Q&A: Blue Pillar CEO aims for employment growth

Tom Willie, the new CEO of Indianapolis software firm Blue Pillar Inc., is a bit of a growth guru.

Willie Willie

An Indianapolis native, Willie’s career has ranged from a painting business to Texas Instruments to a startup that sold for $1.5 billion to another startup that sold for an undisclosed amount.

Now at Blue Pillar, Willie, 40, is back at a small company, a 35-person firm with a few million dollars per year in revenue.

Blue Pillar develops software that monitors buildings’ electrical systems to prevent or fix outages and other problems. The company focuses largely on selling to old facilities, especially in health care, where maintaining power means life or death.

Willie recently sat down with IBJ to discuss his career and his growth plans for Blue Pillar. An edited transcript:

Q: Going from a big company, like Texas Instruments, to a small startup, that’s a pretty big changeup in itself, even just in life style. What was it about Texas Instruments that prepared you for small business?

A: What it taught me was how to be a great marketing person. I came out of school as an electrical engineer that had an entrepreneur’s spirit. What TI taught me is, really, how do you apply that spirit, but do so in the technology industry?

Q: What was it that brought you back to Indianapolis? It sounds like things were going pretty well for you out in Maryland.

A: I had a small company I had been a part of for 10 years, and I had become the CEO two years ago. A company called Current. I took that company from about $1 million in revenue in 2010 to well over $10 million in revenue in 2012.

Q: Who are your customers at Blue Pillar?

A: The biggest part of our business is hospitals and health care. Why? Because they have significant concerns about being stranded on the side of the road. If you think about what happens if the power goes out in a hospital, and their generators don’t start or something in the electrical system fails, the issues associated from that, from a life and criticality point of view, are large.

If you think about a data center, a hospital is a data center with beds. A military base is a data center with soldiers. Everything that runs the Internet nowadays, their whole life is how that facility is running and whether it’s online.

Q: How much of your business comes from health care?

A: It’s probably 85 percent now.

Q: Do you expect that to change?

A: I don’t really care, honestly. If we continue to do well and be known within the health care industry as the absolute solution provider for solving their critical issues—I believe there’s probably very few national-level issues greater than health care, right?

Q: What can you tell me about Blue Pillar’s general growth plans right now? Can you give me some idea of where things are today versus where you see them five years from now?

A: Well, the company’s gone through pretty significant growth in the last couple of years. The company, in essence, went from less than 10 people less than two years ago to over 35 people today. So we have been growing substantially. Our revenue has quadrupled over the last 12 months.

Q: Can you tell me what it is?

A: We don’t disclose it, as a private company. But it has grown. It’s multiple millions, I can tell you that.

Q: The company got $7M venture capital funding not too long ago. Has there been any more recently or is that going to be a big part of your growth going forward?

A: We have not raised money since that round. That was about 18 months ago. We’re going to end up going over two years, most likely, with the initial round of investments that we made. Having said that, are we looking for capital? I think that will be something we will consider in 2014.

Q: How about employment growth? Any projections?

A: I do expect there will be some employment growth in the company. I would say no less than 10 percent (next year). That’s at the low end.•

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