the company also has stimulated Pickhardt’s growth as a person.
 
"To me, being at Xerox was about growing in market share, growing your sales and winning the deal," Pickhardt says, "all of which is essential if you want to succeed as a business. Working at a smaller company, you get more involved in people’s lives. I’ve just learned to gain a tremendously deeper appreciation for why we’re here and what the nature of business is. It’s much more complex than making profits."
 
When Pickhardt joined Pharos, the company was primarily focused on selling software that could help clients execute a change. However, things changed in 2009 when Pharos purchased PathForward.
 
The purchase included PathForward’s print optimization software as well as related support, including implementation and consulting services. Pickhardt says the acquisition fundamentally changed Pharos.
 
"We went from a software company that offered technology to a company that started placing our people inside clients’ offices to help them become more mindful of how to deal with paper," he says. "Companies were now coming to us and saying, ‘Don’t just give us the technology. Come in and help us use it.’"
 
It was a new mission for Pharos that Pickhardt and his team outlined in a 17-page document titled, "The Seed: Essence of a Noble Aspiration." The document lays out how Pharos helps its customers reduce their print costs and puts an emphasis on a greener print world.
 
The company’s main customers include banks, colleges and universities, including the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology.
 
"We as a country, an economy and a world need to be more mindful of the choices we’re making," he says. "Print is one of those areas where we can make a difference. As the world is changing, people’s relationship with paper is changing, and companies want to find people who can help them manage that change. It makes you feel good to wake up in the morning and feel like you’re making a difference."
 
Pickhardt says his work with Pharos has helped him take better stock of his life. When he is not traveling for business, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two teenage daughters.
 
He also enjoys reading and playing golf, which provides the same kind of mental vacation from work that the piano does-though he is quick to point out that he is much better at golf.
 
"It’s hard not to be," he says. "My daughter who doesn’t play golf is better at golf than I am at the piano."

Kevin Pickhardt
Position: CEO, Pharos Systems International Inc.
Age: 49
Education: B.A. in computer science, Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1985; MBA, Simon Graduate School of Business, the University of Rochester, 1990
Family: Wife Sarah; daughters Claire, 17, and Elizabeth, 14
Residence: Pittsford
Activities: Playing golf, reading, spending time with family
Quote: "If all we do as a business is grow and make profits, that means we’re not spending enough time on the things in society that allow us to make a difference in the world."

3/16/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

 

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