For an entrepreneur and executive in the fast-paced technology world, Olin Broadway has a rare attribute: a long history.
Mr. Broadway is best known as a founder of a company that bears his name - Broadway & Seymour, a Charlotte, N.C.-based systems integrator that has become a major player in the world of branch automation.
Almost seven years after stepping down as chairman, Mr. Broadway, 60, is at it again.
Last April he founded Sonata Systems to bring teller automation tools and check image processing to community banks.
And just last week he helped found Broadnet Systems and Services provides computer network services to smaller banks.
As chairman of Sonata and president of its holding company, Broadnet Inc. - the Hartville, S.C., native articulates a vision of organizing a federation of North Carolina high-tech companies focusing on the unique needs of community banks.
"The companies of the future are not monolithic entities, but highly focused companies combined through a common thread of ownership," said Mr. Broadway, a former high school math teacher and basketball coach.
It's a slight modification on the growth-by-acquisition strategy he used at Broadway & Seymour. The eponymous firm was on Inc. magazine's list of fast-growing companies in 1986 and 1988, largely by acquiring people and products from other technology companies and repackaging them under a new name.
But the growth came at a price. Observers inside and outside the company say the chief executive, though effective as an entrepreneur, did not always know where he was headed strategically.
"Broadway & Seymour was very oriented toward rapid growth," said Jack Prim, a general manager at Jack Henry & Associates who worked at Broadway & Seymour for many years. "I am not sure their strategy was really well thought out."
Mr. Broadway and co-founder William Seymour "started building a business from nothing" and wound up with "a respectable practice of using contract professional workers to develop custom software," said Arthur Gillis, a Dallas-based consultant. However, "they switched from custom to packaged software without understanding the new business," he said.
In fact, the chief executive of the company that Broadway & Seymour acquired to get into the packaged software business filed a lawsuit alleging that Mr. Broadway promised a long-term commitment and didn't deliver.
"It was not a pleasant experience," said Bahram Yusefzedah, who went on to form Phoenix International, a Maitland, Fla., specialist in client/server banking software. "But it is always wonderful when we win one of my old customers back."
Broadway & Seymour was also hit with two other lawsuits alleging similar problems - one during Mr. Broadway's tenure and one after he left the company in 1990.
But to Mr. Broadway, all that is ancient history.
He attributed Mr. Yusefzedah's lawsuit to "differences in expectation" and said the company settled the other lawsuits after his departure.
He said he hasn't followed Broadway & Seymour's current strategy, which has trimmed many of the acquisitions completed under him and the administration that immediately followed him.
But Mr. Broadway does know start-ups.
"Olin enjoys being in the midst of a challenge to solve," said Mr. Seymour, his former partner, who is now involved in real estate development.
In fact, Mr. Broadway said he left the Broadway & Seymour board because of conflicts that would arise from his running a competing company. He went on to found Salem Co., a Charlotte work-force development and training firm, and Egret Holdings Inc., a computer services firm named for a "quick bird that is adept at seeing through murky water."
Mr. Broadway said he thinks banks will love Sonata, too. Playing off the name, designed to suggest a harmony of interrelated parts, he hired a violinist to attract attention on the trade show floor at the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery Conference in Dallas last month.
Sonata markets branch automation solutions to smaller banks. By combining network services, check processing, and, eventually, home banking through an alliance with Edify Corp., Mr. Broadway hopes to offer the proverbial irresistible business proposition to bankers who may have been historically reluctant to take the high-tech plunge.
"The large banks seem to be cutting back on their number of branches by 25% to 30%," said Mr. Broadway. "That represents an opportunity for community banks. It is our bet that the smaller banks will not lose in the changeover."
Sonata has earned about $1 million in revenue. Most of that came from Tellermation, the new name of a 10-year-old teller automation package that Sonata purchased from Egret Holdings at the time of Mr. Broadway's departure.
In December, Sonata introduced the Windows-based version of the software, called WinTeller.
Sonata, which inherited about 200 banks already using Tellermation, is trying to sell them the Windows version and computers on which to run it.
The main advantage of the Windows version is that it gives tellers "the ability to work from their PC and access the network," said Peggy Laue, manager of information systems for $166 million-asset First National Bank in Goodland, Kan., one of a handful of Sonata customers that have upgraded.
"Tellers are able to access all policies, E-mail, and interest rates without leaving their window," said Ms. Laue. "Soon they will be able to print cashier's checks."
Sonata says it expects $7 million in revenue this year, including about $3 million from teller automation software and $3 million from check processing and statement imaging.
Sonata hopes its array of products will make it "top of mind" among community bankers who want to offer meat-and-potatoes banking products.
"Besides taking our existing products and incorporating them into a bank's core accounting system, we can provide information to help make it more efficient," said Thomas E. Near, chief operating officer at Sonata.
For Mr. Broadway, the ability to deliver it all in a package meets one of the key demands of community bankers. He illustrates the point with a story that he tells frequently about the most commonly asked question at Broadway & Seymour.
"When we entertained bankers and had them come visit us in Charlotte, they would come with a team of people, and often the president," Mr. Broadway recalled. "We would give them our rendition of how we had helped them to handle something like interest rate accrual. But the president usually had only one question: 'When this thing breaks, who do I call?'
"When we were able to tell the bankers that we could do it all with one call, sales picked up."