Officials with Boston-based Harte Hanks recently acquired a St. Petersburg sales play development and experimentation startup because they felt its unique culture fit well with the global customer experience company.
The city’s live-work-play atmosphere was an added bonus for the company.
Ben Chacko, managing director of customer care for Harte Hanks, relayed the decision-making process and his company’s plans for its latest office to the Catalyst following its $7.5 million acquisition of InsideOut. The two companies announced the purchase in a joint release Dec. 2.
Chacko said InsideOut’s established processes and ethos led Harte Hanks’ leadership to make a relatively quick decision. He said the 136 local employees, who will remain in their roles, are “passionate about the services they’re providing.”
“And clients really enjoy the services they were leveraging from the organization,” added Chacko. “We had an opportunity to spend time with the team and talk to customers, and it became clear that this was a great fit.”
He said evaluations began earlier this year, with due diligence on a potential acquisition starting around September. In addition to its culture, Chacko said it quickly became apparent that InsideOut’s sales services would complement Harte Hanks’ operations.
Harte Hanks employs over 2,500 people throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. According to its website, the firm provides customer experience strategies, analytics and actionable insights in four key business segments: customer care, logistics, fulfillment and marketing services.
Chacko explained the acquisition would also allow his company to broaden its business offerings between its current marketing and customer care services. He said that would drive growth and provide Harte Hanks with new revenue streams.
In addition, he said when the Harte Hanks team visited St. Pete to evaluate InsideOut’s management and processes, they also assessed the city and were pleased with what they found.
“It’s a great location, great environment and terrific people,” he said. “And the talent we’ve been able to find here in this market, in the Tampa Bay market in general, has been really great.”
The St. Petersburg office is the company’s seventh North American location, and Chacko noted that Harte Hanks already employed some remote workers from the area. The acquisition includes InsideOut’s 7,500-square-foot office in the First Central Tower downtown, although Chacko said his company wasn’t particularly interested in adding a facility.
However, he noted that leadership quickly realized that employees appreciate the region’s live-work-play environment. He believes that will help Harte Hanks attract and retain top talent.
Chacko explained that from a business perspective, Harte Hanks’ service offering is its employees. More than utilizing processes and technologies, he said success ultimately depends on the people interacting with and attracting new clients.
“The employees are the reason we’re here,” he added.
While Chacko relayed that a small group of existing Harte Hanks remote workers in the area could potentially help support the St. Petersburg office, the company’s leadership “feels strongly” that InsideOut’s personnel can meet any current and future demands.
Christina Cherry, CEO of InsideOut, will remain in a leadership role for at least two years, with the opportunity for renewal. Chacko said having her onboard ensures continuity for the 136 local employees and company clients.
“From a Harte Hanks perspective, the business InsideOut had was a great business,” he said. “They just needed the ability to have help with growth and scale and broader service offerings, which is what Harte Hanks was bringing to the table.”
Expansion opportunities are “definitely on the table,” said Chacko. He expressed that Harte Hanks officials expect continued growth locally and potentially through remote work.
He said the company will continue posting openings for those positions and noted the value of having employees close to a local office. Although Chacko said the company is not actively looking to transfer workers, some have volunteered to relocate.
“We definitely had some employees that have raised their hand,” he said. “And said that when there is an opportunity, they would love to take a position there.”