By turning to a longtime management consultant and entrepreneur as its next president and chief executive officer, Fair, Isaac & Co. has underscored its readiness to take its business in new directions.
The San Rafael, Calif., company announced Wednesday that Thomas G. Grudnowski, managing partner for e-commerce of Andersen Consulting, would take the helm Dec. 2. In 26 years at Andersen, Mr. Grudnowski started four Internet-related businesses, serving as chief executive officer of each. Based in Minneapolis, he advised clients in the health care, transportation, government, utility, financial services, and telecommunication sectors.
Mr. Grudnowski, 49, is charged with carrying out a strategic plan that the Fair, Isaac board approved in March, shortly before Larry E. Rosenberger, 52, announced plans to step aside as CEO. After eight years at the helm, Mr. Rosenberger will return to his former role as head of research and development.
The board has given Mr. Grudnowski a mandate to focus on propelling Fair, Isaac into new industries, with new concentrations in the electronic commerce and telecommunications businesses. There have already been fledgling efforts in these areas, with $7 million of revenue coming from the telecommunications sector, according to Select Equity Group analyst Amor H. Towles.
Fair, Isaac is best known as the pioneer and dominant supplier of credit scoring systems to banks and other lenders. It just celebrated the 10th anniversary of the first credit bureau risk score. The company saw revenue decline last year and experienced its slowest period of growth in two decades in the second quarter of this year.
The slowdown, the company said, resulted from international market turmoil, consolidation in the financial services sector, and banks' focus on year-2000 conversion issues. These market influences constricted their customers' appetites for Fair, Isaac products, the company said.
Nearly a year ago Mr. Rosenberger said Fair, Isaac's growth depended on "new products and new markets."
In an April statement about Mr. Rosenberger's change of status, Fair, Isaac said it was looking for a "CEO who has experience with the sort of rapid growth and pervasive change called for by the new strategic plan."
In an interview this week, Mr. Grudnowski said that "having a strategic plan (in place) is what motivated me to come" to Fair, Isaac. He said there will be some additions to the senior management team, including a chief financial officer and executives for telecommunications and e-business.
"In the future, I'd like to think of Fair, Isaac not just as a wonderful credit scoring company, but as 'decisions are us'," he said. "There is no limit to the upside potential of this company."
In the telecommunications sector, for example, Fair, Isaac can help companies make decisions regarding customer solicitations. Mr. Towles, a New York-based analyst, offered an example: "If you are MCI and you are going to send out solicitations, who do you call? What sort of program do you offer them?" The decision involves "a lot more data than just credit quality," he said, and Fair, Isaac sees a role for itself.
The e-commerce and telecommunications thrusts are "very promising," Mr. Towles said. "Like the card industry, these sectors are rich in customer data, are direct-marketing environments, have widely varying customer use patterns, and exposure to rapid customer attrition."
Declines in growth for credit card issuers could mean further lean times for Fair, Isaac, said Jeffrey K. Evanson of U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis. Bank One Corp.'s recent lowering of third-quarter earnings estimates, attributed to its First USA cards division, may be a leading indicator.
On Aug. 30, Mr. Evanson lowered his Fair, Isaac earnings estimate for fiscal 1999 by 2 cents a share, to $2.03. He also lowered growth expectations for fiscal 2000, on the premise that if First USA scales back its marketing efforts, other issuers will follow.
Peter L. McCorkell, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Fair, Isaac, said an opposite scenario is more likely. If First USA pulls back a little, he said, "others might see an opportunity to ramp up their marketing and take market share away from First USA," which could raise demand for Fair, Isaac products.